Due to increasing production costs and the absence of international buyers from Europe and Japan, who used to purchase significant quantities of Darjeeling tea, nearly half of the region’s tea estates, or 35-40 in total, are up for sale.
The income of Darjeeling planters is being impacted by a liquidity problem, high labor, and falling tea prices, which is prompting them to search for buyers.
Darjeeling tea’s top export market, Europe, is experiencing recessionary pressure, which is discouraging consumers from purchasing this expensive brew. Since 2017, when protests in the hills prevented the estates from operating for four months, Japan has reduced its purchasing from Darjeeling.
Japanese buyers never returned full strength because they were skeptical about the supply situation.
Local real estate players are interested in purchasing these gardens so they can start tea tourism by converting 15% of the estate land to resorts, as allowed by the West Bengal government. In Darjeeling, there are 87 tea estates.
‘Industry Facing Financial Crisis
Talking to ET, 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.”
An experienced planter who chose not 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.
Approximately ten years ago, Darjeeling’s tea industry produced 11 million kg of tea; by 2021, that number had fallen to 6.7 million kg. In spite of the decline in production, demand has not increased proportionately on the domestic or international markets. Sandeep Mukherjee, the chief advisor for the Darjeeling Tea Association, stated that “in such a situation, the business does not have the capacity to support its 55,000 permanent workers.”