‘God’s gift’ from spice plant – Tea company sets up largest facility in Kaliabor

Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), the second largest tea-producing company in the country, will be offering its spice products under the brand name Anshi.

Anshi means “God’s gift” in Sanskrit.

Amalgamated Spice Park

The company commissioned Amalgamated Spice Park, the largest spice-processing plant in the Northeast which is housed at a state government industrial facility at Kaliabor in Nagaon district on July 29.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi inaugurated the project. Besides this, he also inaugurated three more projects of the company.

A senior official of the APPL said in order to be more customer-centric and offer some of its products directly to end-consumers, it has decided to market them under the umbrella brand Anshi.

“It would encapsulate and connote everything that the APPL’s products would offer. Its place of origin and the resultant goodness in health and taste that only natural foods can promise,” he said.

The unit is spread across 6.2 bighas with a built-up area of 30,000 square feet.

“The Spice Park aims to promote the indigenous spices of the Northeast through fair price, value additions and creating market linkages in domestic and international markets for the spice-farming fraternity,” the official said.

It will have three processing lines – one for tuber spices like ginger and turmeric, second for seed spices like black pepper, coriander, mustard and the third one for chilli processing.

Many of the spices have been sourced from spice-specific clusters identified at various locations in the region.

The company at present grows only black pepper and has planted over three lakh trees.

“In the next two years, this figure will be approximately seven lakh trees. The current production is 40 tonnes and on maturity this figure will exceed 600 tonnes,” the official said.

Black pepper is the most-traded spice in the world. It is known as the king of spices for its hot, biting flavour and pungent aroma.

The plan at present is to sell spices to manufacturers across the country. Spices would be available at its kiosks in Assam and the Dooars. Exports will be planned at a later stage.

“The unit has been designed to address sustainability issues through initiatives in water and waste management, use of alternative sources of energy and landscaping for improving air quality,” the official said.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150727/jsp/northeast/story_33857.jsp#.VbsVUvOqqko

*Edited

NASA help for struggling Assam tea

Several international institutions, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), have come forward to bail out the tea industry which is passing through “difficult times” because of climate change, resulting in unpredictable weather and increasing pest attacks.

Against an unprecedented dry spell in the last couple of years, tea-rich Upper Assam has received 260mm more rainfall this year, receiving 1,095mm rainfall till now against 829mm last year.

Tocklai director M. Muraleedharan said the institution has tied up with Cranfield University of the UK and Kobe Gakuin University of Japan recently to find ways for the tea industry to cope with climate change in one of the highest tea-growing regions of the world.

“Process is also on to tie up with Ethical Tea Partnership, a London-based organisation, which is currently working with the Kenyan tea industry on climate change,” the director said.

Tocklai deputy director R.M. Bhagat said the project with Cranfield University would be funded by the British Council while the Kobe Gakuin University project would be funded by Sumitomo Foundation of Japan.

He said from September, Nasa would start providing data on soil moisture status of the Northeast, which would be a big boost for not only tea but for other crops as well.

“Data from Nasa will start flowing in from September and all the participating institutions in this particular project would benefit,” Bhagat said.

Tocklai is among the 50 institutions in the world that have tied up with Nasa in the soil-mapping project.

“We have tied up with Nasa in this particular project and we are hopeful that its data would be of great help for not only tea but other crops in the region,” Bhagat said.

He said the data would help in proper application of fertilisers and irrigation facilities.

The Tocklai director said an unpredictable weather and the limitation for the use of chemicals after the implementation of the plant protection code on tea have resulted in an increase in pest attacks on tea bushes.

Plant protection code (PPC) is a set of guidelines for regulating the chemical inputs in tea cultivation and was implemented from January 1 this year with the aim to make Indian tea a safe and healthy drink.

Muraleedharan said Tocklai has appealed to the Central Insecticide Board, the agriculture ministry and other authorities concerned to allow tea planters to use at least two chemicals – flubendiamide and emamectin benzoate – which are most essential to fight against the luper caterpillar, one of the most common pests of the tea bush.

“Going by the increasing pest attacks, there would be a big impact on production,” he warned.

Assam produces more than 50 per cent of the country’s over 600 million kg of tea annually and the five districts of Upper Assam – Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat and Golaghat – produce over 400 million kg of tea annually, which is 70 per cent of the state’s production.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150723/jsp/northeast/story_33187.jsp#.VbB2IqSqqko

Spices Board opens two signature shops ‘Spices India’ features value-added products

Spices Board has launched signature shops under the brand name ‘Spices India’ that showcases the country’s choicest spices and their value-added products, including lifestyle and personal care, under one roof.

