Climate change leaves tea farmers with a bitter brew

All the cash crops of the Nilgiris district, including tea, coffee, pepper and areca have been adversely impacted by climate change

In July and August of this year, tea gardens were left barren and the industry went through a near total shutdown

The cause was incessant rains in the Nilgiris district and adjacent Wayanad in Kerala

The impact on the tea industry was devastating, affecting more than 50,000 farmers, as well as lakhs of daily labourers, tea leaf suppliers and factory staff

Majority of the 292 green-leaf processing units (bought leaf factories) of the region were shut down for many weeks, unprecedented in century old tea industry

The thick fog that accompanied the incessant rains caused widespread leaf-blistering, leaving the plantations barren

The farming community registered a drastic 80 percent dip in harvest

A farmer who owned a one acre tea garden and harvested an average of 500 kg of green leaf every month, got a yield of just 124 kg in August

His income plunged from Rs 5,500 (Rs 11 per kg) a month to a mere Rs 1,364

With less than 1,000 kg of leaf supply a day, most tea factories shut down for two weeks as they need a minimum of 10,000 kilograms a day to operate

Regional Agricultural Research Station, Wayanad, data says the region received 65 percent and 62 percent increase in rainfall in July and August this year, respectively

Rainfall has also been erratic. The region received 310 mm and 910 mm of rainfall in July and August 2021, but 810 mm and August 573 mm respectively this year.

According to the Tea Board, Nilgiris and Wayanad districts have 48,000 and 2,650 registered tea farmers, respectively. There are many more unregistered farmers.

The agrarian fraternity demands the state and central governments to appoint an expert panel to assess the huge losses and ensure a Minimum Support Price (MSP)

Nilgiris farmers are fighting a losing battle to stay sustainable even as they watch their children abandon the land for the promise of a better livelihood