The gold mine for the Indian tea industry – Darjeeling – has been stolen by the so-called “keepers of the hills.” They have robbed it with their own hands. It is unfortunate and saddening to see the crippled state of the tea industry in the hills now.
The whole world craves a good cup of Darjeeling tea, but the tea estates here are not able to generate enough money for their subsistence due to many factors which they are rightfully to be blamed for. This political fight for money – instead of statehood – is not their mistake.
The dying tea industry is struggling to keep its head above water so they do not drown. The timing and effect of this statehood appeal is being raised by only a very few mercenaries, but it has shattered the hopes of the struggling tea industry. Although the tea estates are out of the purview of the current strike, there is no proper attendance in the tea estates which do not have the power to send teas out of the hills nor do they have permission to bring in necessary supplies.
The situation is a mess! The tea industry is so-called “open,” but cannot run the way it needs to due to severe shortage of working hands. There is lack of innovation, proper marketing, and proper education on how to expand and innovate. In addition, there is also a shortage of funds to develop infrastructure and a lack of hygienic manufacturing and packing facilities. This combination of factors has become so burdensome on the industry that it cannot find a way out. Growing only organic will not help because it comes with a price tag of years to convert, miles of hoops to jump through, and an average 30% crop reduction.
The only hope left for this ailing industry is the development of the new model of speciality teas, where every farmer can contribute and every co-operative can produce the best teas. These are limited quantity but very high in quality. Every region will have their own speciality, so there will be no competition as each tea will be unique. We have to abandon the British segregation system of grades and standardization and move towards the single-tea/single region/single-farmer approach, where every grower’s production is unique and cannot be copied.
Let us hope that this Darjeeling jewel in the crown of the world tea industry has a soft corner that remains safe. We hope to find a way to crawl out of the current scenario.
Images provided by the author
Editor’s note: for over a week, protesters have all but shut down the tea industry – and all other trade – in the hills around Darjeeling. You can access a history and timeline of the conflict here.
A graduate from St. Pauls, Darjeeling, Ankit Lochan has tea in his veins. Starting his tea career at the ripe old age of 15, Ankit has developed a keen sense of the value of this local product. Having been trained at various tea estates in India, he has become the main tea sourcing brain for Surajmukhi Tea. Founded by Ankit Lochan, a tea master who started his tea career at a very early age, he has worked with a lot of tea companies worldwide in establishing various new tea projects. A renowned and well known tea entrepreneurs with a strong history in the Indian tea industry, Ankit Lochan has established Surajmukhi Tea with a vision of sharing Indian teas with the world, the way it was meant to be tasted, fresh and of the highest quality.
The strategic location at Siliguri gives us an edge over others since this place is the centre of tea growing areas of Assam, Dooars, Terai, Darjeeling and Dinajpur districts of North East India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Bangladesh. All 500 million kilos of tea produced in this area passes through this town and 100 million kilos is sold through the Siliguri Tea Auction, of which we are an operating member. The small tea growers movement has led to the establishment of scores of Bought Leaf Tea Factories (BLF), which in addition to single estate teas gives a wide spectrum of choices for a buyer, sourcing teas from this town.
Ankit Lochan has been actively involved with various worldwide projects like the development of Nespresso Tea Project (Nestle) in Switzerland, the development of RTDs in North America, the World Tea expo in Las Vegas, USA, the development of black tea culture in China, The setting of Indian style tea houses in Japan.
Surajmukhi Tea (formerly known as Lochan Sons) is a Darjeeling based tea company with the Magic Tea Brand and focuses on delivering the best Indian Teas to Tea Connoisseurs and whole whole-sellers worldwide.
Our aim at Lochan Sons is to reach out to all the tea lovers worldwide and arrange to deliver fresh, unique and special teas to them at their doorstep. It is our passion to share our Indian teas in their freshest and finest state so customers get the value for their money and enjoy every cup of tea the way it is meant to be…
Surajmukhi Tea through its website www.teainindia.com has been one of the most progressive and innovative tea company in serving our wholesale partners with a wide variety of Indian teas at the most reasonable prices.
I was unaware this was going on. Please keep us appraised of details as they unfold.