These two showrooms were opened in the national capital—one on the arterial Janpath road and the other at Dilli Haat, a fashionable open air plaza for ethnic products, in Janakpuri in west Delhi.

Union Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher, while inaugurating the two shops says  “This will promote an array of quality products like spices-infused chocolate slabs, beauty creams, fairness oils, bathing bars, shower gel and shampoo.”

“Purity and quality will be the hallmarks of such outlets. Strict adherence should be made to the correctness of weight and quality. India thrives on spices; so does the world now. Spices are class-neutral. Some spice or the other is to be found in everyone’s palate in our country,” he adds.

Secretary Kher suggested setting up of ‘Knowledge Kisoks’ within the outlets to provide information to visitors on spices grown in various states. “We also need to popularise ‘Spices India’ among the domestic tourists. Our focus should be on improving packaging, processing and branding, besides better utilisation of technology.”

The shops sell aromatic gel candles as a key attraction. These are available with the fragrance of nutmeg, clove, cardamom, mint, vanilla and cinnamon.
‘Spices India’ displays a wide variety of Indian spices and value-added products derived from them. It specially features an assortment of whole spices and a casket of exclusive spices extracts.

A premier gift item is a slab of chocolates that contain cumin, chilly, cinnamon, cardamom and clove tangs. Also available are gift boxes and containers with an array of superior quality spices.

All the showrooms have a ‘Spice Kitchen’ where visitors can touch, feel and taste spices. There are men at the counter willing to provide information about the spices. Further, there is a small library where books and documentaries are available on varieties of spices. To top it all, there is a map of India that shows spices grown in a particular region.

Dr. A. Jayathilak, chairman, Spices Board says,” ‘Spices India’ shops are part of the new thrusts to ensure sustainability of the industry. “We have chalked out an expansion plan. We are talking to the state governments to provide space. We are hopeful of opening new outlets in various parts of the country.”

He said the Board was continuing its efforts to help farmers and collectives to secure a better price for their produce by trading directly with them. “Such a system eliminates middlemen; the collective can demand a fair price for the larger quantity of goods they sell. We are paying them higher price than normal market price,” he added.

Headquartered in Kochi, Spices Board has been adding new spices and products to its export casket also in its bid to accomplish the primary objective of bringing about rapid and systematic diversification of spice industry.

Also, Spices Board’s novel initiative ‘Flavourit’ undertakes the branding, packaging marketing and promotion of finest spice goods collected from individual farmers and collectives to be sold to the general public. It streamlines the efforts of spice growers working at grassroots with market forces by helping growers, collectives and developmental ventures to bring the economic and social inclusion.
With regional laboratories in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Tuticorin and Guntur, the agency places increasing emphasis on value-added spices and spice derivatives in a bid to establish international spice brands and build globally-acceptable benchmarks in quality and safety parameters.

As for flavour, it would seek to restore the quality and popularity of once famous grades of spices like Alleppey Green Extra Bold Cardamom, Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold (TGEB) Malabar Pepper and other spices, known for their culinary, therapeutic and cosmetic properties. Spices Board encourages and facilitates direct purchase from farmers to ensure easy accessibility of the merchandise it sells, besides lending quality to the market products.

Reference – http://www.fnbnews.com/article/detnews.asp?articleid=37391&sectionid=45

Kolkata to get nation’s first fish hospital

A fish hospital — the first of its kind in the country — will become operational in Kolkata in two-three months. The hospital, with facilities to diagnose and treat ailments in fish commercially bred in the state, will help farmers increase their produce.

West Bengal was the country’s largest fish producer till it was overtaken by Andhra Pradesh in 2011-12. Experts believe that the yield in Bengal can go up if healthier species are bred.

“The building has already been constructed and electrical work is in progress. Our aim will be to find out what ailments the fish bred in the state suffer from and help farmers increase the yield. While Bengal is one of the largest producers of fish in the country, things can certainly improve. The hospital is coming up at our campus in Panchasayar’s Chakgaria in Kolkata,” said Professor T J Abraham, professor (fishery microbiology) and principal investigator, department of aquatic animal health, faculty of fishery sciences, West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Services (WBUAFS).

The facility comprises 50 glass aquariums and 25 circular water tanks to house the fish. The expense of Rs 1.75 crore has been borne by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under the ministry of agriculture. According to Abraham, the hospital will first diagnose and treat fish that are bred by farmers. At a later stage, efforts may be made to find out ailments that wild fish, caught along Bengal’s coast, suffer from. A study conducted by Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) revealed that several species found in the wild, particularly marine varieties, have parasites in their intestines. This may affect their internal organs, reducing their growth and egg-laying capacity.

