Guwahati, Jan. 20: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), the second largest tea producer in the country, is going for all-out promotion of its Hathikuli organic brand.
The move is apparently spurred by the 50 per cent annual growth witnessed by the organic tea market.
Though its production is time-consuming and it enjoys a niche market, organic tea holds immense potential to get remunerative prices.
A company official said the three-year-long conversion of Hathikuli garden into an organic one has been a learning experience at every stage. It takes nearly four to five years to convert a garden into an organic one and results in tremendous crop loss.
The official said the plan was to sell the entire produce of Hathikuli in the retail market in the next five to six years and added that a retail outlet to promote the organic brand would also be opened.
It is also promoting and selling the brand online (infibeam.com) and through mega retailers like Spencers and Metro Cash & Carry. “The response has been good till now,” the official said.
A parliamentary standing committee report — Performance of Plantation Sector: Tea and Coffee Industry — stated that the organic tea industry, being labour intensive, generated huge scope for employment. Moreover, it said that the lack of chemical use and introduction of organic practices indirectly benefited the workers and their families. It added that the low or no carbon content of these teas made them exclusive and helped fetch premium prices worldwide.
The production process entails additional costs not only on the production front but also in getting it certified and marketed. In order to fetch a premium, it is necessary for the producers to go in for direct marketing.
“Conversion from conventional to organic tea not only leads to immediate crop loss during the conversion period, but it also takes nearly 10 to 12 years to regain the original level of production. Besides, there is greater difficulty in sourcing the organic field inputs, especially for plant protection. It also warrants additional labour force for application of field inputs and proper upkeep of the plantations,” Tea Board chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu said.
Keeping these limitations in view, the Tea Board is proposing to provide special incentives towards cost of replanting/replacement of old tea areas when they are converted to organic. “For such activities, the subsidy would cover, to some extent, the value of crop lost during the gestation period. Incentive would be provided for the new planting and certification cost. Preference would also be given to organic tea producers for participating in international fairs and exhibitions,” Bhanu said.
Though a few companies have started organic tea production, a package of best practices for organic tea cultivation is yet to be formulated.
The parliamentary standing committee wants the small tea growers to be included in the organic tea movement. “These small growers already possess livestock on their plantations and have been in the production of farm compost for long. Further, the financial constraints restraining their capacity to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their fields have made it easier for them to switch over to organic cultivation,” it said.
The committee asked the department of commerce to take steps to promote organic tea cultivation among small tea growers and include them in training programmes.
The committee found that organic tea is directly marketed and producers have to travel extensively in Europe, the US and Japan and directly contact organic consumer groups for sale of their product and would like the department of commerce to facilitate the growers in search of markets for organic tea through appropriate incentives.
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