Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NEWS: "Darjeeling Protests Hit Tea and Tourism."


KOLKATA (Reuters) - New separatist protests by ethnic Nepalis in Darjeeling hills are hampering tourism and threatening to cut production of the area's eponymous tea by more than 20 percent, industry officials said on Tuesday.


The delayed monsoon has already hit early tea production in West Bengal and threatened agricultural output across India, although India's farm minister on Monday said rains will improve. Gurkha protests have hit Darjeeling, a picturesque Himalayan hill station known for its British colonial-era legacy and tea tourism industry, since 2008, but this year's round is targeting tea production during the harvest season.

The production of Darjeeling tea may fall 20-25 percent in 2009, industry officials said.

"The agitation will worsen the situation since the delayed monsoon has already affected the production of first flush during April-May," said Sanjay Bansal, chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

The article tells about the Ghurka people's protests for their own nation-state, and that they are using the harvest season as leverage in their (sometimes violent) strikes. Further, this will damage the tourism industry in Darjeeling:

"Darjeeling is the only place in eastern India which witnesses high footfalls of foreign tourists. Now all that is going to end with frequent strikes," said Anil Punjabi, regional chairman of the Travel Agents' Federation of India.

"There is a drop of 50 percent in tourist inflow in the region owing to the protests," he said.

Go read the rest.

A friend of mine from Darjeeling remarked on how difficult it was for him to obtain decent Darjeeling teas this season. With the drought already impeding this year's tea harvest, strikes like this can only have the effect of raising prices on tea even higher, and during a down economic cycle as well.