Tea: India should strive to regain pre-eminence

If the tea plantation industry is to survive and sustain itself, the production margins must improve substantially.

India has lost its leading position in tea exports over the last 20 years due to failure in facing the competition from China, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Unless the margins of major companies in the industry improve, the country will be reduced to a small player in the international markets, according to the findings of a Commerce Ministry Committee on the competitiveness of the industry.

The panel findings gain a renewed significance in view of the statement made by Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia recently that tea and spices were the two commodities that India could develop as brands in the international markets.

Since the scope for expansion of tea growing areas is limited, the committee, headed by former secretary S. N. Menon, recommends that India should raise its exportable surplus by increasing productivity, which will bring down the unit cost to some extent. India already has a handicap of being a high-cost producer.

Chiding the industry for having failed to respond to the global changes in consumer preferences in terms of product-mix (as the shift towards larger amounts of orthodox production has not been adequate), the panel admits that further cost reduction can take place through a host of measures within the control of managements but reduction of cost of certain items require the cooperation and action by unions, State and Central governments.

As the flag-bearer of Indian teas, Darjeeling should receive some special considerations. Due to its low productivity and high costs, which will continue to be endemic, some measures are needed to mitigate costs. This should include supply of steady and stable grid power and extension of transport subsidy, the panel report says. The average cost of production in the industry is Rs. 350 a kg, which can increase to Rs. 600 a kg during specific periods, the committee observes.
Problems of the South

The committee says that the acute shortage of labour, especially during the peak plucking season, is affecting the entire South and machine harvesting needs to be encouraged.

Tamil Nadu finds a special mention in the report, which says that the Government should speedily resolve the deadlock on the Gudalur Janmam Estates’ case for the tea industry’s benefit. There are also problems on application and interpretation of land and environment laws which should be settled. The State should set up an SEZ in Coimbatore with special facilities for tea, the committee says.
Social overhead costs

On the issue of social costs, the committee calls for a review of the 1951 Plantation Labour Act as it feels that many of the provisions have lost their relevance. Statutory social welfare measures as mandated in this Act add to the garden cost and reduce the competitiveness of the tea industry. It also recommends that as in Sri Lanka, the Union Government may consider the transfer of funds for programmes to be implemented in mitigating the burden of social overhead costs by extension of government schemes to the plantation sectors through a separate trust or an agency under the aegis of the Tea Board.

Indications that the government has already started thinking on these lines were evident during the recent visit of Mr. Scindia when he said that social cost was a major issue for the tea industry and the government was examining the possibility of as to how the Centre and the State could bear this cost.

According to the committee, if the tea plantation industry is to survive and sustain itself, the production margins must improve substantially.

Within the sector, margin improvement can take place by cost reduction. Productivity-linked wages on the lines of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu model will produce substantial cost reduction. There is a substantial difference between farm-gate price and the final retail price, all of which go to layers of intermediaries. A part of this difference must be made available to the producer.

Noting that the tea industry is characterised by high manpower intensity, the committee says that because of historical reasons, the industry has been burdened with social responsibilities to the workmen which should rightfully have been the territory of States. The industry has repeatedly pointed out that these provisions were initiated in early years when employment in remote areas was difficult because of inadequate facilities. However the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, which was enacted to make it incumbent on tea estate managements to provide certain facilities still exist, directly impacting the cost of tea production.

An inter-ministerial committee constituted by the UnionLabour Ministry has dealt with the subject in detail and has worked out the cost of social welfare provisions at around Rs. 5 a kg, excluding concessional rations in the North. The various components of labour welfare are medical, fuel, housing, education, drinking water, sanitation and conservancy. The committee finds that though there has been a substantial recovery in prices in 2009, continuing onto the current year, medium and long-term viability of tea production continues to remain uncertain. In a representation to the 13th Finance Commission, the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) stated that the high cost production in India has been a critical factor impending India’s export competitiveness. It also sought reimbursement of the welfare expenditure. The report mentions several Central government schemes under the control of the Union Ministry of Rural Development, Panchayat and Urban Development and the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare.

The schemes which are run by the government and which have the potential of being dovetailed into the tea sector schemes are: social security schemes, heath and hygiene schemes, employment generation and livelihood schemes like NREGs, education schemes such as the Sarva Shinksha Abhiyan.

However, although an indication of the government’s inclination to examine this issue was given by Mr. Scindia during his last visit to Kolkata, it is not easy to provide coverage and benefits from these schemes to the families of the workers living in the tea plantations. Among the issues which make the task difficult is the fact that ownership of land on which the workers stay is neither with them nor with the tea garden managements which only hold it as a lease. Sri Lanka has been able to extend government schemes through a trust through which funds are canalised. This could be examined by India too, the committee observes.


From The Hindu

The Indian Tea Research Stations

Nestled between the meandering loops of the Tocklai River, just south of Jorhat, a once humble market town turned Cosmopolitan City, sits the Tocklai Experimental Station (TES).

Founded in 1911 with just one laboratory and two bungalows to its name the TES, or Tocklai as it is popularly known, is currently at the forefront of tea research; not bad for the oldest research station of its type in the world.

The Tea Experimental Stations in India have a proud place in the nation’s tea history but they are not much known outside their home country.

After the successful creation of its Scientific Department in 1900, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) saw the many benefits gained from further examination into all aspects of tea cultivation and processing.

The ITA realised that much could be gained from further research and examination, and with funding from the industry, the national Government of India, as well the Indian states of Assam and Bengal the Tocklai station was formed. The site was provided by the Jorehaut Tea Company and met all the criteria; located centrally within a major tea producing district, with good rail and river links for transport.

Initially, research was aimed at looking into methods of tea production such as planting, plucking, and pruning. Soon after, environmental contributors such as soil, topography of the land, climate, moisture, a tea gardens proximity to jungle, as well as chemical aspects of tea plants such as disease resistance and type of manure used were all given thorough examination.

Up until this point organised research into tea did not exist in any shape or form, with contributions and advances in research only occurring as a result of the tireless efforts of pioneers working, often, against great resistance from the tea industry.

In 1964 the Tea Research Association (TRA) was founded, with Tocklai at the centre of operations covering all of North East India as well as the creation of a substation in Nagrakata.

Membership to the TRA was voluntary and aimed to pass information and best practice, through its advisory network, to participating tea estates.

Today, the TRA’s advisory network covers 1,076 tea estates spread all over the North and South Banks, Upper Assam, Cachar, Tripura, Dooars, Darjeeling, and Terai.

By Phillip Hogan - All About Tea UK

Govt brews global branding plans for tea industry

The Union commerce ministry has turned to four wise men in the tea industry to secure the identity of Indian tea across the world markets. Tea industry hotshots like Aditya Khaitan of McLeod Russel, Tata Tea's Sangeeta Talwar, Hindustan Unilever's Sanjiv Chatterjee and Bharat Arya of JV Gokal will be part of a core committee that will formulate a global branding strategy to market Indian teas worldwide. What's more, iconic adman Piyush Pandey, who used to be a tea taster in Kolkata many moons ago before he joined the advertising industry in 1982, will hand-hold this elite panel to ensure teas of other origins don't masquerade as Indian tea in overseas locations.

Significantly, the commerce ministry plans to create an umbrella brand for Indian tea under which all categories will be exported across world markets. While the umbrella brand concept is yet to crystallise fully, several options are being tossed. For instance, all `Made in India teas' could have a single uniform logo along the lines of famous `lion logo' that distinguish Sri Lankan teas marketed worldwide.

When contacted, a senior Tea Board official told ET: "Union minister of state for commerce Jyotiraditya Scindia had called a meeting to explore ways to establish Indian tea as a strong brand in the world market. There was a brainstorming session, which was attended by all stakeholders of the industry, following which the decision to create a four-member committee was taken."

Mr Scindia had recently indicated in Kolkata that India can emerge as a brand for commodities like tea in the world market. He had also emphasised that the tea sector needed to focus on value-added products like tea bags to be competitive overseas.

He added that there was a need to integrate the back-end and front-end of the tea industry. "The front-end comprises packeteers and marketers while producers form the back-end. There is no synergy between them," Scindia had said at a recent chamber interaction.

From that perspective, the composition of the four-member panel aims to bring powerful synergies to the table. While Aditya Khaitan is managing director of world's largest tea producing company, Sangeeta Talwar is executive director of Tata Tea. Sanjiv Chatterjee, in turn, is GM (TEC & F&B Exports) at HUL while Bharat Arya, is CEO of J V Gokal, which represents packeteers and marketers of Indian tea industry.

Incidentally, between January and September 2009, India exported 131.22 million kg of tea against 150.25 million kg in 2008. But even though the volumes are less, the unit price realisation has increased to Rs 135.42 per kg compared to Rs 111.93 per kg in 2008.

India Tea production marginally low this year

Tea production in India will be marginally lower this year than in the year before due to erratic weather, says Tea Board of India chairman Basudeb Banerjee.