According to experts at WBUAFS, nearly 20% of the state’s fish production is affected due to poor management practices. It is estimated that India’s fish suffer from 60-65 diseases and nearly 10% of Bengal’s fish is wasted due to this.

A study published in the International Journal of Bio-resource and Stress Management by four researchers, including two from WBUAFS, suggested that parasites are more prevalent in carps cultured in bheris of Bengal and around Kolkata as farmers use sewerage water. This comprises 99% water and 1% of other material, including pathogens like bacteria, virus and large parasites. These can cause primary and secondary infections and mortality in fish.

According to Abraham, farmers can approach the hospital whenever they suspect a problem with their fish. They can report abnormalities like change in colour or size. They can even bring in samples for diagnosis and treatment.

Reference – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Kolkata-to-get-nations-first-fish-hospital/articleshow/47777615.cms

Spices exports touch ₹14,900 cr in FY15

Indian spices maintained their robust demand in the international market with exports exceeding the target by touching ₹14,899.68 crore in FY15 against ₹13,735.39 crore in the previous fiscal.

Chilli, mint and mint products, cumin, spice oils and oleoresins, pepper, turmeric, coriander, small cardamom, curry powder/paste and fenugreek contributed substantially to the spices export basket, as the demand scaled up phenomenally at the global level.

About 8,93,920 tonnes of spices and spice products valued at ₹14,899.68 crore ($2,432.85 million) were exported, registering a 9 per cent increase in volume and 8 per cent in rupee terms and 7 per cent in dollar terms in value against 8,17,250 tonnes in FY14. The export figure also exceeded the target of 7,55,000 tonnes.

The achievement is substantial and it was achieved in the face of tough competition. Increased demand for Indian spices in the international market is a testimony to their unmatched quality and escalating faith in their sustainability, A Jayathilak, Chairman, Spices Board, said.

Chilli continued to maintain the leading position in the export basket, accounting for 347,000 tonnes in quantity and ₹3,51,710 lakh in value. Mint and mint products also earned substantial foreign exchange worth ₹2,68,925 lakh through exports of 25,750 tonnes.

In terms of volume, chilli was followed by cumin with an export quantity of 1,55,500 tonnes earning a foreign exchange worth ₹1,83,820 lakh.

Pepper contributed significantly to export earnings by bringing home ₹1,20,842 lakh with a corresponding export volume of 21,450 tonnes.

Value-added spice products like spice oils and oleoresins notched a significant high with figures of 11,475 tonnes and ₹1,91,090 lakh. Turmeric too continued to make great strides with an export volume of 86,000 tonnes, which translated into an earning of ₹74,435 lakh.

Coriander was another major spice with a huge demand in foreign markets. By exporting 46,000 tonnes, it fetched ₹49,812.50 lakh, while curry powder/paste contributed to the exchequer with a tidy amount of ₹ 47,626 lakh through export of 24,650 tonnes.

“Indian spices are not only lucrative products for the national exchequer but have also become a trusted global brand. The challenge for us is to give a huge impetus to their exports and sustain their quality and flavor”, Jayathilak said.

Retrieved from – http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/agri-biz/spices-exports-touch-14900-cr-in-fy15/article7317897.ece

Big push for organic tea in India – Tea Board of India provides 25% more subsidy than normal

The Tea Board of India is giving a big push to organic tea production in the country for the first time by providing 25 per cent more subsidy than the normal subsidy of 30 per cent.

This has for the first time been incorporated in the Twelfth Plan by the board to give a boost to organic tea, which has been gaining momentum in the country (see chart).

Besides, it has a premium market commanding high prices abroad. “We will try to mitigate the problems being faced by gardens wanting to go organic to some extent,” S. Soundarajan, director of tea development, Tea Board of India, told The Telegraph.

The total money kept for orthodox tea production subsidy is Rs 150 crore. A total of 50 per cent of the cost of certification will be paid as subsidy.

The term organic describes both how an agricultural product is grown and processed. An organic product is free of chemicals, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic modifications and field use of sewage sludge as fertiliser.

It takes a minimum of three years for a garden to become organic and it will have to be certified as organic by an accredited certifying agency. Organic tea constituted two per cent of the total organic products exported in India in 2012-13.

The problems for gardens that wish to go organic are two-fold – yield drop and increase in cost of production. Sources say the average yield drop is 44 per cent over the conventional cultivation and over 65 per cent increase in the cost of production.

