Economy, Domestic Economy

Domestic Tea Industry Hurt by Imports

Domestic Tea Industry Hurt by ImportsDomestic Tea Industry Hurt by Imports

Iran has one of the world’s most avid tea drinking population, but tea plantation has suffered greatly over the past years from an influx of imports and smuggled tea as well as lack of government support for domestic farmers.

Iranians drink about 120,000 tons of tea each year. But they are no longer drinking the Iranian variety, characterized by its richness and an absence of added flavorings. Tea drinkers are turning to the glut of foreign varieties.

 “The tea produced in Iran is among the best in the world in terms of taste, color and aroma but Iranians are more inclined to drink foreign tea with artificial flavors and a shorter brewing time,” Zubin Amiri, an organic tea producer told ISNA.

Tea production has declined from an average of 60,000 tons per year before 2000 to less than 15,000 tons during the past Iranian year (ended March 20), according to Amiri.

Migration toward foreign brands has led to thousands of tons domestic tea piling up in warehouses, which according to Amiri was sold to other countries at throwaway prices, damaging the reputation of Iranian tea.

Low profitability and lack of demand has pushed many domestic tea farmers out of business, while about 6,000 hectares of tea farms have been destroyed due to mismanagement.

In Lahijan, the historic capital of Iran’s tea industry, land that was once a lush vista of tea bushes is now occupied by houses and flats, built by tea factory owners who have moved into real estate following their industry’s decline.

Some 40% of the half-million tea farmers in tea-rich Gilan Province have gone out of business, because the factories are no longer buying their crops. According to reports, some 70 to 80% of tea factories in Iran are not working.

Since it assumed office in 2013, the administration led by President Hassan Rouhani has tried to regenerate interest among domestic tea farmers by increasing the price for purchasing green tea leaves from farmers by around 55%.

While the move inspired some tea farmers to resume work on their farms, sustained draughts, outdated farming and irrigation techniques and the tea factories’ pending debts to banks reduce the profitability in the sector to marginal levels.

The tea industry was introduced to Iran more than 100 years ago by Prince Muhammad Mirza - known as Kashef-al-Salteneh - who was sent to India as consul to study the tea trade run by the British. He kept his activities secret by posing as a French laborer. Today Kashef al-Salteneh’s tomb stands in the middle of Lahijan, inside the town’s Tea Museum.