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Assam Tea Season Report 2020

John Grams

Assam has experienced a difficult season. The COVID-19 lockdowns severely hampered the development of the tea bushes. For three weeks in April, the Assam Government ordered the shutdown of all tea plucking, fertilizing, and pest management activities. This closure slowed the spread of the virus and provided the opportunity to implement public health measures.

Overall, we support the actions of the Assam Government to limit and manage the COVID-19 crisis. We happily report that to date our partner gardens have not reported a single case of COVID-19.

However, this lockdown prevented the industry from caring for the tea bushes at a critical time. Without this care, the bushes overgrew to the point where they became unpluckable. Many gardens decided to make unseasonal prunes, which affected the productivity of the bushes, producing a shortage of tea in Assam.

Additionally, Assam has experienced major unseasonal flooding this year. Typically, June and July are Assam’s peak production months. This year, days of rain and cooler temperatures have hampered the growth of tea bushes as they began recovering from their prunes. This has further exacerbated the tea shortages in India.

In response, Mana Organics has acted proactively. Using Chota Tingrai as home base, we led from the ground up. We developed a detailed COVID plan and procured PPE so that when the government lifted the lockdown our pluckers could return to work safely. Instead of making disastrous deep prunes like other gardens, we opted for a lighter prune that minimized crop loss while maintaining plant health. We organized a flood response that minimized harm to workers and bushes.

As a result, while our partner gardens’ yields have dropped, they report a much lower loss in crop than the industry average of 50%. In particular, Dinjoye Tea Estate has managed to avert major crop loss through adaptive management and sustainable agricultural practices.

And as a bright note, the teas we have made in 2020 are excellent! Buyers of our small batch specialty tea, FTGFOP-CL, report it is the best tea we have made yet.

As the situation in Assam stabilizes, we turn our attention to how we can help support our friends and customers. Here are some ideas:

  1. Book your teas: Due to the shortages, we are experiencing unprecedented demand for our teas. Please book your teas as early as possible. Informing us of your tea needs now will help us plan how to accommodate them. This includes both direct shipments and teas booked from our warehouse. Also, COVID-19 lockdowns are causing delays at every point on the supply chain. Booking teas early will minimize both the probability and the impact of potential COVID-19 logistics delays.
  2. Let us help you find teas: Georgie has agreed to serve as an intermediary between our clients to help move in-house inventories. Let Georgie know of any immediate tea needs, and she will endeavor to match a suitable inventory or a comparable substitute.
  3. Develop Alternatives: It is time to get creative and develop new blends to match flavor profiles. We are prepared to utilize our expertise to help you develop teas to substitute for missing products in your catalogue. For example, we assisted a client in South Carolina with developing a TGFOP1 bergamot oil that successfully stands in for Darjeeling-styled tea!

These are the ideas we had. We are open to any thoughts you might have as to how to move forward.

For, as with so many things in 2020, we must work together to sustain through these difficult times. Let us stay focused on what is within our ability to maintain our business and ensure that we come to the other side of these challenging times better than we were before.

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