Georgia, which according to its own statistics used to produce 90 percent of the tea consumed in the former USSR, faces the danger of losing that considerable source of income. Russia and other CIS countries have substantially reduced, and may end altogether, their imports of Georgian tea if Georgia does not improve its quality quickly. Georgia’s recorded output has declined from more than 140,000 tons of tea annually in the late 1980’s to less than 20,000 tons in 1995. An ill-conceived privatization which led to the substitution of tea plantations with less labor-intensive crops is held partially responsible for the decline. The collapse of the general farm support system has damaged the quality while increasing the price of Georgian tea, threatening to kill the industry. (14)
The Gruzchay (Georgia’s state tea conglomerate) managers who described this situation apparently omitted to mention an additional cause of the crisis. Georgia’s quasi-monopoly for tea in the former USSR, which guaranteed its sales, has been replaced by a competitive environment in which Georgian tea loses ground to superior Western and East Asian varieties on the former Soviet market.
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