Aid plea for Hathikuli farm

Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL), the second largest tea producer in the country, is moving the Centre to help it sustain its organic initiative at Hathikuli — the largest integrated organic farm in the country.

The tea company, which has 25 gardens in Assam and Bengal, is making this move to take advantage of the Rs 100 crore budget provision made this year to promote organic farming in the Northeast.

A senior company official said as a first move, it is looking to the government to allocate funds from the current year’s budget for organic production and will send a detailed proposal.

“This will encourage sustaining the organic movement in the Northeast,” he said.

The cumulative loss of going organic at Hathikuli has been Rs 16 crore, which is mainly due to loss of production, he added.

The process of organic transformation was undertaken in 2007 and it was achieved in 2011. “The acreage converted to organic farming is the largest contiguous conversion that has taken place anywhere in the country,” the official said.

The 687-hectare Hathikuli tea garden, situated on the periphery of Kaziranga National Park, is certified organic according to the Indian, US, European Union and Japanese organic agricultural standards.

Hathikuli is known for its CTC, orthodox, green teas and black pepper with a total annual production of 600 metric tonnes.

The teas are being exported to Germany, the US, the UK and West Asian countries.

Hathikuli Tea Garden

Hathikuli Tea Garden

The demand for organic food and beverages in the country is huge and estimated at $129.3 million and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15 per cent.

“We are in the process of educating ourselves and developing organic packages and practices, which will help create a knowledge base for farmers across the world and specifically Assam,” the official said.

The company’s net profit during 2013-14 reflected a growth of 56 per cent compared to 2012-13. The company held its annual general meeting last month with Ranjit Barthakur as its chairman.

The company has recorded an increase of nine per cent in its own crop harvest as compared to the Assam Valley increase of six per cent.

The company has focused on increasing its volume on operations through sustained development of its tea areas and purchase of bought leaf for conversion. It has also focused on orthodox manufacturing, which has added considerable value to the operations.

The focus on quality has also improved its earnings.

APPL has deployed a fairly large number of mechanical harvesters across 17 estates, as these machines will help in harvesting the crops in time. “This would also help in availability of mandays to do cultivation, as many estates are facing a shortage of workers,” the official said.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140818/jsp/northeast/story_18729198.jsp#.U_GQbMWSz-s

A visit to the largest organic farm in Asia

Today we had the opportunity to visit one of the leading tea producers in India, Hathikuli Tea Plantation. Hathikuli is the biggest employer in the Kaziranga area and as we soon found out, the largest organic farm in all of Asia. The management of this massive tea operation taught us a lot about tea and what an operation of this size means to both the local community and the environment surrounding it. The plantation covers 470 hectares and employs more than 3,000 workers, the majority of whom are working as tea pickers, which they have done for generations since the plantation opened more than 100 years ago.

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While sipping on delicious organic tea from plants just feet away, the manager, Chandan, told us that the board members made a conscious decision in 2009 to prioritize their impact on the local environment. The first year they converted half of the crop to organic and the operation has since been 100% organic. This fact was astonishing to hear, because the change meant going from over a million kilos (2.2 million lbs) of final product per year to around 430,000 (946,000 lbs). There is an increase in product value but not nearly enough to cover the loss. So essentially we have major businessmen making a decision to lower revenue in order to help the environment, by decreasing the amount of toxic pesticides that were contaminating the surrounding waters. Since Kaziranga is mostly swampland and rivers, all these pesticides had a detrimental effect on the ecosystem.

