Saturday, September 6, 2008


In the years to come the price of tea may soar high in the sky, as world producers work to promote the brew. The world price of tea reached its highest level for almost 200 pence per kilo at London auctions at the beginning of the year. Tea from Burundi fetched the highest price.

For the tea pickers of India, Sri Lanka, East Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere, who have the backbreaking task of picking are welcome news. Small farmers, especially, will reap the benefit: it is they who produce most of the tea in exporting countries.

For tea drinkers, it means paying more. But tea will still be cheap, normally costing less in shops and cafes than its big brother, coffee.

World tea production reached a record level of 2,691,000 tons in 1996, some three percent higher than in 1995. in India, the previous year production rose by four percent to a record level, while in Africa, Uganda reported an increase of 26 percent. But earlier that year, severe draught in Kenya – the largest African tea producer – reduced the country’s tea output sharply, from 93.5 million kilos in the first quarter of 1966 to 55 million kilos in the first three months of the year.

The fall in output is one of the immediate reasons for tea’s higher price. A spokesman for the London-based Tea Brokers Association said that tea output in Kenya would probably be around 25 percent lower this year, a big enough drop to cause a shortage of tea for auction.

Kenya is normally the world’s biggest tea exporter, and tea –loving Britain the largest importing country, buying three-quarters of its tea from Kenya. India, the world’s biggest producer, only exports about a quarter of its crop. Extremely dry weather in other east African countries, and Sri Lanka, has also adversely affected tea crops this year.

With most export crops, the price is decided hour by hour in accordance with supply and demand. Tea, by contrast, is auctioned daily or weekly in nine centers around the world. There is no futures market in tea, and thus no opportunity for speculation.

But the price is still determined by supply and demand. While some of the chief producing countries have less tea for export, the worldwide demand for tea is growing, especially in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia and Africa.

Tea-exporting countries are hoping that the current price rise is just the beginning. With the support of Britain, Canada and the USA, and the UN’s Common Fund for Commodities, they have launched a three - year campaign to promote the health-giving’ aspects of the drink.

Tea drinkers have long claimed that the drink is more refreshing than its rival. Once Mr. Lewis, director of the London-based Tea Council, a body which promotes the drink, now points to a massive evidence, that tea drinking can help to prevent certain diseases.

Researches have found that tea drinking might protect people against cardiovascular disease and liver disorders, and reduce the risk of stomach cancer. More research is in progress. Mr. Lewis also claims that tea is environmentally sound. Tea bushes grow mostly on terraces at the high altitudes, he points out, and help to prevent soil erosion. And the smallholders who grow the tea tend not to use fertilizers and pesticides.

If its disease-prevention properties are confirmed, then tea could be on the brink of a boom.

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