Shield for tea leaves

Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) has come out with a specialty oil that can protect tea leaves from pests.

The company introduced HP Tea Spray Oil in Calcutta this week. The product has its roots in the base oil that goes into the making of lubricant oil.

R.S. Rao, executive director (direct sales) of HPCL, said the market size of tea spray oil would be 5,000 tonnes a year.

“We are kicking off in Calcutta because this is the hub for tea gardens in north Bengal and Assam. Going forward, we will launch in south India,” Rao said.

HPCL plans to export the oil to tea producing countries such as Kenya and Sri Lanka. 

Source: The Telegraph

Small tea growers usher in winds of change in Assam

A green revolution is sweeping Assam, empowering many people for the first time and rejuvenating the state's economy. Small tea gardens now dot the landscape as more and more people turn their backyards into mini tea plantations.
It does not really matter if you have a small patch of vegetable garden to spare or a big mass of land.
According to the All Assam Small Tea Growers Association (AASTGA), the number of small tea growers has swelled to 65,000 in the last two decades. And it is on the rise.
Assam currently produces around 480 million kg of tea. Around 30 percent of this comes from small tea growers.
Lakhi Gogoi is one of the many who has his own tea garden - Rajashree Tea Estate - in the upper Assam district of Tinsukia.
'In 2008, my green tea leaf production touched 80,000 kg. In 2009, it rose to 81,000 and this year I am expecting it to touch 100,000. Tea business is good business,' Gogoi told IANS.
Although Gogoi worked in a well-known tea company earlier, he had no knowledge of the business.
'I am well accustomed to the knowhows of tea cultivation, spraying pesticides, pruning and plucking. It was a matter of time before I realized that if the big tea companies can grow these plants and reap such big benefits, so can I,' he said.
'After years of toying with the idea, I began my venture in 1996 on a small patch of land. Over the years, I scaled up my operations and now grow tea in 50 bighas of land,' Gogoi said.
Depending on the market conditions, the price of green tea leaves varies between Rs.12 and Rs.18 a kg.
Said an AASTGA official: 'By growing tea in underutilized uplands, small tea growers have brought in a green revolution in Assam by bringing in huge socio-economic changes.'
'More than 900,000 people are involved in the small tea growing business in Assam. Almost 250, 000 hectares of land is covered for such plantations. They contribute to 29 percent of the total tea produced by Assam, which is 14 percent of the total tea production of India,' the official added.
Even farmers in villages, who traditionally grew vegetables, are now opting for tea cultivation. 'Tea cultivation brings much higher profits and is a steady source of income,' said D. Bora, a farmer.
In a state where unemployment looms large, youth are the biggest beneficiaries.
Rajiv Sharma, 28, decided to try his hands in tea plantation two years ago. He started small -- growing tea bushes in the backyard of his house. And there has been no looking back since.
'My parents were initially sceptical and said tea production has always been the big companies' cup of tea. But I was willing to take the risk. I started small and now have the capacity to invest in more land for more plantations,' Sharma said.
Unlike the big tea companies like McLeod Russel India and Goodricke, small tea growers do not have their own factories. They sell their leaves either to the big firms or smaller private factories which in turn manufacture and market it under different brands.
One of the challenges that the small tea growers are facing is that of maintaining quality.
'Not all growers are aware of banned chemicals. All they seek for are strong pesticides which will kill the pests - thus making the wrong choice. As a result, this tea does not get a good price at tea auctions,' Sharma told IANS.
It is for this reason tea leaves of small growers are manufactured and branded differently from the main brands by the big tea companies. Nevertheless, almost 25 percent of the tea manufactured by the tea moghuls are from the small growers.
While the small tea growers are helping to change the socio-economic condition in Assam, they hardly get any help from the state government.
Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia's recent announcement of a special scheme to provide financial assistance to the community has, however, given them some hope.
'If the government is seriously thinking of helping us, it will be great. We are after all an unorganized sector. Let's just hope it is not another empty promise,' said Gogoi. 

Source: IANS

July tea output dips 3.2% on pest attack

Mumbai: India’s tea output fell for a second straight month in July after a pest attack trimmed crop size in the biggest producing region of the country, hardening local prices, Tea Board said in a statement on Friday.
Tea output in July fell 3.15% to 123 million kg from 127 million kg a year ago, it said. The output in June had fallen by 11.9% to 104 million kg.

A pest attack of helopeltis adversely affected tea gardens in the northeastern state of Assam, India’s top producer.

“Impact of pest attack has been easing. August production numbers are likely to be steady to slightly lower,” said an official at Calcutta Tea Traders’ Association.

Despite a drop in June and July production, the south Asian country’s tea output in Jan-July stood at 462.2 million kg, up 0.45% on year due to higher crop in Jan-April.

Tea prices of different grades in the world’s second biggest producer have risen by nearly a tenth in the past two months on a supply squeeze.

Tea Board chairman Basudeb Banerjee told Reuters in July that the country’s tea output in 2010 is likely to fall below 2009 level.

India exports CTC variety of tea, mainly to Egypt, Pakistan and the UK, and the premium orthodox variety of tea to Iraq, Iran and Russia.

