KOCHI: The tea plantations in Munnar which are already in a crisis due to heavy fall in prices and higher labour costs are facing another blow with the mercury levels in Munnar falling to as low as minus two degree Celsius, affecting tea production of about 6-7 lakh kg. According to initial estimates, the sudden and unprecedented dip in temperatures which came into effect since Sunday has severely affected even tea leaves which were ready for plucking in about 400 hectares.
Chacko P. Thomas, Managing Director, Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Co (KDHP), said the negative effects of the frostbite will impact tea production for the next 3 months. "We expect the tea production to drop at least 10-15% in the January-March period, with the last quarter performance to be very poor," he said. Last year, KDHP produced 20 million kilos of tea and though the company expects it to remain the same, it fears the net profit to be much lower than last year’s figure of Rs.23.94 crores.
The Munnar area contributes nearly half of Kerala’s total tea production of 63 million kg. It was reported that such falls in the mercury in this season are unheard of in Munnar. The situation caught the region unawares as there was no meteorological forecast on this as well. The weather at present is that of typical frosty days, with low morning temperature, cloudless and windless with very low humidity levels. Frost is expected to hit again during the course of this week.
The KDHP, which has the highest number of tea gardens in the region, is the most affected by the unexpected cold climate.
Adding to these woes, exports are much lower this year both on volume and value terms, partly due to the glut in Kenya. The industry sources point out that the future outlook also seems to be grim as there is adequate quantity of tea in the worldwide market and therefore the tea price would be lower. Africa and other tea producing countries still continue to harvest healthy crops. “In this situation we do not see any major upward trend in tea prices and with COP, going up tea companies find it difficult to be viable,” Mr. Chacko P. Thomas said.