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The assistant manager took us on a tour of the beautiful green plantations where we had the chance to meet some of the local workers and to satisfy our curiosity about this forward-thinking company. As always, the Indian hospitality was above and beyond. Workers in the fields work 6 days a week, 8 hours a day and make 95 rupees per day. 95 rupees a day is around 1.6 dollars U.S., not exactly a dream wage by any standard. However, the workers get an hour lunch, housing, 48 days paid vacation, 84 days paid maternity leave and all medical care paid for. Amazingly, the medical care extends to their entire family. The plantation even has a professional and fully-equipped hospital to tend to any of the workers’ needs. We had lunch with the doctor who was extremely well- educated, well-traveled and dedicated to her profession. She has the assistance of multiple nurses and is on-call 24/7. When asked what she deals with, she told us “I am a jack of all trades, and deal with anything from a headache, to childbirth, alcohol addiction, trauma surgery and anything in between”.

Hathikuli Tea Plantation is just one of the many examples of the conservation efforts in effect to protect Kaziranga. The people of Assam are extremely proud of this national treasure.

Next time you sip on a cup of organic tea, there is a good chance that it was grown right here in Kaziranga!

Reference – http://quest4understanding.com/a-visit-to-the-largest-organic-farm-in-asia/

PS – This blog was posted by Amy Rose Vankanan & Martin Söderhamnwho visited Hathikuli Tea Estate. They are associated with The WILD Foundation, US based not-for-profit organization, with a vision to protect and connect wilderness, wildlife, and people. (www.wild.org)

No Indian Standard Time: Assam will turn its clocks ahead by an hour

The state of Assam has decided to follow the ‘chaibagaan’ time instead of the Indian Standard Time, according to reports. The chaibagaan time or bagaan time refers to a daylight saving schedule introduced by the British for better energy savings on tea plantations more than 150 years ago.

According to a report in The Hindustan Times, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said IST has affected productivity and has forced the state to follow a schedule not suitable to the time zone we are in.

“The northeastern states have been asking New Delhi for a separate time zone. We have now decided to set our clocks to bagaan time,” Gogoi is quoted as saying. He did not state whether the Centre had given its nod to the decision.

IST corresponds to the time schedule along 82.5 degrees East longitude, where Mirzapur in UP is located. States to the east of this longitude have less daylight hours in comparison to the rest.

Earlier requests for a dual time zone (discarded with the cancellation of the Calcutta Time and the Bombay Time in the 1940s and 1950s) have been met with reluctance from the Centre, which has reportedly cited administrative challenges despite the possibility of energy savings and better productivity through saving some daylight hours by turning the clock ahead an hour in the north-eastern states.

Representational image. ReutersResearchers recently stated that pushing the IST meridian eastwards, or pulling the nation’s clocks ahead by 30 minutes, could help India save an annual 2.7 billion units of electricity, enough to power 1.35 million additional urban middle-class homes.

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, reportedly believe that all states in India, not just the north-east, will save power if the IST is set at six hours ahead of GMT instead of 5.30 hours ahead of GMT.

The IST should be shifted from 82.5 degrees E longitude to 90 degrees E closer to the Assam-Bengal border, according to a researcher quoted in this report in The Telegraph. “Parts of eastern India, particularly the Northeast, bear what the NIAS researchers call the “twin burden” of very early summer sunrises and very early winter sunsets. Parts of the Northeast are bright by about 4 am in June and dark before 5 pm in December,” according to the Telegraph report. Additional daylight hours in the evenings would be people-friendly, would help save power at home and in offices, reduce petty crimes among other gains, scientists have said.

The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, too has found earlier that the 116-minute time difference between the easternmost and westernmost points of India imply that two time zones for the country may be apt. The Department of Science and Technology has recommended otherwise.

Retrieved from – http://www.firstpost.com/india/no-indian-standard-time-assam-will-turn-its-clocks-ahead-by-an-hour-1318993.html?utm_source=ref_article

Hathikuli Tea Shoppe, a greet for tea connoisseurs in Guwahati

Though Assam has almost 200 years of tea history, the concept of Tea Shoppe, or a Tea Boutique, which gives the connoisseurs of the health drink, a wide-range of high-quality products, is yet to pick up in the region.

The Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, a Tata enterprise, recently opened its first tea boutique — Hathikuli Tea Shoppe — on its GS Road office premises in Guwahati, has given the elites the opportunity to relish good quality organic tea.

