Drama in Darjeeling

It is not the first time that there are political problems in Darjeeling, but it is the first time that it lasts so long and with so much violence. For over 2 months, the separatist political movement “Gorkhaland” is blocking the region. They have been asking for years for the creation of an independant state.

The Gorkhas, who represent the majority of the people in that area, are historically of Nepalese origin. They are fighting for territorial independence and the admission of their culture with, among other things, the abolition of the Bengali language in school.DSC_0428

Tea estates staff, mostly Gorkhas, have stopped working since early June. Paid by the weight of harvested leaves, the people saw their wages decreased as  fresh leave production declined in Darjeeling over the last 2 years, due to the drought. This has contributed to stir up troubles and to join the Independence movement.

No tealeaves have been plucked for more than 53 days and this at a particularly strategic time for the teagarden’s economy : the second flush period. During a short period of 6 weeks, the tea expresses naturally a taste of muscatel and ripe fruits. But , this is also the time where the crop is the most abundant (around 8000 tonnes) and where the tea sells at very high prices.

No turnover for the 87 Darjeeling tea gardens in June, none at all in July and nothing to hope in August even the work begins again. The financial lost is huge; all the more that to restore the fields in the required standard to a good quality production will take 1 to 2 years.

This region has become known for its high quality of production as well as being the only terroir in the world to produce in the same place, with the same teabushes, a tea which, following short periods of 6 weeks, will have, three times a year, a very different taste. This unique phenomenon is deteriorating.

Owners have already announced plans to close their gardens if the conflict doesn’t stop quickly. A delegation from the Darjeeling Tea Planters Association approached the Indian Tea Board to ask the government for help. No precise measurements are known at the moment.

This is a major crisis that the world of tea is experiencing right now. It has and will have important repercussions for all players in the sector, both professionals and consumers. A rise in the price of very few Darjeeling tea that would arrive in our docks is, of course, expected.

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