COVID-19 has been – by any measurement – a harrowing pandemic. It has impacted everyone in the tea industry, some parts more than others. This is a pick of some of the major impacts, but selected because collectively they illustrate that a single event can manifest itself differently, depending on where it lands.
Tea growing and production employs or provides livelihoods for more than 80 million people worldwide, so it was always going to be heavily impacted by the disease and by the measures imposed to control it. In this regard, tea was like any other labor-intensive industry, but suffered a unique and cruel blow based on timing alone.
Timing Is Everything
First reported in December of 2019 (earlier by some accounts), COVID-19 became an international event quickly, with cases in at least 20 countries by the end of January – but it took until March 11, 2020, for the World Health Organization (WHO) to call it a pandemic. This prevarication cost the industry dearly.
China: A Domestic Affair
In China, restrictions on the movement of people had some impact on the spring harvest but not so much because of the inability to farm, as the belief that domestic sales would take a beating. Indeed, this was the case, highlighted by the loss of the lunar New Year trade, when usually three billion trips are made in China over a four week period and gifting, including that of tea, is prevalent.
From an export standpoint, the country fared better. There were delays caused by CIQ and transport related issues, but overall, exports continued their upward trend in value, despite a slight decline in volume (1.65 percent to June).
COVID-19 is a devastating virus that has killed many people, but we will find a vaccine for it and soon (perhaps 12 to 18 months), but climate change is here to stay. The timing of this event made it appropriate to talk about COVID-19 as the problem, but each situation has been exacerbated by weather, floods in India, drought and floods in China, and an un-seasonally wet monsoon. This phenomenon will be here long after COVID is passed, and we must attend to it in every aspect of our business today.
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