Hathikuli Tea Shoppe

The tea shoppe, which is the first of its kind in the capital city of Assam, is sure to bring about a change in the tea drinking habit of the people. So far, common people had the propensity to buy any tea brand off-the shelves in departmental stores.

Now, the Hathikuli initiative will encourage a lot of others to open up similar ventures in Guwahati, or other smaller cities of the region. Every tea connoisseur drinks tea in their own taste. And slowly, they get glued to a particular brand.

So far, Hathikuli garden had its own retail counter in the premises of the garden, owned by the Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, the second largest tea producer in the country. It is one of the pioneers of organic tea in India.

The Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, which is the new avatar of Tata Tea, owns two-dozen tea gardens in Assam and North Bengal. The group has one fully organic garden — the Hathikuli tea estate, near the Kaziranga National Park in Upper Assam’s Golaghat district.

Occupying a total area of 687 hectares, the estate produces stylish and well rolled leaf. Hathikuli’s conversion to organic began in 2007 and was finally completed in March 2011. OneCert Asia is the certifying body for Hathikuli T.E. It is accredited by APEDA (Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) under NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production).

The organic tea estate is committed to the objectives of organic farming as defined by the International Federation of Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). The workers at the garden have been made to understand that its main objective is to produce food and beverages of high nutritional value and quality and encourage and enhance biological cycles involving micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals. The garden has the distinction and capability of producing black CTC, Orthodox and Green tea.

And because of its strong organic credential, the group is now a key player in the Rs 640-crore organic tea market in the country. It has been reported that the organic tea market is growing at the rate of 14 to 15 percent in India. In addition to the domestic market, India is also a major exporter of organic tea to Europe and North America.

And, opening of the organic tea shoppe in Guwahati will enlighten people about the positive side of the macrobiotic produce; it is natural that more and more people would change their choice.

The management of Hathikuli Tea Shoppe should now engage experts at the outlet to enlighten the customers on benefits of organic tea drinking.

Reference – http://www.indiatea.co.in/hathikuli-tea-shoppe-a-greet-for-tea-connoisseurs-in-guwahati/

Cultivable land continues to shrink

Cultivable land in India continues to shrink. It may not pose an immediate problem for the nation’s food security but its long-term effect could be disastrous with the country needing more and more foodgrains to support its growing population.

Latest data from the agriculture ministry shows that as many as 20 states reported decrease in cultivable land to the extent of 790,000 hectares in four years from 2007-08 to 2010-11.

The decrease is mainly attributed to diversion of cultivable land for non-agricultural purposes, including construction, industries and other development activities.

Since such diversion is inevitable, the government had in its National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (NRRP), 2007 recommended several measures to keep a tab on ever-decreasing cultivable land in the country.

But the data, shared by the agriculture ministry in response to a question in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, shows that only five states have taken some steps to increase the areas under cultivation and three others ( Assam, Goa and Sikkim) have adhered to the policy of not tinkering with land which can be used for farming.

Gujarat is the only big state which increased the area of cultivable land during four years from 2007-08 to 2010-11. Manipur, Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are the other states which reported increase during the period.

Haryana showed the sharpest decline in area under cultivation. The small state, which has seen diversion of huge tracts of cultivable land due to boom in real estate, reported decrease of 65,000 hectares of agricultural land between 2007-08 and 2010-11.

Since land falls under the purview of states as per the seventh Schedule of the Constitution, it is for states to bring in suitable policy to prevent diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. The Centre had under its 2007 policy advised states to allow development projects to come up on wastelands.

Under NRRP, states were advised that acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural use should be kept to the minimum, multi-cropped land should be avoided to the extent possible for such purposes and acquisition of irrigated land, if unavoidable, may be kept to the minimum.

But it seems most states have not followed the norms, leading to overall decrease of nearly 406,000 hectares of cultivable land in the country during the four-year period.

