It would be no secret that things are challenging for every one of us at the moment.
This month’s news is a little less cheerful than many in the past, but I promise you it is no less worthwhile.
As tea travels around the world to make us feel at home, let’s take a look at what has been happening in the wider tea industry…
An independent survey by The UK Tea and Infusions Association found that younger adults have discovered a love of tea drinking during the lockdowns in the UK. Now 86% of adults regularly drink tea, or one million extra people than in 2000 when the last survey was carried out.
The United Nations designated May as Tea Month and 21st of May as International Tea Day. The day focused on celebrating the myriad ways in which people around the world can, and do, enjoy their tea in the spirit of collective appreciation. The Tea and Herbal Infusion Association of Canada’s Youtube channel will be celebrated the day with an 11 hour live-streamed Sofa Summit.
“Two Leaves and a Bud”, the tea garden simulator game was released this month! The game is now available on the popular PC gaming platform Steam Early-Access. The game was made by Games developers Flying Robot Studios, based in India in collaboration with Chengmari Tea Estates who provided the tea industry understanding to the project. Players must successfully plant and care for, then process and sell their tea while managing their farm and factory in order to produce their preferred kind of tea.
Tata Tea, owners of the Tetley brand, announced it shall be leaving North America. Tetley is one of North America’s highest-grossing tea brands but suffered greatly after the closure of many offices and foodservice businesses during 2020. Sales of loose leaf and tea bags for home use increased 18.1% during the same period but this was not enough to offset the loss.
It is thought that we likely drank an additional 2 billion cups of tea in our houses throughout last year. At a time when office tea rounds were replaced by brews (and snacks!) in our own kitchens and we’ve eaten an extra 7 billion meals at home since spring 2020.
There were further changes in everyone’s buying habits such as sales of dried pinto beans were up by 453% during the pandemic while the humble kidney bean was up 232%. Sales of many shelf-stable vegetables, tomatoes, grains, peanut butter and especially canned beans have risen dramatically while customers have been looking for nutrient-rich, budget-friendly foods.
The Vegetation Health Index measured from satellites showed cloud cover across much of eastern Africa and southern China, while the tea growing regions of India and Sri Lanka looked to be in reasonable health. An FAO report on India recorded a record wheat crop which should ease food insecurity though it noted that, of course, the poverty rate had increased because of the nations COVID-19 infections.
Food wastage across the world currently represents 7% of greenhouse gas emissions greater than that of any single country except for the USA and China. In an effort to reduce this a system of dynamic markdown pricing in supermarkets based on shelf life of individual products has been trailed across 300 stores across Europe. The system boasts a 40% reduction in food waste and additional profits for the supermarkets as they throw away less expired stock.
The creators suggest that in the future this type of pricing on perishable produce will seem obvious to us as
A Start-up company in Ghana has begun upcycling cocoa fruit, which is normally wasted during the processing of cocoa beans. The pulp and juice can be harvested and provide an additional source of income from the farmers’ crops. While its potential uses are yet to be fully explored, cocoa fruit is likely to start finding its use as a natural sweetener so expect to see it turning up in desserts, drinks and confectionaries in the near future.
Sugar might be the next commodity to come under fire for its environmental impact. Following criticism of the meat and dairy industries in recent years, data firm Spoonshot’s A.I. noted that the sugar industry, due to its high water and land use, bears similar hallmarks of environmental damage to industries that have already fallen under public scrutiny.
A pilot scheme in Seville will see the city famous for its scent of orange blossom using this abundance to generate electricity - an alternative kind if juice. The mass fruiting of the cities trees usually creates a fruit surpluses, quickly followed by streets of rotting oranges as the cities trees deposit 5.7 tonnes of mostly unneeded fruit onto the city each year. The plan is to trial using the methane released by the fruit to create clean energy for the electrical grid.
An Italian architecture firm has created a 3D printed house named TECLA, build from soil dug up at the building site mixed with water and rice husks. The structure is 645 sq. ft, took 200 hours to print and is being positioned as one possible solution to building economical, environmentally conscious homes as populations grow across the world.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated the Indian variant of Coronavirus to be of global concern, making if the 4th to receive the identifier joining variants from Brazil, South Africa and the UK. The Indian variant has so far been detected in 44 countries and is currently a “major concern” in the UK according to experts as it has the potential to cause a 3rd wave of infections.