“This year our production has been slightly lower than last year. We will be marginally down by 10-15 million kilograms this year (by the end of the season — first week of December),” Banerjee told IANS.

The production last year was 981 million kg.

“There were times during the season when unseasonal rains or lack of it hampered the crop. Erratic weather played a crucial role,” he said.

On the spiralling tea prices, Banerjee said overall prices are up by 30 percent over last year’s average.

“Average prices of South Indian tea, which was Rs.60-70 per kilogram last year are now around Rs.100 per kg. Average prices of north Indian (Darjeeling, Assam) tea that was around Rs.100 per kg is now around Rs.130 per kg,” Banerjee said.

The rising prices can be attributed to the behaviour of the international traders on demand-supply pull and secondly the higher wages paid to the labourers.

He traced the origin of the all-round price rise to the drought and political problem in Kenya two-three years ago, and added this year the traders expected there could not possibly be two droughts in a row.

Production cut in Kenya and Sri Lanka due to drought and a drought-like situation in India to a limited extent led to the overall shrinkage of tea availability.

“International traders were probably a little confident that tea stock availability would not be low this year. But eventually their stocks ran low. Now when stocks are low and the supply pipeline is drying up (due to drought) there is a demand-supply mismatch,” Banerjee said.

Talking about tea consumption in the country, he said it is growing satisfactorily.

“In India, consumption has gone up. Till last year tea consumption growth rate was more than three percent, as against 1.8-2.4 percent in the last few years of the 21st century.”

The tea industry has remained largely insulated from the global economic meltdown as internationally people consume more tea during a recession since this is a cheaper beverage, he said.

“Nevertheless, higher end tea has suffered due to the meltdown.”

Out of the 981 million kg produced last year, around 200 million kg were exported. But at present the export market is not doing too well.

“The export market is not doing too well in terms of physical quantity. A five-six percent decline has happened in export, but we have made up as the unit cost has increased,” he said.

Total global supply of tea was 3,749.78 million kg in 2008 vis-�-vis a demand of 3,603.25 million kg. Total quantity of tea exported in 2008 was 203.12 million kg clocking a value of $551.17 million. This year till September 131.23 million kg has been exported for $362.83 million.

The major countries India exports to are Russia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan. These countries consume CTC (curl, tear, crush) variety.

“It is our endeavour to sell more CTC as there is a risk in manufacturing more orthodox type because if we can’t sell it abroad we don’t have a domestic market to sell it,” he said.

Banerjee said Britain and Russia consume more CTC from India as tea bags are very popular there.

He emphasised that India needed to produce more orthodox tea as that is consumed abroad. “We are not an export-oriented country, 80 percent of our product is consumed domestically.”

To catch the fancy of orthodox tea drinkers, it is important to change the ratio of the quality of tea exported. “India is a bulk exporter of tea — the ratio between bulk and value-added tea has to change.”

Banerjee mentioned that shipping and transportation costs are the biggest hurdles in the export route as the production areas are located in remote regions.

Talking about branding of export tea, Banerjee asked: “Does the brand come first or the product come first? High quality tea export of India is much lower than other exporting countries like Sri Lanka and Kenya.”

“We need to create infrastructure before we start branding our exports like what Sri Lanka did, pack for foreign brands. It is not easy to create a brand. Value of bulk exports has to go up and proportion of value-added tea and bulk exports has to go up.”

Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia on a recent visit to the city had said: “We require product diversification. Moving away from CTC to orthodox. There is need to produce quality tea for export markets, which is why rejuvenation and replantation work is very important in the tea gardens.”

Darjeeling Tea protection by Government

The government spends over Rs 60 lakh per annum on legal requirements to protect the `Darjeeling’ tea brand globally, the Rajya Sabha was informed on Thursday.

This amount is spent to protect the word `Darjeeling’ and the logo of the tea produced from that area, minister of state for commerce Jyotiraditya Scindia told the House in a written reply.

The government has done pioneering work for the protection of Darjeeling tea, which has been registered as a geographical indication, he said. The tea, produced in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal, was the first product to be registered in the country under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

Geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific area origin and possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that region. Geographical indication aims at preventing non-Darjeeling tea from being passed off as Darjeeling tea.

About the promotion of the premium tea, Scindia said the government has sanctioned an amount of Rs 5.68 crore in the 11th Plan to upgrade the Darjeeling Tea Research and Development Center as a Center of Excellence.

Green tea & mint: Twinings tunes into new territory

Twinings India, a part of UK-based food major, Associated British Foods, known for its premium-flavoured teabags, is looking at expanding its reach in tier-II cities. The brand is now available in 30 cities. It is targeting to enter 300 cities in the next five years. Twinning is looking at roping in a brand ambassador by January 2010. The company has earmarked Rs 50 crore for the coming five years.

“Our claim to fame is tea for every mood and moment. So far we have 15 varieties in India out of the 200 global blends of tea. In India, Twinings is available in only 30 cities and our next level of marketing is to get into tier-II cities. We are in the process of shortlisting celebrities to rope in a brand ambassador by next year. There is also the option of signing multiple celebrities,” said Suresh Iyer, managing director, Twinings India.

In India, the tea market is estimated at Rs 10,000 crore out of which Rs 4,200 crore is the packaged tea market. Almost 20 per cent of this is the premium tea segment in which super-premium tea contributes as much as 25 per cent. “Globally, India will be the top two market in terms of growth rate in three years. All our efforts will definitely double our growth in three years and triple it in five years,” said Iyer.
According to Iyer, the company enjoys around 35 per cent market share in the premium teabag category, thus making it one of the leading players in the teabag industry in India today. “Although we operate in the super-premium teabag segment, our close competitors would be Tetley from Tata, Taj Mahal from Brooke Bond, Lipton, and Dilmah, a Sri Lankan brand of tea bags,” said Iyer.

The Twinings venture in the domestic market began with brands like Earl Grey, Lemon, English Breakfast and Darjeeling Tea in 1997. In 2002, trial packs of Lemon & Earl Grey were launched in the market with the objective of increasing its consumer base by generating trials. In 2003, Classic Assam was launched in India followed by the launch of Cardamom in 2005. In 2007 the health and wellness range was introduced with green tea, camomile and peppermint. Recently, it has launched interesting flavours: green tea & lemon and green tea and mint.

Financial Chronicle

The nature of black tea

Most people have heard about black tea – but as with many of the tea terms its precise nature may be unclear to many.

So here is a handy guide to the product.

Black tea is one of the four major tea types. The other three are white, green and oolong.

It comes from the dried leaves of Camellia Sinensis, as does green tea, white tea, and oolong tea.

It is basically green tea but the leaves are further dried changing the colour and taste.

Black teas include Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, Dian Hong, Tibeti, Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Kenyan, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Turkish and Thai tea.

Black teas are often blended and mixed with various other plants. Such teas include Earl Grey, English breakfast and Irish breakfast.

In terms of its health benefits it has caffeine which stimulates the central nervous system, relaxes the airways, stimulates the heart, and acts as a diuretic.

It is also rich in antioxidants, though not as rich as green teas, vitamins E and C and help to fight free radicals that cause pre-mature aging.

Studies have shown that regular cups of black tea lowers stroke risks, that it may lower “bad” cholesterol and slow the spread of prostate cancer – as per green tea. Black tea also contains abundant tannins, astringent chemicals and soothing anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive tract and also contains fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay.

When making a cup of black tea it’s best to use freshly boiled soft water, unlike green teas, which turn bitter when brewed at higher temperatures.

The more delicate black teas, such as Darjeeling, should be steeped for three to four minutes. The same holds for broken leaf teas, which have more surface area and need less brewing time than whole leaves.

Whole leaf black teas, and black teas that will be served with milk or lemon, should be steeped four to five minutes.


Electrocuted jumbo dies in Assam tea garden

GUWAHATI: An elephant was electrocuted near a tea garden in the Kathiatoli area of Nagaon district, about 140 km from here, on Saturday.

The carcass of the pachyderm was found near Kandoli tea estate. Forest officials said it was an accident and not a case of retaliatory killing. "The elephant died after its trunk touched a livewire near the tea estate. It was not killed by human beings," Nagaon divisional forest officer A Ahmed said. "There has been an increase in the movement of elephants between Karbi Anglong and Nagaon since the past few days. But there has been no untoward incident," he added.

The Burapahar forest range of Kaziranga National Park is in Nagaon district. On the south, it is bordered by the hilly and forested Karbi Anglong district. The man-elephant conflict has been on the rise in Nagaon. But the situation has not yet become as alarming as it is in Sonitpur, Golaghat and Udalguri. In Nagaon, most of the cases of man-animal conflict are reported from the Chapanala and Salna areas.

Shimanta Goswami, president of local NGO Green Guard said, "Elephants from Karbi Anglong come down to Chapanala, Salna and its adjoining areas almost everyday. Though there has been no man-elephant conflict in the recent past, herds of wild jumbos have damaged many houses and crops." He added, "Elephants are increasingly straying into human settlements as they don't find enough food in the forests after scanty rainfall. Though jumbos from Karbi Anglong often come down to Nagaon, the cases of man-elephant conflict has been lesser this time."