Though the shrinkage did not have adverse impact on foodgrain production as the country reported increase from 230.8 million tonnes in 2007-08 to 255.4 million tonnes in 2012-13, the ever declining trend of cultivable land may pose a serious challenge in the long run.

Retrieved from – http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/cultivable-land-continues-to-shrink/articleshow/21856503.cms

Build brand NE, say experts

Build brand Northeast with the inherent strengths of the region is what speakers highlighted at a Northeast marketing conclave here today.

The focus of the Ficci-organised conclave, Remark, was to help the region attract investors and ensure that local goods and services are able to compete in the domestic and international markets.

The chief operating officer (COO) of Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd, Prabir Banerjea, said the Northeast should create a regional identity with some common factors to build brand Northeast. The identity can be based on four attributes found in the region — natural, fresh, traditional and wild & unexplored.

He said multinationals were attracting consumers with local flavours and it was imperative that the region built on its inherent strengths.

“The region has the potential to become largest producer of organic and naturally-grown horticulture and spice products,” he said.

In spices, it can become a supplier of high value spices to processors, whereas in fruits, it can supply fruits like passion fruit, pineapple, strawberry and kiwi to various markets. In flowers, it can target the metro market and create a retail chain.

He said consumers/customers were increasingly looking at hygiene and convenience and private label brands were becoming the order of the day in modern trade.

Assam health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was the chief guest at the conclave, said marketing should be based on honesty. “There should be a honest admission of facts,” he said.

Referring to Kaziranga, which is a big craze for tourists, he said the authorities should tell the tourists what they could expect and not go over board.

“If you consider human development index, Assam comes in 16th position but what it does not say is that it comes third when one considers last three years and not the entire period after Independence. Even when considering the drop in maternal mortality rate, Assam will have beaten Gujarat when we look at the last three years. Comparisons should be done amongst equals and it should be taken into account that some of them are not historically in an advantageous position,” Sarma said, adding that social campaigns should be backed by ground reality.

Other speakers stressed that the Northeast needed to make right choices in chalking out an effective strategy to market itself.

Though it has many unique goods and products, there seems to be a lacuna in marketing them in national and international markets, the speakers said.

Bejon Misra, a consumer policy expert, said during a panel discussion on opportunities and issues of direct selling that promises made to a consumer must be delivered in the manner he or she wanted.

“The key expectations of the consumers are accountability, transparency, standard, information, non-discrimination, a good redressal mechanism and service with a smile,” he added.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130830/jsp/northeast/story_17288254.jsp#.UiAlgNIqdsk

Tea garden eyes fish boom

Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL), the second largest tea producer in the country, is aiming to produce 200 tonnes of fish by next year in its gardens in Assam.

The company, which started fisheries in its gardens in 2007, now produces 130 tonnes of fish which is 35 per cent higher than the previous year. The fishponds are spread over 149 hectares in 15 gardens six of which have their own hatcheries.

The average size of a fish pond is 1.5 acres with the largest one spread over six acres. Rohu and katla fish from the carp family are produced in the gardens. Fish are sold at farm gate, local markets and at its kiosks at Hathikuli and Powai gardens in the state.

“Our endeavour is to increase production to over 200 tonnes in the next two years in the ponds and provide quality fish seed to the fish farming community for their yield and revenue maximisation,” Prabir Banerjea, chief operating officer of APPL’s agri business division, told this correspondent.

The fisheries project of the company is the largest in the private sector in the Northeast.

Previously known as Tata Tea, Amalgamated Plantations has its operations spread across 24 tea estates in Assam and north Bengal covering 24,000 hectares and employing approximately 30,000 workers.

APPL production during 2012-13 was 33.54 million kg of tea. The company has diversified into spices, dairies and fisheries. Six multi-locational hatcheries have been operationalised for producing quality fish seed.

“As a testimony to our quality, fish farmers from Nagaon, Sonitpur, Golaghat and Dibrugarh districts have already purchased over 10 lakh spawns and fries in the last few months,” an official said.