It will not be news to anyone reading this that India is struggling to cope with its 2nd wave of the pandemic. In cities like Delhi the situation was described as living “under siege” as many people’s lives centred around hospitals, oxygen tank supplies and funeral pyres. Pressure has been mounting on the healthcare system and footage of long queues outside of hospitals are prevalent. There have also been reports of teams of medical staff, unable to treat their patients, having to abandon wards of patients en masse.
The Indian Government had stated that case numbers were falling although this was hastily refuted. Subsequent statements from the health ministry are believed to be grossly underestimated. Residents in Uttar Pradesh are discovering bodies washing up on the banks of the Ganges as relatives are often unable to source cremation wood.
In Assam the authorities ordered all shops and offices to shut down by 2pm daily. Other restrictions include pregnant women and employees with children under 5 being eligible to work from home. Gatherings of more than 5 people were not been permitted in open or closed spaces.
On the 1st of May in Kolkata all zoos, parks, museums and other recreational activities all closed down indefinitely.
To add to this, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale affected the Assam region. Only minimal damage to infrastructure, buildings and tea processing facilities was reported across the region.
Tokai Tea Research Institute in Assam has issued a special bulletin advising adverse growing conditions. There were only 4 days’ rain in April which is a substantial deficit, causing difficulties on top of the strain from coronavirus. This has lead to growth of pests who feed on the weakened plants. There was a 9.6% output fall during 2020 in Assam and production levels are likely to remain lower during 2021. Other regions have healthy tea crops ready for harvest but no workers available to pick due to coronavirus fears.
The offices of the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and the East African Tea Traders Association were raided by armed police. The DCI Serious Crimes Unit took control of 7 floors and detectives seized records, registers, title deeds, computers, phones and detained 4 IT staff for forensic investigations. The newly elected directors’ have backed the raid on the headquarters and promised to all farmers that unpaid wages and bonusses would be settled.
Recent Kenya auction averages are well below the normal numbers due to weak demand and an over supply in addition to the unfavourable exchange rates with foreign currencies. Meanwhile favourable weather will likely add to already high stocks. Auctions have become more frequent, going from 2 to 5 a week. Some buyers consider this to be a lack of consultation and a disconnect between state and commerce. There is also uncertainty as to whether there is enough demand for this change and concern that this might restrict buyers’ choice.
Kenya has rebuilt relations with its neighbour Uganda after the two countries fought a trade war in recent months.
Many Chinese would prefer to choose a foreign designed vaccine. Despite developing several of its own vaccines, many are reluctant to use the vaccines that are readily available after repeated food scandals within the country. China has been mobilising community workers to try to combat the hesitancy and reluctance prevalent, especially in more populous areas.
China’s population has the possibility of declining for the first time since the early 1960’s. The country’s population has increased to 1.41 billion people according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. China’s growth rate has slowed to the lowest since 1953 as the size of its labour force has shrunk while the percentage of elderly rises to 18.7% as the nation ages.
The Sri Lankan army has isolated several areas within Sri Lanka to try and contain coronavirus outbreaks. Arrests by police remain commonplace for not maintaining social distancing and not wearing face masks; over 7000 suspects have been arrested since October.
Sri Lanka’s Columbo Tea Auction went digital after 127 years of operations and has retained its 2 days a week schedule for the time being.
The Human Rights Watch has called on the government of Nepal to act more urgently and for the UK, US and EU to provide assistance after the Prime Minister recommended herbal remedies to treat Covid-19. The health system in the country is “at breaking point” with the number of infections doubling every three days. Health facilities in Nepal are overwhelmed and lacking supplies such as oxygen and masks. The Army was mobilised to manage the bodies but they then too became overwhelmed.
Kathmandu locked down all shops not selling essential foods as well as all construction sites, except those that are for National Pride projects. Opening hours of wholesale shops had to be extended due to crowding caused by only being open until 5pm.
Vaccine acquisition has proved to be difficult for Nepal as orders were placed with the Serum Institute of India which has only partially fulfilled orders. There is little prospect of sufficient vaccines from India arriving soon to ease the situation.
Both Nepal’s and Bangladesh’s spring tea harvests was 10% down but able to meet domestic needs. Prices of exports set a record high due to lack of supply.
We, probably much like yourselves, have been watching developments around the world much more closely recently.
Our ties to India especially have made it increasingly hard for us to watch the coverage of developments there. We have partnered with The Hope Foundation who work in Kolkata with street and slum children who have been more vulnerable than ever during this pandemic. You can find out about their work here or donate if you wish.
From all of us here, wherever you may be in this world as you read this,
we hope that you are staying safe, taking care of yourselves, and those around you.