Statistics reveal Sonitpur recorded the highest human casualties with eight deaths till May 24 this year, while Dhubri comes second with five, followed by Udalguri (3). Two persons had been killed by wild elephants in the Chirang wildlife division in the same period. On the other hand, the Sivasagar Wildlife Division, Jorhat Wildlife Division, North Lakhimpur Wildlife Division, Dhemaji Wildlife Division and Goalpara Wildlife Division had recorded one human death each till May 24 this year.

India Times

Tea estate destroyed, workers shaken

RAIGANJ, 9 OCT: Alleged criminals raided the Bhadrakali Tea Estate in Islampur police station, North Dinajpur district and wreaked havoc over a large area of the plantation uprooting tea bushes and damaging other property of the estate Thursday night.

They threatened the workers’ union leaders active in the plantation with dire consequence as well over telephone. The incident has left the plantation management a shaken lot. The uncertainty in the plantation has turned the workers’ future tentative.

According to the plantation management, the raiders destroyed tea bushes standing on 15-acre land and also damaged several trees that are crucial in plantations.
The plantation authority has registered a police complaint but the police are yet to take action against the raiders.

The plantation manager Mr Santanu Bose said: “Property worth around Rs 8 lakh was destroyed and the workers’ leaders threatened. The police are yet to act against the raiders. We are suffering from insecurity and cannot take the risk of going for replantation.”

A local Intuc leader Mr Mohan Das said that the raiders had threatened him over telephone as he had stood by the plantation authority after the destruction. “I have registered a complaint at the Ramganj police outpost but the police are yet to arrest the criminals.” The incident has caused panic locally and the workers are unsure of their future.

The SDPO Islampur Mr David Lepcha claimed that the police have started an inquiry into the incident.

“We expect to arrest the criminals soon,” he said.

Green Tea is the new Black

Drinking green tea is a fashion statement for the health conscious, but supply in India is still limited.

Rajive Kaul, Nicco group chairman ,attributes his habit of drinking green tea to the Korean influence, being the Honorary Consul General of South Korea. Till a few years ago, he and a growing band of converts to green tea would have had to import their tipple or buy it at the odd tea boutique or Tea Board outlet. Today, they can buy more of it — albeit in limited quantities — from India (it was, in fact, first produced in Darjeeling 20 years ago).

India currently produces 10 million kg of green tea, less than one per cent of the country’s total tea production. Still, the perception is less gloomy than the statistics. Sanjay Bansal of Ambootia said, “It’s become fashionable to drink green tea.” Bansal would know, since the Ambootia grows around 37 varieties of tea besides black tea.

Fashion comes at a cost. A packet of green tea is 25 to 30 per cent higher than black tea. For the producer, margins are higher by the same level since it doesn’t cost more to produce green tea.

The story of black tea establishes that there is no extra money involved in the cost of production. Green tea originated in China, which is the largest producer, and it turned black on fermentation while travelling through the Silk Route. When the British came to India they started exporting black tea back home to maintain quality standards because it has a much higher shelf life.

So the hotbed for green tea is still the south-east Asian countries while the developed world is a black tea-consuming population. Morocco is the only other country besides south-east Asian that happens to be a green tea drinker.

But the developed world is also taking fancy to the more healthy green tea primarily because of the wellness factor. Green tea contains polyphenols, which are said to improve health, especially cardiovascular disease and cancer. Some studies apparently have also indicated that it has a slimming effect.

Rajive Kaul likes it because it has the best variety of catechins (contained in the polyphenols). “It also cuts out the milk and sugar, which are calorie-oriented.” His favourite is the Darjeeling green tea, which has a distinctive aroma.

It’s a niche product, but tea companies across the spectrum have jumped on to the bandwagon. Apart from the Ambootia group, Chamong, Goodricke, Jayshree Tea, Assam Company are some of the growers, while packet tea majors include Tata Tea and Duncans.

In contrast to India green tea is big market internationally. The tea companies believe that in a globalised world, it would catch on in India, as well. Kiran Desai, who heads blending and buying at Tata Tea, said, the green tea market was not big at the moment, but the signals are positive. “With the youth becoming more and more health conscious it is sure to catch on.”

Small volumes make prices higher, which in turn positions the green tea as a lifestyle product. Bansal added, “A pot of black tea at a five-star hotel will cost around Rs 150 while green tea will be Rs 350.” At the bulk level, if organic bulk tea costs Rs 400 a kg, green tea would be Rs 550-600 a kg.

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, as Desai pointed out, “Availability is not an issue, it’s the size of the market.”

The youth account for about half of India’s population, making it a big market for the green tea testing ground.

Whiter shade of pale

Green tea is niche but not half as exotic as white tea. The size of the market may be minuscule, but margins and prices are 100 per cent higher than black tea. White tea could cost Rs 500-600 for a pot at select hotels while at the bulk level it would be Rs 800-1,000 a kg. But the solace is, unlike green tea, the price disparity for white tea is an international phenomenon.

White tea contains the bud and young tea leaves that are completely unoxidised. The catechin content in white tea is also higher than green tea.

Business Standard

Tea industry

I must congratulate Mr. Sarwar Ahmed for his write ups, especially on tea in Tetulia where he has really highlighted a hero-- Mr Mosharraf Hossain.

Tea will dry up for domestic consumption soon and according to him by 2016 we will have to import it!! That would usher the beginning of the end of 155 years or more of the tea planting industry, a very organized sector in our part of the world, with all its evils creeping in then. And like our jute industry failure, tea growing will then be destined to fail. What is the catch 22 then? How do we avoid having to import tea?

Expanding land is getting difficult and it would not be the answer, contract farming even in the present plantations and vertical and higher unit productivity and quality production may be an opening and some light at the end of the tunnel.

Quoting the Frontier Sun, Guwahati, Saturday 06 February:

“The Indian tea industry has strongly opposed the government of India move to unilaterally allow import of tea into the country. The Indian Tea Association is of the view that by its very nature the policy regime works against the Indian tea industry. This opening up to unbridled competition will sound the death knell of the Indian tea industry.”

The tea supply and demand situation of India in many ways is similar to ours in Bangladesh. The pressure of the Indian tea industry became so overwhelming that the government of India had to stop importing in the manner they started off. We have to learn from history even if it is of a neighbouring country.

The trouble is as you might definitely know that in Bangladesh while the rate of investment in the economy is 17.00% of GDP per annum, the tea industry has only attained 3.90% investment of total turnover per annum over the last 23 years (1979 2002). The low rate of investment has led to a slow growth of 2.82% in tea production per year. This scenario cannot sustain the massive internal consumption of 10.89% per annum due to increased tea drinking habit, population growth and rapid urbanisation during 1973 to 2006. However, we still can do something to halt the decay and turn the flow of events. Mr Mosharraf Hossain has shown some of the ways.

Now that the demand of tea is high and a far higher turnover is being achieved in tea, investment is going to be better. This will all evaporate overnight if we start to arbitrarily import tea. Greater care and widespread discussion with all concerned are a must, please don't let our tea estates perish without sympathy like jute. It will be a social catastrophe.

The Daily Star

Supply the main price determinant for tea

The Indian Tea Association chairman Aditya Khaitan wonders if there is another commodity where producers do not have any control over output, costs and prices. Even assuming that the majority of owners are keeping their gardens in good shape, rain and their spacing will finally tell on production and tea quality.

In times of demand recession, producers of steel, aluminium and the rest of the commodities are found to be responding to the crisis by effecting major cost cuts. Sadly though, the “very high fixed cost Indian tea industry” could not do that in the eight years to 2008 when very low tea prices left the industry badly injured with many gardens downing shutters.

Tea will always remain a pure commodity play where supply in a season will be the principal price determinant. With over two dozen countries making over 3.75 billion kg of tea and the trade mostly done on auction platform, producers however big they may be will remain bystanders in the price discovery process. As for India, structural distortions in the industry happened with the sprouting of a large number of small tea growers and bought leaf factories on the back of “very good” tea prices for a long spell till 1998. This informal producer group, enjoying much lower production costs compared to the organised sector, was responsible for over supply of the beverage and keeping the prices too low to the detriment of the industry’s health.

While the group did wrought a kind of havoc prior to 2008 – price improvements last year and sustained at still higher levels since is because of crop setback here and also in Sri Lanka and Kenya – Khaitan strikes a note of caution that the areas under tea with the “significantly large small grower segment” are yet to attain full maturity. So even in the event of the sector’s further growth is controlled, expect it to bring more and more tea in the market in the next five years, according to Khaitan.

The point Khaitan is making is that the industry will never gain control at what prices tea is to be sold at a given point. Nothing could be better than the market is allowed to reign supreme. But is not Khaitan thinking now that the market is favouring producers, thanks to the weather playing foul with crops in India, Kenya and Sri Lanka simultaneously, the time is opportune to carry out some long postponed reforms?

