India’s tea industry has announced plans to increase the amount of organic tea it grows and exports in order to revitalise the industry.

Demand for organic tea has grown as people become more health conscious and the awareness of organic products has increased. Growers in India believe the demand is not just a phase, but rather the shape of things to come. Organic tea is particularly popular in Europe, Japan and the US.

India, whose tea industry is the largest in the world, exported 1.9m kg of organic tea in the financial year 1999-2000 and hopes to double that figure this year. Thirty-seven tea plantations in India produced 2.1m kg of organic tea in 1999, but the area of land used to grow organic tea has grown so exports are likely to increase significantly.

Organic tea was slow to take off, due to the higher prices charged for organic tea and low consumer awareness. Now, however, the situation is different. Indian organic tea is popular in the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Britain and the US. The EU reportedly spends US$6bn per year on organically grown fruits, vegetables and tea. Particularly popular is gourmet organic tea from Darjeeling in the Himalayas, which can fetch a bulk price of $38-40 per pound.

There are, of course, disadvantages to growing organic tea. Tea growers in south India report losses of up to 30% of their crop because of a deadly leaf fungus called Blister Blight. Without pesticides, growers must find ways of defending their crop from pests and mites, as well as diseases. One hectare yields 2,000kg of green tea on average, but only 700kg of organic tea.

India accounts for over 30% of the world’s tea production.