Source: Reuters

Elephant found dead at Assam tea estate

Nagaon, Assam: A male elephant has been found dead at the courtyard of a house inside Kalidan tea estate near Nagaon in Assam. It's unusual for an elephant to die in such circumstances unless electrocuted. Workers at the tea estate insist the elephant died of natural causes.

255 elephants have died in Assam as a result of conflicts with humans between 1990 and 2003. Most of them were poisoned or electrocuted.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced earlier this week that the government will declare the elephant a National Heritage Animal as part of a new initiative.

The Elephant Task Force - made up of 12 members - has also recommended setting up a National Elephant Conservation Authority, similar to the existing National Tiger Conservation Authority. The task force has presented the government with a comprehensive plan for how to protect elephants in the wild and in captivity, and alleviate the human-elephant conflict.

Source: NDTV

Planters face state pay-up pressure - Interim hike hope for tea sector

Darjeeling, Sept. 1: The tea industry, under “extreme” pressure from the CPM-led state government which has its eyes on next year’s Assembly polls, is likely to accept the demand for an interim wage hike for its workers in north Bengal. The next round of talks to discuss the wage hike will be held in Calcutta on September 9.

In the last five rounds of meeting between the state, trade unions and the garden managements, the planters were unwilling to accept any interim hike since the 2008 wage agreement is in place till March next year. The 3 lakh workers in the gardens of Darjeeling and the Dooars and Terai receive a daily wage of Rs 67. The workers had demanded an interim wage hike because of the rise in prices of essential commodities.

“During the last meeting, we were under extreme pressure from state labour minister Anadi Sahu and we are now actively considering an interim hike,” said an industry source. The meeting was held in Calcutta on August 30.

Observers believe that the Bengal minister is exerting pressure on the industry with an eye on the coming Assembly elections. “The Left has much at stake in north Bengal. With the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad making substantial inroads, it is a difficult time for the Left in north Bengal now,” said an observer.

Since setting up base, the tribal outfit has been making inroads into the Dooars and the Terai displacing dominant unions like the CPM’s Citu and the Congress’s Intuc. The loyalty switch of workers that followed was such that during a strike called by the Citu on July 5, almost 80 per cent of the 227 gardens were open in the Dooars.

Till recently, the tea management was unwilling to budge from its stand to go for an interim hike. But now, when it has changed its stand, the Adivasi Parishad has made it clear that it does not want an interim hike but a new agreement where the daily wage of workers will be Rs 250. “There is still some possibility of the negotiations falling through as the Adivasi Parishad is adamant that instead of an interim wage hike, the workers should be paid Rs 250 per day. This would be very difficult to accept,” a source said.

“So far the management had agreed only to repair the workers’ houses,” the source added.

The management is, however, pinning hopes on the labour minister to also impress on the Adivasi Parishad to accept the interim wage hike and keep the demand for Rs 250 daily wage for discussion at a latter stage. “Since the minister is exerting pressure on us which has forced us to change our minds, it is only right that he should impress on the unions, especially the Adivasi Parishad to be flexible,” said the source.

Sandip Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association, said there were indications of a positive outcome in the next meeting.

“I can only say that the outcome should be positive,” said Mukherjee.

Source: The Telegraph

Garden siege over power demand

Alipurduar, Aug. 31: More than a thousand workers of Subhasini Tea Estate confined the garden manager to his office for 10 hours today demanding the restoration of electricity lines that had been disconnected five months ago.

The siege that began at 7.30am was lifted at 5.30pm after the manager, Anindya Roy, assured the protesters that he would sit with the trade unions on Thursday to thrash out the issue. Work in the garden in Kalchini was hampered throughout the day.

According to Abdul Hamid, the unit secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad’s Progressive Tea Workers’ Union, the management had begun to deduct Rs 350 a month from the workers’ wages as electricity charges from October last year causing widespread resentment among the workers.

Earlier, the management had charged a worker between Rs 200 and Rs 225 a month for power consumption. But the workers protested the sudden rise in deduction from their wages and said they were ready to pay Rs 100 a month for electricity supply for 12 hours a day. Earlier, the supply was for 24 hours.

“The management did not heed our plea and instead disconnected the power lines from every worker’s quarters from April 1 this year. Since then we are living in tremendous hardship, especially the elders and the students. So we decided to gherao the manager till some assurance was given,” Hamid said.

The PTWU leader said the workers had submitted a proposal that electricity meters be installed in each quarters and the amount consumed would be paid for. But that demand was also rejected by the management, he said.

The garden has 1,200 workers.

Around 3pm, police from Hashimara outpost arrived at the garden office and tried to persuade the protesters to lift the gherao but failed.

As the manager was feeling uneasy — garden sources said the agitating workers did not allow him to drink water or use the washroom — the police asked the central leaders of the Parishad from Hashimara to come and negotiate. After the talks with the Adivasi leaders, the agitation was withdrawn.

While the manager was not available for comments, Amitangshu Chakrabarty, the secretary of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association’s Birpara branch, of which the garden is a member, said Roy’s confinement was uncalled for.

“It was very undemocratic of the workers to confine the manager to his office in this manner. What the workers have been demanding is unreasonable. However, let us see what takes place in the meeting scheduled for Thursday,” Chakrabarty said.

Source: The Telegraph