The Cup that Cheers

The steaming cup of tea has added a special flavour to Kerala’s economy over centuries. The rolling hills of Idukki and Wayanad with their freshly manicured tea bushes and the piquant aroma of tea buds have always brought in much needed revenue from domestic and export sales to boost the state’s bottom line. In addition, the sprawling tea plantations have generated employment for thousands of people living in these districts. Today, the colonial bungalows in the tea estates surrounded by acres of plantation bring in tourist revenue.
Kerala’s Role in India’s Tea Industry: Tea has been one of the traditional plantation crops of Kerala. It was introduced by the British settlers and the earliest record of commercial planting in the state was in Peermade in 1875. This was followed by the setting up of an exclusive tea plantation in the Kanan Devan Hills by James Finlay in 1878. Tea plantations soon spread across the district of Wayanad. Today, the prominent tea producing areas in Kerala include Wayanad, Idukki, Nelliampathy in Palghat, Thrissur, Trivandrum, Kollam and Kottayam. The state produces a strong variety of tea known as CTC as well as leaf tea. Organic tea production has also gained a foothold.
Kerala has been among the top tea producing states in the country along with Assam, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. As far as area under production is concerned, Kerala had 0.37 lakh hectares under tea cultivation as compared to an all India figure of 5.8 lakh hectares. The South Indian states (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala) together had 1.2 lakh hectares under cultivation. As far as production is concerned, Kerala accounted for 6.9 percent of India’s tea production during 2011-12. The state’s production of tea increased marginally from 0.57 lakh MT in 2010-11 to 0.58 lakh MT in 2011-12. According to statistics released by the Tea Board, tea production in Kerala grew by 3.6 percent from 2006 to 2010.
The Rich Brew: India has been a major player in the global tea market. Nearly 200 million kg of tea makes its way to markets around the world with the unit realization averaging at about Rs 175 per kg. According to data available with exporters and the Tea Board, India’s tea exports were up by 19.91 percent in 2012-13 as compared to the previous fiscal year. In addition, India is keenly exploring new markets like US, Iraq and Sudan in order to offset lower demand from traditional markets in Europe. As one of India’s leading tea producing states, Kerala plays a significant role in the tea export market. The export earnings from tea have been an important source of revenue for the state.
The tea plantations have also been a significant employment generator, with a large number of female workers belonging to the poor and weaker sections of the society. The plantations have also entered the tourism industry. The picturesque cottages and bungalows in the hills of Munnar and Wayanad have been refurnished and converted into tourist accommodation. The crowds keep coming and the tea plantations have found yet another way to add cheer to Kerala’s economy!