The objective is to implant sinews in this 160-year old industry which is obliged to carry a historical baggage in the form of welfare costs. It’s quite a heavy baggage as such costs will translate into over Rs 7 a kg of made tea. Nobody is saying that the 1.2 million tea plantation workers, nearly half of whom are women, should be denied any of the social benefits.

But with the burden resting wholly on tea companies, the competitiveness of Indian beverage in the world market is compromised. Except for Sri Lanka, no other tea producing country has to put up with India’s kind of production cost. The well being of the industry is important not only for its high labour intensity but also to sustain India’s tea exports at around 200 million kg. Hopefully commerce minister Anand Sharma will see to it that the government comes to bear a reasonable portion of social costs.

Assam accounts for nearly half the country’s tea production. But as the militants retain the capacity to strike terror in the vast tea growing areas covering nearly 315,000 hectares, the companies are pooling money to provide security cover to the men in hot spot. Time has come for the government to consider if Assam growers should not be reimbursed the cost of organising security which works out to Rs1.50 a kg of tea.

The government’s commitment to the welfare of the plantation sector, including tea is evident in its constituting an empowered group of ministers to suggest “structural changes.” Sharma reminds the industry here that since the competition is with younger producers of the beverage in Kenya, Malawi and Vietnam, its primary focus should be on bringing about significant improvements in the quality and health of garden assets.

Refer to J. Thomas Tea Statistics and you will know what a large percentage of our tea acreage is having bushes in the age group of 40 years and more. Naturally with bushes of that vintage, productivity will take a hit and production cost will be up. The need of the hour is give a big push to rejuvenation and replantation. Bad working in the past may not have allowed the industry to do much on productivity front. Now there can’t be any excuse for not making full use of Special Purpose Tea Fund.

Business Standard

Chamurchi tea garden to reopen today

Chamurchi Tea Estate in Jalpaiguri district will reopen tomorrow after a gap of seven years.

The decision was taken at a meeting held on September 8 at the chamber of the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri.

“We have jute mills and this is the first time that we are entering into the tea industry. For the first five years we will invest in nourishing the tea bushes to improve the quality of the produce. The lean season will start from December but from April next year we expect to start manufacturing,” said R.P. Tiwari, the executive director of Chamurchi Agro India Private Limited, which will take charge of the garden.

The management headed by R.S. Kajriwal, who owned the garden, had left the estate, 90km from here, in August 2002 but the garden was officially declared closed in 2004.

During the period of closure, the operation and management committee of the garden was in charge of selling the green leaves and paid Rs 50 per day to each of the workers.

The workers had not been getting wages and ration on time since 2000.

Tiwari said: “After several meetings with the trade unions, we decided that the dues of the workers that are pending till March 2001 will be cleared. But we will not be able to clear the dues that have accumulated after that.”

There were 1,074 workers in the estate in Banarhat when it was declared closed.

“About 200 of them have either died or retired. Their dependents will be given jobs after six months,” Tiwari added.

Md Nazmu, a CPM panchayat member and a member of the Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union of the Chamurchi garden unit, said: “The workers are happy. But they are not too excited as they have seen crisis brew in Bharnobari and Dheklapara gardens after they reopened. Once the estate reopens we will negotiate the dues of the workers with the management.”

Of the 13 gardens in Jalpaiguri district, nine are closed.

While Raipur, Samsi and Chinchula have started functioning, talks are on to reopen Ramjhora and Kanthalguri tea estates.

Andrew Yule rationalises product-mix for exports

Government-owned Andrew Yule & Co Ltd is in the process of rationalising its product-mix for the electrical business in a bid to cater to the export market. Kallol Datta, chairman and managing director, Andrew Yule, said after the company’s annual general meeting that the company planned to focus on the export market for the electrical market, especially Africa. “We have got a good response,” he said.

The company was also seeking technological collaboration with Japanese and Korean firms. Andrew Yule has diverse business interests that include power, engineering and environment, electrical, lubricants, industrial electronics, tea, turnkey contracts and financial services. For the engineering division Bhel procures some products. Datta said, Bhel had a huge order book, which would augur well for the company.

As far as the tea division was concerned, Andrew Yule has extensive replantation plans. Apart from applying for the special purpose tea fund (SPTF), the company has also written to the central government for granting money for replantation. Over a 10-year period, Rs 50 crore would be required for replantation activities. Andrew Yule has 15 tea gardens across Darjeeling, Dooars and Assam, producing 10 million kg. The company primarily manufactures CTC while orthodox is produced selectively at some gardens in Darjeeling and Assam.

Tea firms brace for pesticide crackdown

The tea industry will suffer a major setback following a global ban on Endosulfan — a pesticide that is widely used in growing the crop. Endosulfan is set to be banned worldwide after the signing of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or the POPs, treaty in Geneva in mid-October.

The ban on Endosulfan may lead to a fall in exports to some European countries, which now accept tea containing the pesticide within a maximum residuary limit.

India exported 203 million kg tea worth Rs 2,393 crore in 2008, of which almost 30 million kg were shipped to the European countries.

Endosulfan is still widely used in many countries to grow crops such as cotton, soy, coffee, tea and vegetables. It is also banned in 62 countries, including the European Union, as it is highly toxic for humans and other organisms.

The POPs review committee is considering a global ban for Endosulfan at the Geneva meet.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) of North America and the Environmental Justice Foundation, UK, are urging the Indian government to support the ban at the Geneva meet.

Indian officials have been trying hard to delay the ban.

The country is the world’s largest manufacturer of Endosulfan. “Indian officials are working to derail the Stockholm Convention process. They’ve used procedural tricks and given false information on Endosulfan’s impacts. They’re protecting the health of their chemical industry rather than the health of people and the environment,” said PAN scientist Karl Tupper. The PAN works with Indian organisations such as Thanal that are demanding an end to the use of the pesticide.

“I really do not know how we will manage pests from next year and yet be below the maximum residuary limit as maintained by the West,” Tea Research Association chairman C.S. Bedi told The Telegraph. Manufacturers are confident of Indian tea being accepted globally, but are worried about pest control after the ban.

Endosulfan is used more in north Indian plantations that produce the orthodox variety, which is exported to Europe. The main objection has come from the European Tea Committee. “Endosulfan is approved by the Central Insecticide Board of India and there are differences among the authorities of different nations,” Bedi said.

Tea awaits farm status

Tea is likely to be considered an agricultural commodity soon.

The empowered group of ministers (EGoM) for plantation — which was formed in July this year — will take a call on the issue, an industry source said.

“The EGoM will come up with appropriate measures, including structural reforms in vulnerable areas such as tea, coffee, pepper, and plantations. Until we get the recommendations in hand, we won’t be able to comment anything on this,” Union commerce minister Anand Sharma said here on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) today. The EGoM is headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Under the Foreign Trade Policy unveiled in August, tea was brought under the Vishesh Krishi Upaj Yojana scheme to increase its competitiveness in the global market. Experts see the inclusion as a move towards giving tea the status of an agricultural commodity. Under the scheme, exports will be eligible for some duty relief.

Export hope

Indian exports are expected to do well compared with other countries, the commerce minister said.

“The steep fall in exports has been arrested. However, it will take a while to go back to the earlier levels of growth,” Sharma said.

Poll worry for parties, not for shut gardens

Workers of the closed tea estates and their families will exercise their franchise this time too, but political parties are at a loss to calculate the expected votes.

One of the reasons is that the garden electorate has refused to be swayed by promises from candidates to reopen the estates stalked by poverty and malnutrition once they get elected to the Lok Sabha.

“Ever since our garden was closed down, we have seen four polls and the coming general election is the fifth one. Every time, leaders come in convoys, spell out their parties’ policies, make commitments and leave. Nothing has, however, changed in the estate and we continue to be unemployed. We depend on the meagre amount doled out by the government and the odd jobs that we do now and then,” said Rajen Murmu, a worker of Kanthalguri Tea Estate that has been closed since July 2002.

The labourer said the residents of the garden had grown accustomed to the false promises. “Actually, none of us believe what these candidates say. We ignore them.”

The CPM, which claims to have a strong base in the Dooars brew belt, has been facing unpleasant questions even from its cadres in closed estates.

“We are depending on alternative means to earn money. We do not have the slightest hope that our garden will reopen even if the CPM candidate wins. In the past five-six years, people in closed tea estates have learnt the truth that the only interest of the parties is in the number of votes they can garner,” said Sania Bhumij, a worker of Raipur Tea Estate and a member of the Citu, the CPM’s labour wing.

Dejected though they may be, the workers are, however, not ready to boycott the polls. The election day has other appeals for them.

“It might sound funny but tea estates wear a festive look on that day. Several people flock the booths; children run around; elders take a puff and sip tea; women visit the makeshift shops in their best saris. This has been a practice for many years. It is more of a festival. It is a relief from the mundane life. The only difference this time is the lack of enthusiasm among labourers to work for any political party,” said Phanindranath Das, an employee of the closed Sikarpur and Bhandapur Tea Estate.

A Congress leader admitted that the workers were not much interested in attending meetings and listening to the leaders talk.