Would it be possible to move into organic production by stating that you are “organic compliant”? That means, in the U.S., that no current chemicals have been used but that you are not yet certified. That provides the consumer with important information that many would consider favorable. We do understand that the cost of certification is high and that the process takes many years to comply. Just knowing that no chemicals were sprayed on the current crop would be sufficient for many organic consumers.
I hope others in this region will share their feelings and thoughts about the current state of affairs in Darjeeling.
Here’s an update on the issue: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130813/jsp/frontpage/story_17226322.jsp#.Ugmej2T73fh
Thanks for the update Regena. It’s very helpful.
in india to sell any teas as organic you have to be certified.. we cannot mark or sell our teas as organic unless we have a certificate .. basically even if you are fully organic for the last couple of years and compliant with all norms you are NOT organic unless you have a certificate .. this is actually very sad and depressing because a lot of small farmers and estates do not have the infrastructure and money to do the certification and they really loose out .. organic has become more of a marketing tool here ..
I understand what you’re saying Ankit but in the U.S. there is a term called “organic compliant” which is not organic certified. It tells the consumer that you are moving in that direction toward certification but do not yet have certification. It means that no chemicals are currently being used but you are not actually certified. It might not bring the price of certified organic teas but many consumers would prefer this to conventionally grown products. It’s a step in the right direction.
I completely agree with you about changing the agricultural model so that producers are focusing on quality and not quantity. I have been writing about this for sometime. The commodity model is collapsing. That includes the prices being set at auction by commodity brokers, and all of the other aspects of the commodity model set up by the British. It has to happen in other places in India and Africa, where tea making is a human art form. As economies grow, cheap labor goes away and mechanization is the only answer for commodity crops. Here in the US where before World War 2 80% of the population in the US made it living through agriculture. Now it is around 1%. Farmers are almost extinct in the US. Organics is really a red herring for consumers, and you are right, it is a relatively meaningless distinction that is more about marketing than substance. The issue is really farming practices. Small holders that are not locked into the commodity model and focused and better quality and smaller yield are less likely to be able to afford certifications, and are most likely to not use pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that are necessary to produce high yields. The same problem is happening world wide as the tea market grows, and consumers cling to cheap commodity products that benefit neither the producer or the consumer. You are right to say the whole system is broken. There are hands full of producers I know in India that feel the same way as you and are starting to play around with more Chinese tea making techniques and cultivars. I talked with people in Kenya that are starting to do the same. Please keep speaking out, people are starting to listen even if they don’t understand the complexity of the problem.
hello austin .. u are fully aware of the scenario .. feels good to know that i m making sense.. :) what i feel in todays world is that anything that is not organic is actually not correct for consumption as it has some artificially unsound stuff on it, maybe in the form of spraying or synthetic fertilisers or any other form.. so anything thats organic or certified organic in todays world is basically just normalcy that is supposed to be in a product .. 90 % of what we consume is inorganic stuff in our daily lives so i sum it up as 90 % of what we eat or consume everyday is unhealthy and unsafe and obviously diluted … i guess i make sense..
i got your point …. unfortunately here in india there is no premium for producing a organic compliant product if its not certified .. so basically you realise the same amount of money as an inorganic product if you have an organic compliant product which is not certified organic .. i hope you can get what i am trying to say .. unfortunately this discourages a lot of people from trying to do the correct thing – which is organic compliant !
Ankit, the specialty tea route based on a large group of cooperating farmers, each pursuing a slightly different niche product, with direct sale to consumers is a viable model for Darjeeling producers. Tea farmers in fringe areas have to recognize that commodity tea production can only be profitable on huge scale, Where production is challenged by climate, or elevation, or labor costs, the savvy farmer must improve his margin by offering a unique and innovative product – not, as you rightly identify, by continuing the outdated 19th century British tea producing pattern.
Good news! The strike is over! Read for yourself: http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/WestBengal/Normalcy-returns-to-Darjeeling-after-strike-for-Gorkhaland-ends/Article1-1108397.aspx
the strike has opened for a short period – 15th to 18th august … they will be on strike again from the 19th ..
latest update !
Just heard some more information about this via the World Tea News. Very responsible source. According to the article, GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri wants to block the tea trade in the area to alert the Government that this is very serious situation and action must be taken.
“We discussed this yesterday at our Joint Action Committee. We’re looking to stop the supply of Darjeeling tea. It’s part of our agitation and of course it will have a huge impact. We hope it will make them take this agitation seriously.”