Jun Chiyabari, an organic Nepal tea farm, has fulfilled all our needs for tea from the Himalayan nation for the last five years. We have never faced a situation like the one at hand arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge of a national lockdown coming right at the beginning of the year's most prized season - the first flush - has us worried.
But last week we received an email from Bachan Gyawali, the owner of the farm, updating us about the current status in the garden. We were happy to hear some positive news and we thought of sharing it with you here. I will extensively quote Gyawali because it gives you a sense for what it is like on the other side of the planet - almost the same as it were here. The challenges and the triumphs (there are few but they are there) in a world that has never felt this small before.
According to Gyawali, the tea industry received an exemption (which they did in India as well) to continue the manufacture but with limited work force. They have therefore managed to make some spring teas!
Gyawali writes, "Nepal currently has 27 active Covid-19 cases (31 tested positive with 4 discharged). None are from our tea district or even from adjoining ones. However, this being a virus, it can move and infect anyone anytime. So we need to be extra careful.
We are now on our 28th day of lockdown. The government extends the measure on a weekly basis so I am not sure if they will do so again later today for another week or will start to ease the restrictions.
Either way, as you must have already read and heard, both India and Nepal have already eased the curbs on agriculture, including tea, since the last two weeks. In fact, the Indian Home Secretary, responsible for Home Affairs, had already put out an exemption circular as early as 3rd April. Nepal followed suit.
Hence, we have been able to harvest and manufacture and hope to offer some nice teas in the coming weeks."
The management at Jun Chiyabari tea estate has not only been committed to producing high quality teas but also to taking care of their workers. We have always been impressed by it.
You can sense that as Bachan continues: "This doesn't mean business is as usual at Jun Chiyabari though. In our factory we only have 5-6 essential workers now. The rest have been assigned to the field for harvest.
Maintaining distance between workers in the field is not a problem at all. Even in normal times, space between each worker is far more than the current prescribed one.
Despite this uncertainty of business we are not laying-off anyone nor asking them to take a pay-cut. Everyone will continue to have a job and full income."
I love Gyawali's call to join forces at this time, what it really means when we say we are in this together. He writes, "At the same time, we will not increase our tea prices despite losses either. Many of our buyers are already struggling and it would be very hard on them if they now have to pay extra for the teas as well. We are cast in the same boat and must ride out this storm together so that in the morning we can raise the sails as one."
Those of you who may be wondering when will the first flush teas become available the following line will give you an idea.
"As of now, Nepal has barred international flights until 30th April, so the earliest when we can send samples of our 2020 Spring Harvest will be the 1st week of May." By the time we receive the samples, make our choices and get in the actual tea I would say Nepal first flush won't be available until the second half of May.