“The fisheries project generates significant employment and creates wealth for the local population and provides fresher and therefore more nutritious fish,” he said.

Thorough studies and training were undertaken to implement the fisheries project which proved successful and showed promise. Fish ponds were excavated in areas that have been lying fallow and no ground water is drawn for the fisheries project to ensure that there is no depletion of water table.

The official said based on the success of its hatchery operations, the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture in Bhubaneswar has appointed APPL the authorised multiplier unit for a new variety of rohu to cater to fingerling requirements of the Northeast.

“We are also working in close partnership with local fishing communities in some districts for knowledge transfer of best cultivation and management practices we have adopted,” he said.

In 2012-13, the fisheries project has generated almost one lakh mandays employment in the gardens.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130815/jsp/northeast/story_17232093.jsp#.Ug2oy9Iqdsl

India’s AEZs now cover 40 agricultural products

Agri export zones (AEZs) in the country now cover about 40 different agricultural commodities spread across 20 states in the country.

All the 60 AEZs have been notified by Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) and have completed their span of five years, minister of state for commerce and industry D Purandeswari informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply.

The agri export zones are set up on the basis of particular produce / products that are grown largely in a contiguous area for the purpose of developing and sourcing the raw materials, their processing / packaging, leading to final exports.

Thus, the entire effort is centered on a cluster approach of identifying the potential products, the geographical region in which these are grown and adopting an end-to-end approach of integrating the entire process, right from the stage of production till it reaches the market.

The AEZs identified in North-east India are as follows -

Assam: Fresh & Processed Ginger at Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, Darrang, Nagaon, Morigaon, Karbi Anglong and North Cachar districts.

Sikkim: flowers (orchids) and cherry pepper; ginger at Sikkim (north, east, south and west Sikkim).

Tripura: organic pineapple at Kumarghat, Manu, Melaghar, Matabari and Kakraban blocks

The AEZs are expected to converge the efforts made, hitherto, by various central and state government departments for increasing exports of agricultural commodities from India.

These agri zones take a comprehensive view of a particular produce / product located in a geographically contiguous area for the purpose of developing and sourcing raw materials, their processing/packaging, and leading to final exports.

The government had undertaken a peer evaluation of the existing AEZs in 2005 to assess their performance. On the basis of the recommendations of the peer group in 2005, it was decided not to consider notification of new AEZs unless there were strong compelling reasons to do so.

See more details at: http://www.domain-b.com/economy/agriculture/20130805_products.html#sthash.KpCfqaDS.dpuf

Tea major forays into spice trade

Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited is planning to introduce a brand of spices sourced from the Northeast, including pepper from its plantations, in the national market.
Pepper being grown in a nursery inside an APPL garden.

Guwahati, July 14: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, the second largest tea producer in the country, is all set to launch its brand of spices.

The tea major, which has been growing other crops on its estates, is aiming big vis-à-vis spices and wants to become a national player within five years.

“The idea is to have fair price aggregation and develop market linkages with the organised sector. APPL’s vision is to become the preferred provider of agri business supply solutions in the Northeast to ultimately benefit the farmer,” Prabir Banerjea, the chief operating officer of APPL’s agri business division, told The Telegraph.

The company is growing only black pepper — the most traded spice in the world — in its gardens. Black pepper, known as the king of spices, is known for its hot, biting flavour and pungent aroma. The latest price for black pepper in India ranges from Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 per quintal. The company sources other spices from different states of the region.

“The brand names are being shortlisted and our brands could hit the market by August,” Banerjea said.

The company started growing black pepper commercially from 2007 and the yield this year was 24 metric tonnes — 20 per cent higher than last year. As on date, the company has 200 hectares under black pepper cultivation.

He said the company planned to announce the origin of the produce and their USPs across marketing channels in the organised sector, as “at present, spices from the Northeast are being sold in mandis and nobody knows where these are coming from”.

