Darjeeling tea industry to get export zone tag

KOLKATA: After nearly a four-year wait, the Darjeeling tea industry is about to get agri-export zone (AEZ) status. Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh will ink an MoU with the West Bengal government on March 20 which will finally enable the 87 tea estates in Darjeeling to access a number of central and state government schemes to improve productivity and earn better revenues through value addition.

The Rs 212.65-crore agri-export zone in Darjeeling will be set up with assistance from Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda), which, in conjunction with various state governments and private agencies, have set up 60 such AEZs in 20 states across the country. West Bengal has five AEZs, which are at various stages of development for mangoes, potatoes, litchis, pineapple and vegetables.

“Though the AEZ for tea was sanctioned way back in September 2004 by the steering committee of the ministry of commerce, there were many procedural delays, including the role of various agencies involved in the process. This delayed the process,” said senior tea industry officials.

Darjeeling Tea Association chairman Sanjay Bansal said: “Unlike special economic zones, an AEZ does not comprise a physically defined area, but is an amalgamation of various schemes of the central and state governments for a particular commodity. This includes export incentive, incentives for value-addition, schemes related to irrigation among others. This will give a fresh fillip to Darjeeling tea exports.”

Incidentally, India produces 10 million kg of Darjeeling tea. Out of this, nearly 50% comprises first and second flush teas that are sold at a premium in the export markets mainly in the UK, Japan, Germany and other European nations.

The tea AEZ will entail an investment of Rs 212.65 crore, of which Rs 51.77 crore would flow from various central government agencies and Rs 4.45 crore from the state government, with the likely private sector investment placed at Rs 156.42 crore.

The AEZ proposal also estimates that the tea AEZ during the first five years would have exports worth Rs 673.75 crore and over 5,000 farmers are likely to be benefited from this zone.

Garden Work for tea tourists at Happy Valley

Darjeeling, March 19: Globetrotting, high-end tourists will be soon seen helping workers manufacture Darjeeling tea at Happy Valley Tea Garden under instructions from young guides speaking English, German and French.

The garden, set up in 1854, is rolling out an unconventional tea tourism package in which guests will prune and pluck tea, before being treated to a sumptuous lunch at the new lounge coming up beside the garden factory.

The lunch, too, will be special, because each item will have tealeaves in one form or the other.

The $1m project is expected to be launched in three months, said Sanjay Bansal, the proprietor of Rithik Investment Pvt. Ltd, which bought the garden last year. “I personally believe that just opening two rooms for people at the factory bungalow only amounts to paying-guest tourism and not tea tourism,” he said.

Bansal added that the workers’ children (not minors) would be taught English, German and French before they are recruited as guides. “A museum is also being built in the century-old factory, which we are renovating.”

Happy Valley is one of the oldest and most famous gardens in Darjeeling and the museum houses a lot of gems from the past.

“We will, for example, demonstrate the use of the piston prime mover machine, which generates electricity and was built in 1850,” said the garden owner.

The top floor of the factory will have a reception area and changing rooms for tourists to get into workers’ uniform. The building is designed in a way that will allow them to walk around the factory and see the manufacturing process.

While high-end tourists can book a conducted tour for the entire day, people on a tighter budget can visit the garden on two-hour shifts between 8am and 5pm. The price of neither package has been decided.

There will no accommodation facility at the garden.

Darjeeling tea tasting party in Dubai

DUBAI: The Indian tea industry held a high-profile tea tasting party to promote its premium Darjeeling brand here.

The tea tasting session took place during the 2nd Global Dubai Tea Forum, organised by Dubai Tea Trading Centre (DTTC), an initiative of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC).

A broad range of representatives from tea producing and consuming nations participated in the forum, which ended today.

A range of Darjeeling teas, including the speciality oolong, white and green teas, were tasted by a cross-section of delegates.

The event was attended by Basudeb Banerjee, Chairman, Tea Board of India along with other officials. Darjeeling teas, grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, are one of the world's most exclusive teas, prized for their exquisite aroma and flavour.

Only 10 million kilos of Darjeeling tea are produced annually from 87 certified gardens. As part of showcasing the varieties of Indian tea, especially from South India, the fourth Golden Leaf India Awards: Southern Tea Competition (TGLIA-STC) was held on the sidelines of the Global Dubai Tea Forum 2008.