Besides empty promises, two other factors — the assertion of the Terai-Dooars co-ordination committee of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad that it will boycott polls and the growing clout of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in tea estates — have made the electoral results unpredictable.

“Considering the present situation, it is indeed tough for parties like the CPM and even the Congress (the Intuc, the Congress labour wing, has bases in some tea estates) to calculate the approximate votes they will get from the tea estates,” a CPM leader said in Jalpaiguri.

“Although campaigns are going on and responses are good, the Parishad’s call for poll boycott and the inclination of a section towards the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have made equations complicated. The Citu may have a strong base in the gardens, but it is difficult for the CPM to predict who will win this time,” he added.

Cubs found in garden

The workers of the closed Bamundanga Tea Estate came upon a litter of three cubs in a ditch in the garden within 24 hours of an adult female leopard being trapped in a cage in the area by the forest department.

The foresters said the cubs were not of the leopard trapped in the garden early yesterday morning.

Bhagabandas Orao, a tea garden worker, said he had seen some movement in a ditch meant to drain rainwater this morning. He went closer and spotted the three cubs. “I thought that they would not survive as their mother had been trapped and released elsewhere. So I took the cubs out of the ditch and brought them to the garden factory,” said the labourer.

Yesterday morning, the estate dwellers were relieved that a female leopard that had been preying on domesticated animals and livestock for a few months had been trapped. The workers had been supplementing whatever income they had by selling tea leaves by raising and selling cows, goats and pigs.

The convener of the operating and maintenance committee of the garden, Shankar Guha Roy, had said yesterday that the adult leopard had preyed on nearly 50 domesticated animals in the garden and had been spreading panic in the area.

The workers’ belief that the garden had been rid of the big cat was dashed as the forest officers said the cubs belonged to a leopard still at large.

Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer of the Jalpaiguri wildlife division, said the cubs were all female and the leopard trapped yesterday was not their mother. “The leopard we released in the Gorumara National Park yesterday was not a lactating mother as she should have been as the cubs found today are just about two weeks old,” Das said.

The officer said the cubs would be placed in the ditch so that the mother found them and relocated them elsewhere. “If there are more predators in the area, we will lay the trap once again.”

The Bamundanga tea estate is surrounded by forested tracts and wild animals are bound to be found there.

Leopard bites garden bait

An adult female leopard was trapped in the closed Bamundanga Tea Estate this morning after the animal had killed and devoured at least 40 heads of livestock owned by the workers.

The convener of the operating and maintenance committee of the garden, Shankar Guha Roy, said the forest department’s Khuni office had placed a trap about a fortnight back. “The guards kept a live goat inside the cage last evening and this morning, the leopard was discovered inside,” said Guha Roy.

Pradip Sau, a garden worker, said he had woken up around 4am hearing the leopard growling. “I took a stick and went where the trap was laid. The animal was trying to break out. I immediately raised the alarm and all the workers staying nearby came,” said Sau.

“We have lost 40 to 50 animals — cows, goats and pigs — to the leopard. We had been requesting the forest department to come to our aid for the past few months, but they remained aloof,” the labourer said.

Roy said the garden had 1,174 workers who subsisted by selling plucked tea leaves.

The ranger of Khunia, N. Saha, said the female leopard that was trapped seemed to be about five-year-old. “The garden is surrounded by Nathua, Gorumara, Khairkata and Diana forests and it is only natural that wild animals will stray into the area. It is not true that we are unaware of the problems faced by the garden dwellers.”

The officer said the leopard had been checked by a vet and released into the forest later in the afternoon.

Workers block road for tea dues

More than 1,000 workers of Bharnobari Tea Estate blocked the Jaigaon road at Hasimara for eight hours, demanding their dues. The protesters positioned bicycles and benches on which women workers sat.

The blockade was lifted at 4pm after the garden management sent a part of the dues to the SBI’s Hasimara branch and promised to pay the rest by the middle of this month.

The agitation that began at 8am did not allow any Indian and Bhutan army vehicles to cross Hasimara, 40km from Alipurduar. More than 100 vehicles were stranded on both sides of the blockade.

Nearly 40 students off to appear for their second year BA exams were held up because of the blockade. “The examinees had to walk for more than a kilometre and then reached the Jaigaon college in two pick-up vans we arranged for them,” said Haider Ansari, the general secretary of the students’ union of the college.

The protesters threatened to block NH31C and also hold up railway movement if their salaries for February and March along with 10 installments of rations were not distributed by Sunday.

The tea garden in Jaigaon had reopened on April 28 last year after being closed for three years. However, payment problems cropped up from January. The management paid a portion of the workers’ wages for February on Saturday and assured that the rest would be paid by the middle of this week. But the dues were not cleared till yesterday.

At 11am today, Kalchini block development officer Rajendra Raj Sundas arrived at the spot but failed to convince the protesters.

“When the garden was reopened, the buyers assured told on timely payment of our wages. But the salaries of two months and rations for 10 weeks are due,” said Nilmani Kheria, a worker participating in the agitation.

The workers said they would chase out any politician who would come to campaign in the garden. “No one cares for us. We have no doctor, no power. We will boycott the elections,” Nilmani said.

Surojit Basu, an owner of Bharnobari, cited the bank closure for the past few days for the non-payment. “We are facing funds crunch because of the poor tea market,” he said over the phone from Delhi.

Hailstorm runs havoc in estates

A hailstorm accompanied by rain flattened tea bushes and damaged property in four tea gardens of the Alipurduar subdivision last night.

The calamity hit the Tasati, Mujnai Subhasini and Ethelbari tea estates around 10.15pm and left a trail of devastation in just 15 minutes.

The worst-hit was the Tasati tea estate where the bushes were completely shaved off and the management feared that production would not be possible before June.

“Of the 400 hectares, bushes in about 120 hectares have been very badly damaged. The loss, according to our preliminary estimates, will be around Rs 50-60 lakh. The roofs of about 80 houses of our workers had been blown off,” said Tasati manager V.K. Goyel.

Chemicals were being sprayed on the damaged bushes to prevent them from pest attacks and diseases.

An estimated Rs 20 lakh would be required to repair the damaged houses, Goyel said and added a similar hailstorm had destroyed the property in April 2005.

“The hailstones were at least an inch in diameter and inflicted heavy damage on the bushes. We will be hard put to compensate for the loss,” the Tasati manager said.

In Mujnai, a portion of the factory shed was destroyed in the storm. The management had just repaired the shed after it was damaged last year. “We had planned to reopen the factory from today, but last night’s storm damaged the wall as well as the factory shed. We will have to carry out repair work again and need at least Rs 5 lakh which will be hard on us at a time of financial crisis,” said N.N. Chakrabarty, a senior manager of the garden.

At the Subhasini tea garden, at least 100 feet of the factory wall collapsed. The management said it would have to erect a fencing after removing the rubble.

Debarghya Guha, the manager of Ethelbari Tea Estate in Falakata, said 1.59 lakh kg of green leaves worth Rs 2.8 crore were destroyed in the hailstorm last night.

Tea workers plan stir against non-payment

Workers of the Bharnobari Tea Estate at Kalchini in the Dooars today blocked the National Highway 31 near Old Hasimara bus stand demanding immediate clearance of alleged pending wages and last 10 rations.
Mrs Debi Lohar, a protester said that the workers were unpaid for the months of February and March. Following a workers’ stir, the plantation manager Mr Jayanto Banarjee had assured to clear all the dues by last Saturday but the management has failed to do so. "We were told that we would be paid on Wednesday but were not. The manager is not here, and finding no other way to voice our problems, we blocked the highway,” she said.
Another agitating worker Mr Raju Biswakarma alleged the workers had not received ration for the past ten weeks. “We have run out of our resources and yet the management is unconcerned. Most of our co-workers are starving and they have no money to buy food. If the plantation management does not clear our dues by Saturday we could disrupt train services in the area and also boycott the Lok Sabha polls,” said Mr Biswakarma.
The agitators withdrew following intervention by the BDO Kalchini, OC Jaigaon police station and OC Hasimara police out post.
The BDO Kalchini Mr Rajendraraj Somdas said that the Bharnobarie management has sent Rs 10 lakh for the workers’ payment for the month of February. “We are also trying to clear their dues for the month of March by 13 April but we cannot assure anything about ration,” the BDO said.

India Tea Exports Down 25%

India's tea exports fell by a quarter on year in February due to low availability and weak demand from Russia, Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India, said Wednesday.

Exports in February totaled 12.0 million kilograms compared with 16.1 million kg a year earlier, according to the state-run board.

Production problems in southern India have impacted the availability of orthodox tea, Mr. Banerjee told Dow Jones Newswires. "Also, because of the economic slowdown, the demand has come down from Russia and most of the Western markets," he added.

Russia imports mostly orthodox tea - premium tea that is selectively processed.

India, the world's second-largest tea producer and exporter, is shifting its focus to Middle East markets to make up for lower exports to other regions, Banerjee said.