Independent nurseries have been set up in all gardens to ensure self-sufficiency in planting material and high-yielding and drought-resistant varieties have been sourced from south India.

Banerjea said single polished turmeric fingers with specified curcumin content were recently sent to Olam International — a leading global integrated supply chain manager and processor of agricultural products and food ingredients — for export. “This is for the first time spices have been exported from the Northeast,” he said. The turmeric was mainly sourced from Assam’s Karbi Anglong district.

The company is also setting up a state of the art processing and packaging plant for spices and fruits aggregated from the Northeast at the North East Mega Food Park in Tihu. Construction will commence after the monsoon this year and trial production will start from the winter of 2014.

The official said the company’s entry into the spices sector in the Northeast would create national links for local produce, benefiting the farming community of the region.

Spices are high value export-oriented commodities, which play an important role in the country’s agricultural economy, as India is the principal source of spices in the global market. In the Northeast, black pepper is mainly grown in Meghalaya, which produces about 400 metric tonnes of the spice annually.

According to Spices Board, the Northeast has tremendous potential for largescale production of spices and it is anticipated that the region can create exportable surpluses at competitive prices, ensuring that the country stays on top in the international spices market.

In fact, the spices sector has been making strides in the Northeast and Spices Board has proposed an outlay of Rs 66.75 crore in the Twelfth Plan to promote the sector in the region. The Twelfth Plan focus is on development of large cardamom and other spices with respect to area expansion, irrigation and land development, mechanization, organic farming and post-harvest processing.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130715/jsp/northeast/story_17115030.jsp#.UeN3b9Iqdsl

Tea goes green, Planter push for organic cuppa

Hathikuli Tea Shoppe, Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited’s first tea boutique

Hathikuli Tea Shoppe, Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited’s first tea boutique

India’s second largest tea producer Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited has set its sights on becoming a significant player in the Rs 640-crore organic tea market in the country.

Talking to The Telegraph here today, Prabir Banerjee, the chief operating officer of the company’s agri business division, said, “The organic tea business is growing by 15 per cent every year and we are trying to capture a large part of the Rs 640-crore market in India. In the export market, we are targeting European countries like Germany and Japan besides the US and the UK.”

The global organic food and beverage market is valued at US$ 57.2 billion.

The company recently opened its first tea boutique — Hathikuli Tea Shoppe — on its GS Road office premises here.

According to company sources, the retail outlet, which has been witnessing a good footfall since it opened its doors to the public on Monday, will provide a one-stop shopping experience to buyers of quality tea. It offers different varieties/grades of organic Assam tea, including CTC, orthodox and green.

“The shop is more about promoting Assam tea than earning profits. The state produces the best quality tea but its people do not get to taste it. This is a step towards that direction,” a company official said.

Banerjee said the company would certainly think of setting up more tea boutiques selling Assam teas in other cities of the country.

Previously known as Tata Tea, Amalgamated has its operations spread across 24 tea estates in Assam and North Bengal, covering 24,000 hectares and employing approximately 30,000 workers.

Officials say one of the primary reasons behind the shift to the organic sector is the premium market that commands high prices. Moreover, organic tea cultivation is seen as a solution to restore the soil ecosystem or increase the continuously depleting productivity of soil in tea estates after years of exposure to chemical fertilisers. It is also seen as an answer to climate change as well as a means to generate more employment, as organic tea production is a more labour intensive process and entail no health risks for the workers.

Sources said it took almost four to five years to convert a garden into an organic one that resulted in tremendous crop loss. Only big players can absorb such losses and stay in the organic tea business.

Amalgamated currently has one fully organic garden — the Hathikuli tea estate located within the confines of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam’s Golaghat district.

“Amalgamated can consider making more gardens organic at a later stage depending on the market demand,” Banerjee said.

Reference – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130613/jsp/northeast/story_17001342.jsp#.UblW_ecqdsl