The tea production in China resumed its operation since late Feb and March. Despite this progress, Chinese tea growers like the growers in other producing countries are negatively affected as the supply chain is disrupted and the market continues to decline. Due to the outbreak, both domestic and international demand for tea has dropped significantly. All tea promotional events are cancelled and major international destinations for exports of Fairtrade products are still under lockdown. The Fairtrade-certified tea growers and traders are also facing serious domestic and international market challenges and are under high financial burden.
On the supply side, the impact on the output is limited, but the production cost has increased considerably due to the strict COVID safety protocols e.g., wearing a mask and gloves, installing hand-washing and disinfectant facilities, etc. and also due to the significant increase in the cost of labour. Growers and processors experience difficulties in hiring skilled workers because of the restrictions on the movement of people and transportation. As a response, they must recruit new workers and impart necessary training. In some areas, they are compelled to pay higher wages as people are still scared to report to work due to the fear of the virus. Undoubtedly, this has led to an increase in the cost of labour and transportation and has affected the production efficiency.
The lockdown measures implemented in February affected the normal management in tea gardens thereby decreasing the quality of the spring tea. However, the overall production of tea in China has been growing over the past years owing largely to Government Poverty Reduction Programs. The Govt. invests heavily in tea plantations with an objective that the poor population in the rural region should be provided support.
Fairtrade producers in China have been implementing COVID 19 awareness programs since its outbreak in Feb by putting necessary safety protocols in place for the safety of its farmers, workers, and their communities.
On the request of the local village officials, Xuan’en Tribute Tea Cooperatives; FLO ID 38917 in Hubei province volunteered to support the Govt. in the fight against the virus. A checkpoint was set up at the entrance of each village which acted as the central point for disseminating COVID 19 information to the local residents and to stop the entry of non- essential travels for preventing the spread of infection.
Medical staff and volunteers monitored the body temperature of villagers and educated them on the virus and its spread.
The workers’ temperature was monitored daily and documented in the case of large factories
Community workers and volunteers were mobilized to purchase and deliver groceries to villagers who were locked down due to the restrictive measures. They even donated and delivered groceries to the poor and vulnerable villagers.
Areas with a large gathering of people had to be disinfected twice a day by staff or volunteers.
Some community workers purchased school supplies for students who had to stay home. They also printed COVID-19 information materials and distributed them through volunteers.
‘’The COVID 19 outbreak took place unexpectedly and it took quite a long time for us to contain it. So far, it has been well contained but we must continue to remain vigilant. Our cooperative plans to continue carrying out the awareness programs and comply with the existing measures. We will continue to report incidence involving the safety of public health and promote good personal hygiene habits in the long run, we have also maintained a stock of medical supplies for further prevention (including masks, thermometers, disinfectants, and disinfection equipment, etc.). We have recently applied for Fairtrade Relief fund support for covering the additional cost of labor and transportation necessary for sending patients to hospitals, for purchasing and delivering groceries to people in need, for providing basic allowance (meals and transportation) to volunteers, and for covering the cost of medical essentials. Since the cooperative is in a relatively large village, the above expenditure would be high and will impose a relatively heavy financial pressure on us.’’– Mr.Shirong Zheng, Deputy Director of the SPO board.
2020 will be a challenging year for Fairtrade-certified Chinese tea growers, processors, and traders. Most of the tea producers are working on the orders of last year. This means they still have the cash flow to continue their agricultural operations for now. However, many producers have reported that new orders are not yet placed unlike last year and they continue to face more challenges in the second half-year of the year. For the newly certified producers, the virus exacerbates their situation. They are yet to receive any reliable purchase orders from FT traders, which means they must wait for a longer period before securing any FT market outlets.