Mr. Banerjee said he expects tea exports in the financial year ended March 31 to be above the previous year's level of 185.3 million kg.

February output fell to 15.3 million kg from 17.8 million kg a year earlier.

Mr. Banerjee said the first flush teas - India's early season tea crop, generally considered to be of the highest quality - have been affected by drought-like conditions in the northeastern state of Assam.

"So the season has been delayed a bit - and certainly the first flush crop will be down," he said, adding that rain in the last week has provided some relief.

Picking of flush teas usually begins in March.

Production will likely be slightly lower in 2008-09 compared with the 2007-08 level of 945.3 million kg.

Tropical climate and Gen X support growth drivers in Indian beverage industry

India's tropical climatic weather conditions and the growing youth population are the biggest drivers for the beverage industry to climb a new high, according to beverage manufacturers like MTR, B Natural, Parle Agro, UB Group and Coffee Day.

The beverage sector in the country covers fruit drinks in tetra packs, mineral water, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, coffee and tea.

"The two factors that drive the beverage market are convenience of a ready-to-drink concept, easy availability, high thirst factor and disposable incomes," says IR Ramalinge Gowda, managing director of Karnataka Milk Federation which also vends a range of milk-based beverages which finds sales booming in summer months.

While it is difficult to estimate the size of the sector because each sector itself provides a dedicated range of customers, the industry estimates it as a
Rs 10,000-crore segment for fruit drinks and the soft drinks alone. The industry sources in Karnataka representing MTR Jagdale, KMF, B Natural, stated that the market was growing at over 30% annually.

"Since beverages are indispensable, companies are looking at novel packaging concepts to woo customers. In terms of flavour the demand is more for light and nutritional versions with better taste," says Dr Mridul Salgame, managing director, Institute for Analysis of Dairy Food & Cultures (IADFAC) Laboratories.

Says Dr A S Bawa, director, Defence Food Laboratory, Mysore, "We are looking at simple-to-carry and easy-to-digest versions which include highly nutritious drinks. This is because we are catering to the services sector. But the private entrepreneurs can approach us for technology transfer for any fruit-vegetable and cereal drink of their choice. Our range has millet beverage mixes, which are rich in calcium. The beetroot juice serves as a good beverage for personnel suffering from anaemic conditions. There are also beverages to increase the appetite of personnel stationed in high altitudes. All these can be conveniently reconstituted in water prior to consumption.

Soft Drinks are a preferred option in summer
The leading soft and aerated players in the country are Coco-Cola and PepsiCo. The soft and aerated drink varieties include carbonated and non-carbonated versions available in bottles, family packs, cans and fountain dispensers. Apart from the range of cola drinks like Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, there are fizzy flavours like orange, cloudy lime, clear lime and mango which are preferred as any time and any season options.

PepsiCo India, which is the country's leading food & beverage company, launched its packaged nimbu paani, Nimbooz by 7Up early this month. "The lemon juice in a convenient pack has been developed to suit Indian tastes and preferences," says Punita Lal, executive director- marketing, PepsiCo India.

In order to maximise its summer sales and en-cash on the king of fruits demand, the company also added a new 'Aamsutra' concept for its much important drink 'Slice' mango drink. "Slice is the fastest growing mango drink brand in the country, "says Homi Battiwalla, business head, juice & juice drinks, PepsiCo India.

South India is the lead market for mango drinks in the country. Andhra Pradesh is the biggest mango market and also the fastest growing market for Slice and mango drinks in the country. Tamil Nadu is amongst the top three states and Slice is the market-leader in Tamil Nadu, he added

Tea, much sought after beverage:
Apart from the major tea players in the country like Brooke Bond, Lipton to name a few, now Metro Cash and Carry India, the international leader in self-service wholesale, is also offering its range of premium teabags under its H-Line and HORECA select brands to cater to the table and kitchen needs of the hospitality industry. Competitively priced, these premium tea bags are available exclusively at Metro Cash & Carry wholesale centers in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Tea bags from the H-Line brand come in 9 popular flavours - Cardamom, Lemon, Earl Grey, English breakfast, Masala, Ginger, Darjeeling, Assam Tea and Green Tea. Each tea bag is individually wrapped in envelopes to protect the flavour and hygiene of the product. Available in convenient pack sizes of 50 and 100s, the range is priced between Rs 62 and Rs 215.

Coffee: The growing demand
India is the sixth prime producer of coffee in the world after Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. The country accounts for around 4.5% of the global coffee production.

Much of all production takes place in the southern states of the country with hilly scapes of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and North Eastern region (Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh0. India is famed for its Monsoon Malabar variety.
Coffee is a much preferred drink in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Coffee bars like Cafe Coffee Day and Barista are thronged with enthusiasm along with the traditional filter coffee serving outlets.

Goodricke sees 5% rise in tea prices on global shortage

The Goodricke Group Limited is expecting tea prices to increase by five per cent this year, on the back of the global shortage and strong internal demand.

A N Singh, managing director and CEO, GGL said, prices should increase by five per cent. "There is a drought in Kenya and Sri Lanka, coupled with a strong internal demand, prices should appreciate," he said. Singh was speaking on the sidelines of the company's annual general meeting.

Last year, GGL clocked in an average price of Rs 228.51 per kg for its Darjeeling teas compared to the auction average of Rs 175.36 per kg. Goodricke Dooars sold at Rs 99.70 per kg against the auction average of Rs 91.9 per kg while the company's Assam teas averaged at Rs 120.27 per kg against auction price of Rs 104.59 per kg.

Singh clarified that the five per cent appreciation was the expectation for teas in general and specific to Goodricke's teas. Total manufactured crop for the company was at 21.52 million kg for the year ended December 31, 2008, compared to 21.17 million kg in the previous year. This is the highest manufactured crop of the company.

P A Legatta, chairman, said, although the crop marginally declined the increase had been achieved from outsourced leaf.

Goodricke to launch ready-to-drink products by December

Tea plantation company Goodricke Group Ltd is gearing up to launch ready-to-drink cold beverage product by December this year, a top official said here Tuesday.

'Over 250 million bottles of our ready-to-drink variety will be available in three flavours - peach, lemon and orange,' company managing director A.N. Singh told reporters on the sidelines of the annual general meeting.

Goodricke, whose gardens are spread over Darjeeling and Dooars in West Bengal, and Assam, would use the Goodricke brand owned by the UK-based parent company Camellia Plc as an umbrella brand for the ready-to-drink segment till the exact name is finalised.

Country's largest tea company Tata Tea had last month announced its foray into the tea and fruit-based cold beverage market with the launch of T!ON brand.

Talking about Goodricke's tea business, Singh said the company has plans to reduce sale of tea from its Darjeeling gardens through the auction route and shift more quantity to the retail market.

'By reducing the share of sale through auction from the present 70 percent to 50 percent within the next three years, we would be saving on costs incurred in putting the tea to auction,' Singh said.

In a bid to increase retail sale, the company has recently opened a tea lounge and has entered into distribution tie-ups with shopping malls, he added.

The share of packet tea sales, which currently stands at 5 percent of 21.52 million kg tea manufactured in 2008, would be doubled to 10 percent in three years, Singh said.

The profit after tax of the company for 2008 was Rs.l7.58 crore, up from Rs.7.74 crore in 2007.

Push to direct supply of fertiliser

The ministry of fertilisers has asked the tea industry to examine the possibility of procuring muriate of potash directly to ensure that the gardens get the fertiliser on time.

At present, the gardens get the fertiliser through the distributors, which often leads to a delay in delivery.

The proposal, mooted at a recent meeting in Darjeeling, came in the wake of the problems faced by the industry last year because of the erratic supply of the fertiliser.

An industry official said the ministry has asked the tea industry to look into the matter, as there is no nodal agency in Assam, which wants to take up the responsibility of procuring the fertiliser.

The muriate of potash is a vital fertiliser for both the CTC and orthodox varieties of tea. It helps tea bushes to battle certain fungal infections and to improve the water content in the tea leaf. The India Potash Ltd (IPL) is the sole agency for the fertiliser and bulk mover of the product but does not have any stocking point in Assam and is supplied through the distributors.

“Supplies of the fertiliser did not reach on time last year and there were reports of unfair deals,” the official said.

He added that the ministry was ready to give a no-objection certificate if the tea industry wanted to take up the responsibility of procuring the fertiliser directly from the IPL, through its associations.

The tea industry is now discussing the proposal with its member gardens.

The requirement of fertilisers in the tea gardens of Assam is estimated at 40,000 tonnes a year.

“The scarcity of fertiliser had affected the gardens badly last year. The season has just started this year and hence ways and means have to be thought of to procure the fertiliser on time,” the official said. The shortage last year was attributed to the suspension of fresh imports by IPL because of the sharp rise in global prices and the inadequate coverage of the transportation costs under the freight reimbursement scheme.

10% loss in tea yield feared for dry spell

The tea gardens in the Dooars are apprehending at least 10 per cent loss in its annual production of 160 million kg because of a drought-like situation in the region over the past six months.

