Nearly half of Darjeeling tea estates are on sale

BY S VENKAT NARAYAN Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, September 15: Nearly half of Darjeeling’s tea estates in India’s West Bengal state, numbering around 35-40, are up for sale as planters are unable to run the operations smoothly in the absence of international buyers from Europe and Japan who used to buy good volumes of Darjeeling tea, and increasing production cost.A liquidity crisis, high wages and falling tea prices are impacting the profitability of Darjeeling planters, forcing them to look out for buyers. Recessionary pressure in Europe, a top export destination for Darjeeling tea, is keeping buyers away from this premium brew.

Japan has reduced buying from Darjeeling since 2017, when agitation in the hills stopped operations of the estates for four months. Japanese buyers never came back with full vigour since they were sceptical about supply issues.Local real estate players are looking at buying these gardens so that they can convert 15% of the estate land to resorts and start tea tourism. The West Bengal government has allowed the use of 15% of tea estate land for tea tourism. There are 87 tea estates in Darjeeling.

Anshuman Kanoria, a Darjeeling planter and Chairman of the Indian Tea Exporters Association (ITEA), said: “The Darjeeling industry is going through a financial crisis. Nearly 40-50% of the gardens are looking for buyers. If they get fair prices, they will sell them. It is becoming difficult for them to run the show.”

A senior planter, who did not want to be named, said: “The big groups are not willing to sell off their gardens. Those planters who have single estates are more keen to sell their gardens. They are testing waters and if they get a good price, they will sell off.”

Darjeeling’s tea industry used to produce around 11 million kg of tea around a decade ago, which dropped to 6.7 million kg in 2021. Despite the drop in production, there is no commensurate rise in demand in both domestic and international markets.

“In such a situation, the industry does not have the capacity to support its 55,000 permanent workers,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the Darjeeling Tea Association’s principal adviser.

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