Turkey’s crisis hit tea producers turn to locals after Georgian workers barred

Turkey’s tea producers are turning to local communities to help harvest leaves after the coronavirus pandemic has kept Georgian seasonal workers out of the country, Al Jazeera reported.

Tea producers are working with seasonal workers from the country’s south, where employment opportunities are scarce, it said. 

The laboursome task of collecting and carrying heavy bags of tea up the rough terrain of villages in the Black Sea region of Rize has been traditionally outsourced to tens and thousands of Georgian workers since the 1990s.

One of the top tea producers in the world, Turkey’s industry is dominated by state company Çaykur, which buys 60 percent of the crops. Some 1.2 million farmers, factory workers and traders make their living through tea across the Black Sea region.

Farmer Kemal Peçe tells Al Jazeera that Çaykur’s purchasing quota forces producers to "sell the rest of the crops to private companies’’ who he says  "beat down the price.’’

Turkey closed its borders with all countries soon after the first diagnosis of COVID-19 on March 11, forcing the industry to search for a domestic solution in collection.

The domestic travel ban was lifted in May, allowing villagers who live in other cities to come back to their home towns for the harvest, Al Jazeera said.

‘’We hope to introduce our unemployed brothers from the south with job opportunities here so many stays in our country,’’ Mustafa Mavi, President of the Tea Producers Association, said. 

It cited industrial representatives as saying that absence of Georgian workers has led to 100 million dollars staying in their pockets this year.