“About 15 per cent of the annual crop is produced by the middle of this month every year. We are worried that half of it has already been lost because of the absence of rain,” said Prabir Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association (DBITA).

According to him, the tea gardens of the region had experienced a similar situation in 1984 and 1989, when production was hampered because of the drought.

“Usually, we get at least 200 inches of rainfall every year and at least four to five inches of shower at this time of the season, that is from December-January to March-April. But this year there was hardly half-an-inch of rain which is quite unnatural,” Bhattacharya said.

There are 153 tea gardens in the Dooars and all are facing a drop in production not only because of the scarcity of rain, but for some other problems as well, said the DBITA secretary.

“The dry climate helps several pests to grow which are considered harmful for tea bushes. Red spider and red caterpillar are some of the insects which are threats to the gardens,” Bhattacharya said.

In the past couple of days, there were occasional drizzles in the region but Bhattacharya felt that the amount of rain was too less to make any impact on the tea industry. The drought-like situation and the pest attack on the bushes would escalate the cost of production, he said.

The weather observation centre of North Bengal University has, however, brought some good news to the stakeholders of the industry in the region.

The centre has forecast that a low pressure axis from the Bay of Bengal has entered the north-eastern region of the country including the sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim. A thunderstorm and rain is expected because of the phenomenon, which will help remove the dry spell in the gardens.

Dry spell to hit tea production

Absence of rain has hit the tea industry hard in north Bengal.

Ruing the dry spell in Jalpaiguri today, the Dooars Branch Indian Tea Association secretary, Mr Prabir Bhattacharya, said that the planters had not experienced such conditions in many years. “We did not experience such drought after 1984. The dry spell has scorched tea bushes in most plantations and we fear a severe drop in production this year,” he said.

“We fear production would be down by 10 per cent this year. The industry has already lost 50 per cent of the first flush crop normally realized between 15 March and 15 April. The Dooars receive about 250 inch rainfall a year but the region has received a paltry 1/2 inch rain in the past six moths spoiling the first flush tea, which is the best quality,” he said. According to him, the Dooars requires 6-7 inch rainfall in the next few days or the conditions would become irreversible.In addition to wilting for lack of rain, the tea bushes are coming under relentless pest attack. “Spiders, caterpillars and the lot are taking toll of the tea bushes. Both the drought and pest would increase the production cost this year by a considerable degree,” he said. According to him, the Dooars has an average annual production of 160 million kg tea. “We fear about 12 million kg shortfall this year. The industry has informed the state government of the situation and we are waiting for a response,” the secretary said.

Deadline to pay tea dues

Workers of the limping Bharnobari Tea Estate today set a deadline of April 7 for the management to pay them the February wages and clear the ration dues of five months, failing which they would block the road connecting Jaigaon to NH31C.

The warning came in the form of a memorandum the labourers submitted to the Kalchini block development officer today.

The garden, located 42km from Alipurduar town, was re-opened on April 28 last year and ever since, the management had been paying the workers their wages as well as providing them with rations on time till the end of November. Although there was no power connection to the factory in the estate, generators were used to produce tea.

But with the beginning of the lean season in December, the management stopped meeting the financial obligations.

The workers were paid the wages for December in the first week of February this year only. The payments were made in parts. Permanent workers were paid first, temporary workers then and the staff and sub-staff members were the last to receive the wages.

The people living in the garden faced other problems too. The employees of electricity department had come in the first week of March to disconnect power lines to garden quarters when Madhyamik examinations were going on. At the request of the parents, the employees left the garden without snapping the power lines.

As the workers were living without wages, two persons allegedly starved to death in the estate. The BDO, S. Sundas, contacted Surojit Basu, one of the buyers of the garden, and the wages for January were paid in the first week of March.

Biplab Sarkar, a leader of the Intuc-affiliated National Union for Plantation Workers in the garden, said: “Provident fund dues are running to almost Rs 52 lakh. We are yet to receive the February wages. Rations for five months are also pending. The management had collected power bills for January from us, but did not deposit the amount with the electricity department.”

Sarkar said if chemicals were not sprayed on bushes, tea plants were bound to be eaten away by insects. “The situation in the garden is grave and the future of our children is uncertain. So, we have told the authorities that if the wages for February are not paid by April 7, we will block the road from Jaigaon to Hashimara.”

Basu said over the phone from Calcutta that the management was trying its best to clear the dues. “We have contacted labour commissioner and he will arrange for a meeting after the elections to resolve the issue.”

Droughts affecting global tea price

Droughts in key producing countries and the impact of the weak pound are putting tea prices under pressure, industry experts have warned.

Low rainfall in the growing regions of India, Kenya and Sri Lanka - which together account for half the world's exports - have led to poor crop yields, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Civil unrest around Kenya's elections also caused problems last year.

Prices at weekly auctions in Mombasa - the global benchmark for the industry - have risen 15% since December, to 3.40 US dollars (£2.38) a kilogram. Wholesale black tea prices surged 11% last year to an average of 3.10 dollars (£2.17) a kilogram last year - the highest annual average since at least 1993, according to figures published by the Financial Times.

While the supply problems are unlikely to have too much impact on mainstream tea prices, premium teas such as Darjeeling could be affected.

Kaison Chang, a tea specialist at the FAO, said high altitude teas like Darjeeling have been hit by the drought and "the quantity is not expected to be as much as last year".

It is understood that part of the supply problem stems from Sri Lanka, which is set to see production fall to a seven-year low after the drought and farmers' unwillingness to use expensive fertilisers.

William Gorman, executive chairman of the UK Tea Council, said that, while the price of a cuppa has risen, this was the first hike in 10 years.

He said the typical cost of 80 tea bags, which retailed at £1.89 in 1999, had recently gone up to £1.97.

Mr Gorman said the increase was predominantly a product of the weakness in the pound, as tea is traded in US dollars.

"We have had to find more pounds to pay for our tea," he said.

Darjeeling Tea Estate to become the latest Buddhist Pilgrimage site

Upper Phagu tea estate near Gorubathan, 70km from here, is set to become the latest Buddhist pilgrimage site with the inauguration of a stupa on Saturday.

Dedicated to Atish Dipankar Srigyan, a 10th century Buddhist prince of a kingdom in north Bengal, the 74.2ft tall stupa has been erected by Hoishwar Rimpoche along with the Upper Phagu Tamang Gumba Committee (UPTGC) on a plot gifted by the estate.

Lobsang Tamang, the Kalimpong branch president of the All India Tamang Buddhist Association, said the site was selected on the basis of a prediction made to Chhattal Sangay Dorji Rimpoche by his Tibetan guru 65 years ago. Sangay Dorji, who is the head of the Tamang gumba in Salbari near Siliguri, had performed the “bhumi puja” for the construction of the stupa in January 2006.

The garden authorities had gifted 0.70 acre of land to the UPTGC in 2002 for constructing a gumba. However, the committee handed over the land to Sangay Dorji who asked the Rimpoche, who also sits in Salbari, to erect the stupa.

The stupa has been constructed on a barren garden plot near the Chel river and is surrounded by lush green hills on all sides. The Rimpoche hoped that the place would not only become another tourism site, but a place where people would find inner peace.

The tea estate is about 60km from Siliguri and its nearest tourist spot is Lava, 25km away.

Duncans forays into Indian super-premium packaged tea segment

Duncans Tea, the flagship division of the Rs 2,000-crore Duncan-Goenka Group, is foraying into the super premium packaged tea category with two brands of Darjeeling Tea.

With the two new brands, Duncans Darjeeling Tea and Indian Treasure, the company is aiming for 5 per cent marketshare in the premium packaged tea category over the next one year. M C Appaiah, chief operating officer, Duncans Tea, added that the two brands would soon be made available in all metros, beginning with Bengaluru. Other brands in the Duncans portfolio include Runglee Rungliot, Double Diamond, Sargam, King's Cup and Shakti. Darjeeling tea has an annual production of 11.7 million kg and accounts for an estimated 1.5 per cent of overall tea production in India.

Intuc cries foul against rally holiday

The CPM and its labour wing have asked gardens in the Terai to declare holidays for the next two days to enable tea workers to attend rallies of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Darjeeling district Intuc has alleged.

“We have no problem if the CPM and Citu supporters and workers in tea estates go out to attend the rallies. But issuing diktats to induce more people to go to the meetings is not acceptable,” said Aloke Chakraborty, the president of the Darjeeling district Intuc, today. “We have specific information that representatives of the management in some tea estates have declared two-day holiday in the gardens. We condemn this effort to cajole the employees and their families into attending party meetings.”

The Intuc leader has sought the chief minister’s intervention to mitigate the workers’ woes because of a “drought-like situation” in the region.

“The CPM speaks a lot about the working class. If it is really sincere to protect the workers’ interests, the chief minister should then check out why the government has issued an order that said no tea estate can channel or take out water from a water body located near the plantation. The order was issued despite the fact that the tea bushes are suffering from pest attack and drying everyday in want of rain in a drought-like situation,” Chakraborty said. “If tea bushes dry up, the workers will ultimately be affected.”

