Dry spell hits Assam Tea Estates

Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, March 22 – State’s tea plantations are under severe moisture stress during the current season due to prolonged dry spell. This moisture stress is of ‘unprecedented magnitude’ in the recent period, said renowned consultant tea scientist Prafulla Bordoloi of the P Bordoloi and Associates.

Bordoloi, who was speaking to The Assam Tribune, said that rainfall during November to March is very crucial for tea bushes. During this period, the consumptive use of water is estimated to be in the range of 420 mm to 450 mm. But, normally, the rainfall is about 250 mm in Upper Assam, 170mm in Middle Assam, 115 mm in North Bank and 240 mm in Cachar.

Ideally, tea plantations should receive about 210mm of rainfall between November and March in the quantum of 20mm in November, 10mm in December, 15 mm in January, 65 mm in February and 100 mm in March.

But, in the current season, the rainfall during this crucial period is infinitesimally low and the deficit has resulted in great moisture stress and this has adversely affected the growth of tea. The rainfall received by Nazira-Geleki area this time, for instance, is around 70 mm, against the ten years’ normal of 180 mm to 190 mm, said the tea scientist.

However, the situation is a little bit different beyond Tinsukia in Upper Assam with the area receiving about 75 per cent of the normal rainfall, he said.

Chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association Manoj Jalan has described the situation this time as worse than that in 1999, for the tea industry.

Chairman of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association Abhijit Sarma said that during the past 30 years, such a situation was not confronted. Tea planters with marginal and medium plantations will have to go for irrigation to overcome such situations considering the present climatic condition, he said, adding, “We will move the Tea Board of India in this connection.”

Bordoloi has estimated a loss of crop to the tune of five per cent of the total crop this year due to the situation. This would constitute half of the total first flush crop during March and April.

If the drought is prolonged, it will reduce the premium second flush crop and affect its quality also. The period of the second flush of tea is between May and June and the produce of this flush is considered to be the best in quality.

Bordoloi has said that the season this time has become almost like the 1999 season, when the industry had to suffer maximum due to drought. The tea industry in the State also experienced drought earlier in the corresponding period during 1960, 1962 and 1986, besides 1999.

In 1960, the rainfall received by the tea plantations in the corresponding period was 85 mm, while the rainfall received by the plantations in 1962 was 96 mm and the amount was 78 mm in 1986.The lowest amount of rainfall received by the plantations in the recent period was recorded to be 51 mm and the year was 1999.

Over five per cent of the total crop was lost in 1999 and the first flush of the crop was almost absent that year, said the scientist.

This time, the impact of the drought is felt in Dibrugarh, Moran, Sonari, Jorhat, Golaghat and Nagaon circles and in the North Bank, he said.

It needs mention here that the State could produce 487.497 million kg of tea in 2008 and to this, the contribution of Assam Valley (Brahmaputra Valley) was 432.346 million kg.