Agro Bio-diversity in tea culture

In order to make the ailing tea gardens profitable, the Tea Research Association is experimenting with introducing agro bio-diversity in tea culture.

The experimenting has started with inter-cropping in some old tea gardens where productivity has fallen, resulting in low profitability. With productivity decreasing in older gardens, inter-cropping is one of the best methods to make them viable.

“We are experimenting with several crops which can be grown in similar conditions,” Dr M Hazarika, director, Tea Research Association said. The crops which are being tested for growing along with tea are, black pepper, amla (Indian gooseberry), cashew nut and betel vine.
The project has a dual purpose, that of enhancing the quality and flavor of tea as well as to make the gardens more profitable.

“We are trying to find an ideal combination of crops which will grow well with tea as well as may help develop different flavours. The crops also need to be grown in a small space so as not to overshadow the tea shrubs,” Dr Hazarika observed.

The move has been propelled by the continuous depression persisting in the Indian tea market resulting in closure of several tea gardens.

A number of others in West Bengal and Assam are ailing because of decrease in profitability.
“The government is doing its bit by providing funds for re-plantation through the Special Purpose Tea Fund to replant tea shrubs in old tea gardens. This apart, the industry has to encourage innovation and research to survive in the long run,” Mr CS Bedi, chairman, TRA said.
The Association, for the first time, has completed chemo-profiling of more than 100 varieties of Assam tea and about 30 varieties of Darjeeling tea. Biotechnology will play a big role in the turnaround of the Indian tea industry. It will bring down the conventional breeding trial period from 10-12 years to about five years as well as result in new varieties, Dr Hazarika said.
It has also selected several varieties of water-logging resistant tea which is presently under trial in 26 gardens of Assam and West Bengal for commercial exploitation.

Another innovative experiment being carried out is the use of insects to enhance the flavor of Darjeeling tea. Tea is one of the most chemically complex plants. It has been noticed, some insects feeding or living on its leaves increases the flavor.

“However, we need to study the phenomenon further to arrive at a conclusion,” Dr Hazarika said.

Source: The Statesman