The CPM has, however, denied the charge. “These are baseless allegations levelled before the polls,” said Jibesh Sarkar, the party candidate of the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. “We don’t need to issue any diktat as people come to our meetings spontaneously. However, instructions have been passed on to party supporters in the estates to attend the chief minister’s meeting.”

Bhattacharjee will reach here by the afternoon flight and address a workers’ meeting at Kanchenjungha Stadium. He will also meet district leaders at the party office and stay at the Circuit House. On Sunday, the chief minister will visit Saidabad Tea Estate, 25km from here, to address another rally before leaving for Bagdogra on way to Calcutta.

The chief minister’s visit has assumed significance especially after today’s incident in Darjeeling where Sarkar and other party leaders were allegedly harassed by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters, party sources said.

“Party supporters as well as district leaders are eagerly waiting to hear from him as to what they should do to intensify the campaign,” a source said.

ABAVP threat vexes tea workers

Tea worker union leaders expressed concern at the Ahkil Bhartiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad's threat to boycott the Lok Sabha polls unless the state government concede to their demands by 31 March. According to the worker union leaders, the ABAVP threat could have a major impact on non-Adivasi voters, who might shy away from exercising their franchise.

According to Mr Chitta De, convener of the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers ~ a platform of 18 tea worker unions ~ the move could deprive many of their right to vote. “The ABAVP is an NGO. It cannot restrict people from exercising their democratic rights. The ABAVP is trying to exploit the plantation workers. We will not let them do so. We are organizing regular meetings with the workers to convince them to cast their votes.”

The National Union of Plantation Workers secretary, Mr Moni Darnal, said that nobody could stop the people from voting. “The political tension in the Dooars has already damaged harmony in the region and it is our responsibility to heal the wound. We are trying to convince our supporters not to be influenced by the ABAVP,” he said.
The majority of Jalpaiguri district's voters belong to the tea plantations, which play a decisive role in the constituency as well as in Alipurduar. According to the Citu state vice-president, Mr Manik Sanyal, the district has about four lakh voters in the tea plantations. “We want to ensure that neither the ABAVP nor the GJMM exploits them,” Mr Sanyal said.

The All India secretary of Hind Majdoor Sabha, Mr Samir Roy, said that the tea workers were concerned about their rights. “We presume the ABAVP will finally change its position.”

ABAVP’s Terai-Dooars coordination committee secretary Mr Rajesh Lakra reacted by saying that their campaign in the tea belt was to make supporters aware of the outfit's stand.


Labourer ‘starves’ to death - Garden in need of succour

Jaigaon, March 26: A 45-year-old man died apparently from malnutrition in Radharani Tea Estate, where more than 400 workers have been living without two square meals a day and medicine ever since the management abandoned the garden two months ago.

“After Subhlal Oraon, a worker of the estate located in Alipurduar’s Kalchini block, starved to death, his 10-year-old son Deepraj is an orphan now,” said Ashok Minj, the convener of the operating and maintenance committee of the garden. His mother, too, had died without food three months back, he added.

“The management had left the estate on January 15 and since then, there have been no wage payments, pushing 405 labourers into the brink of penury. There are many workers and their family members who are suffering from illness with no money to visit doctors,” said Minj.

“Subhlal had been ailing for 20 days and there was no one to look after him. There are many others, who are similarly suffering from either fever or water-borne diseases,” said the convener.

After the management had abandoned the garden, more than 100 people, including schoolchildren, left the estate to look for jobs in other states or Bhutan.

“The labourers were given work under the central government’s employment guarantee programme for seven days in January, but no payment has been made as yet,” said Ashoke Chhetri, the unit secretary of the Intuc-affiliated National Union of Plantation Workers in the garden. He added that the management had defaulted on wages, ration, provident fund and gratuity, which would together come around to Rs 88 lakh.

According to him, with the general elections round the corner, no one is interested in the plight of the workers.

The general secretary of the union, Pravat Mukherjee, said although a meeting had been convened at the office of the assistant labour commissioner in Alipurduar, the management failed to show up.

Mattheus Lepcha, the joint block development officer of Kalchini, said he was yet to hear about the worker’s death. “However, I will ask the block medical officer to conduct health check-ups in the estate.”

Tata tea rise even as tea exports to stay low

The possible downfall in exports in the tea industry might not have adverse impact on the Indian tea industry, as the domestic demand is strong enough to drive past the recessionary period.

A fall in the exports to Russia had raised the concerns of the tea traders across the country, as the buyers in Russia are delaying their purchase decisions due to credit crunch.

According to Tea Board estimates, there could be some deferments in the short term. However, experts see an increase in the consumption of Indian CTC teas as the recession-hit consumers would switch over to consuming tea from other costlier beverages. A general perception says that people consume more tea staying at home. But some costlier varieties like the Darjeeling tea would have an adverse impact.

According to available figures, tea exports for the CY 2008 stood at 196 million kgs an increase of 10% from 178 kgs in 2007. But for the fiscal year-ending March 2009, the exports could fall short of targeted 210 million kgs.

Lack of timely rains too seemed to have impacted the Indian tea output in the January-March quarter. Country’s key growing areas including Assam had witnessed a dry spell of six months from September to February during this year.

Tea stocks on the bourses traded positive today as one of the country’s largest tea makers, Tata Tea Ltd was trading at Rs.552 up by close to 1.5%, while CCL Products India Ltd traded at Rs.63.25 up by 1.5% on the BSE. Tea exporter and trader, Bombay Burmah Trading Company Ltd was treading high at Rs. 129 up by 7.5% during the afternoon trading hours on the BSE today.

(Darjeeling, March 20): Rainfall in Darjeeling today after almost five months helped settle the dust, but failed to provide much needed relief to the tea planters and the people in general.

With overcast skies since early morning, many residents were hoping for a rain. While it drizzled in the morning, there was a shower for about half an hour around 11.30am.

Darjeeling tea planters said the rainfall was just a little too late. “The shower has come a bit too late,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association.

The Darjeeling planters usually rely on rain around Christmas but there was no shower during the winter this year.

The dry weather has stemmed the growth of first flush, which usually fetches the highest price at auctions.

“We have suffered heavy losses this year, but we cannot provide a comprehensive figure unless the first flush season is over,” said Mukherjee.

Plucking for the first flush has already started and it generally carries on till April end.

While the rain has brought little relief to the planters, the Darjeeling Municipality, too, said the short spell would not help them much. “We need more rain. Anyway, we had started making preparations to distribute potable water through trucks and jeeps from next week. We have already approached the DGHC to provide us with Rs 40 lakh for water distribution,” said Pemba Tshering Ola, the chairman of the civic body.

The two lakes in Senchel, which supply water to Darjeeling, are bone dry. While the South Lake has absolutely no water in store, the North Lake has only about eight feet of water against the normal storage of 12 feet. Most of the 25 streams that feed water to these two lakes are running dry.

“If we have a good shower for a couple of days, the streams will start flowing again. But short spells like that of today will not help,” said a municipal worker who is associated with the distribution.

The Indian Meteorological Department has said on its website that a disturbance has developed over Jammu and Kashmir, while another was forming over western Uttar Pradesh.

With clouds still moving over the region, there is hope for more rains in Darjeeling.

Fast against high-decibel noise from tea factory

Agitated over constant sound emanating from a bought-leaf tea factory, residents of Rahutbagan in Jalpaiguri launched a 48-hour hunger strike today.

The residents alleged that Unique Tea Born Pvt Ltd that produces around 4,000kg of CTC tea everyday has become a cause of concern for around 200 people of the locality on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri.

“We had approached several government officials, including those of the Pollution Control Board (PCB). But nothing has changed till date,” said Dulal Dey who lives in Rahutbagan.

According to the residents, the roaring of machines, which is regularly audible in the area throughout the day, can sometimes be heard even at night. “Because of the noise from the factory, we are forced to speak to each other in high-pitched voice at home. We cannot sleep at night and many of us have high blood pressure and gastric problems,” said Jiban Kar, one of the two persons who are on the fast.

The residents said a meeting had been convened at the PCB office at Matigara in December last year and it was decided that experts would be sent to look into the complaint and advise the management as to how the noise could be reduced. “But nobody has come and inspected the machines,” said another resident.

The factory did not function today as many people had gathered in front of it to express solidarity with those on the fast.

Diptendu Biswas, the manager of the factory, said he unit was ready to follow any instruction given by the PCB. “We have around 70 workers and most of them are local people. Requests had been made to the residents to call off the strike and sit across the table with PCB officials and us, but they were not ready to relent.”

Biswajit Mukherjee, the senior law officer of state environment department, said over the phone from Calcutta that it was mandatory for any unit in an industrial area to keep sound limited to 70 decibels. “If the unit is in a commercial area, the limit is 65. In non-commercial and non-industrial areas, the sound limit is 55 decibels.” He said the limits were mentioned in the Environment Protection Act, 1986, read with Noise Regulation and Control Rules, 2000.