COTTON, TEA, AND OPIUM
There is very active rivalry in the tea trade of late years. China formerly supplied the world. Thirty years ago very little was exported from any other country. Then Japan came in as an energetic competitor and sent its tea around everywhere, but the consumption increased as rapidly as the cultivation, so that China kept her share of the trade. About fifteen years ago India came into the market; and then Ceylon. The Ceylon export trade has been managed very skillfully. There has been an enormous increase in the acreage planted, and 92 per cent of the product has been sent to the United Kingdom, where it has gradually supplanted that of China and Japan. Australia has also become a large consumer of India tea, and the loyalty with which the two great colonies of Great Britain have stood together is commendable. In England alone the consumption of India tea has increased nearly 70 per cent within the last ten years. This is the result of careful and intelligent effort on the part of the government. While wild tea is found in Assam and in several of the states adjoining the Himalayas, tea growing is practically a new thing in India compared with China and Japan. It was not until 1830, when Lord William Benthinck was viceroy, that any considerable amount of tea was produced in India. He introduced the plant from China and brought men from that country at the expense of the East India Company to teach the Hindus how to cultivate it. For many years the results were doubtful and the efforts of the government were ridiculed. But for the great faith of two or three patriotic officials the scheme would have been abandoned. It was remarkably successful, however, until now the area under tea includes more than half a million acres, the number of persons employed in the industry exceeds 750,000, the capital invested in plantations is more than $100,000,000 and the approximate average yield is about 200,000,000 pounds. In 1903 159,000,000 pounds were exported to England alone, and the total exports were 182,594,000 pounds. The remainder is consumed in India, and more than a million pounds annually are purchased for the use of the army. Among other consumers the United States bought 1,080,000 and China 1,337,000 pounds. Russia, which is the largest consumer of tea of all the nations, bought 1,625,000 pounds, and this was a considerable increase, showing that India tea is becoming popular there.
The industry in India and Ceylon, however, is in a flourishing condition, the area under cultivation has expanded 85 per cent and the product has increased 167 per cent during the last fifteen years. The cultivation is limited to sections where there is a heavy rainfall and a humid climate, because tea requires water while it is growing as well as while it is being consumed. Where these conditions exist it is a profitable crop. In the valleys of Assam the yield often reaches 450 pounds to the acre. The quality of the tea depends upon the manner of cultivation, the character of the soil, the amount of moisture and sunshine and the age of the leaf at the time of picking. Young, tender leaves have the finest flavor, and bring the highest prices, but shrink enormously in curing, and many growers consider it more profitable to leave them until they are well matured. It requires about four pounds of fresh leaves to make one pound of dry leaves, and black tea and green tea are grown from the same bush. If the leaf is completely dried immediately after picking it retains its green color, but if it is allowed to stand and sweat for several hours a kind of fermentation takes place which turns it black.
There are now about 236,000 acres of coffee orchards in India, about 111,760 persons are employed upon them and the exports will average 27,000,000 pounds a year. The coffee growers of India complain that they cannot compete with Brazil and other Spanish-American countries where overproduction has forced down prices below the margin of profit, but the government is doing as much as it can to encourage and sustain the industry, and believes that they ought at least to grow enough to supply the home market. But comparatively little coffee is used in India. Nearly everybody drinks tea.
Three million acres of land is devoted to the cultivation of sugar, both cane and beet. During the Cuban revolution the industry secured quite an impetus, but since the restoration of peace and the adjustment of affairs, prices have gone down considerably, and the sugar of India finds itself in direct competition with the bounty-paid product of Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and other European countries. In order to protect its planters the government has imposed countervailing duties against European sugar, but there has been no perceptible effect from this policy as yet.
The indigo trade has been very important, but is also in peril because of the manufacture of chemical dyes in Germany and France. Artificial indigo and other dyes can be produced in a laboratory much cheaper than they can be grown in the fields, and, naturally, people will buy the low-priced article, Twenty years ago India had practically a monopoly of the indigo trade, and 2,000,000 acres of land were planted to that product, while the value of the exports often reached $20,000,000. The area and the product have been gradually decreasing, until, in 1902, only a little more than 800,000 acres were planted and the exports were valued at less than $7,000,000.