Officials say one of the primary reasons for a shift to the organic sector is the premium market that commands high prices. Besides this, organic tea cultivation could be a solution to restore/increase the continuous depleting crop productivity under the present chemical farming practice, to restore soil/ecosystem, depleted under years of synthetic fertilisers and agro-chemical application and to redress the problem of climate change and to generate employment and reduce health hazards for the workers.

“It is a progressive move by the board to encourage gardens to go organic. But to get benefits for us who already have an organic tea garden – Hathikuli in Assam will have to see and talk to the board,” managing director of Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, Jagjeet Singh Kandal, told The Telegraph. He said the company is proud to be pioneering in the development and evolution of an effective package of practices for organic conversion and cultivation.

The market for organic tea is in Europe and especially Germany. “The market in India is very small and a niche one,” he 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.

The process of organic transformation of Hathikuli garden was undertaken in 2007 and was achieved in 2011. “Though the move is good I am sceptical of the economic benefits after three years of conversion from inorganic to organic. Costs are rising,” C.S. Bedi, managing director of Rossel Tea, said.

The working group on climate change constituted by the Inter-governmental Group on Tea under the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which met in Rome last year, had said organic cultivation of tea is a sustainable way to battle climate change. “Organic cultivation of tea is a sustainable way to combat climate change. Use of naturally available products, such as organic manure or compost, increases climate resilience,” the group had said in its report last year.

The tea board today announced that tea production in 2014-15 was 1197.18 million kg, of which the share of Assam was 606.80 million kg. The production in 2014 calendar year from January to December was 1207.31 million kg, of which Assam’s share is 610.97 million kg.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150604/jsp/frontpage/story_23884.jsp#.VW_TVNKqqkq

Cementing a new track in growing pepper

Traditionally pepper is grown as an intercrop in plantations. However, a farmer from Enmakaje village, bordering Karnataka and Kerala, has begun growing pepper on a trial basis as a mono-crop with cement poles as support.

Some three years ago when there was a rumour on the likely ban on arecanut, B Gopalakrishna Bhat from Enmakaje village in Kerala’s Kasaragod district thought of diversifying his crop. He felt that pepper plantation was the ideal choice then.

He, along with his neighbour K Mahesh Bhat, approached IISR (Indian Institute of Spices Research) in Kozhikode and got Thevam, Shakti, Srikara and Panchami varieties for planting two years ago.

Cement poles
Gopalakrishna Bhat finalised to grow it as a mono crop and decided to install cement poles as a support for the vines. (Traditionally farmers use arecanut or other trees as a support for pepper vines).
Bhat told that he planted around 100 pepper saplings on a trial basis in his plot.
BP
To a query if using cement poles would be a costly proposition, he said he invested around ₹1,000 for a single sapling, including the cost of the cement pole with 4-inch diameter. The hollow cement pipes have been filled with concrete to make it strong, he said. The height of the poles in his trial plot ranges from 8 ft to 15 ft.

P Chowdappa, Director of the Kasaragod-based Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, told that cement poles can be used for support in pepper plantations. However, people normally do not venture for that as it involves additional investment.

Investment details
Farmers will get more income from multiple crops in same unit area if pepper is cultivated as inter-crop, he said.

Agreeing with him, Gopalakrishna Bhat said the investment will be one-twentieth of his trial plot in the case of pepper as an inter-crop. Highlighting the advantage of pepper as a mono-crop, he said harvesting takes a longer time when it is grown as an inter-crop.He is hopeful of getting around 4 kg of pepper a year from a single plant in this model. He has maintained a spacing of 8×8 ft in his plot.

Yield & disease
On the average yield as an intercrop, he said he got around 5 kg a plant as in intercrop in arecanut plantation, because the plant can go up to a height of 20 ft with arecanut plant as a support. That is not the case in this trial plot, he said.

Stating that this is the 13th month of pepper cultivation as a mono-crop, Bhat said some plants of Thevam variety have begun to bear the berries. The result is not replicated in other varieties, he said.

Narrating his experience, he said around 1,000 saplings can be planted on an acre of land in this model.

On diseases in the plantation, Bhat said he did not face any issue of disease in the last 13 months. He follows the package of practices being suggested by the IISR.

Mahesh Bhat – who planted IISR saplings as intercrop in his farm – said that one of the reasons for disease-free growth in Gopalakrishna Bhat’s plot could be the plain land where the mono-crop cultivation is being taken up. There is no scope for water logging in such a land unlike the arecanut plantations, he said.

Retrieved from – http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/agri-biz/cementing-a-new-track-in-growing-pepper/article7198283.ece

Pesticide-free plan for tea

Project to be taken up in 3 Assam areas

Tea Research Association and London-based Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International have joined hands to develop a more ecological approach to tea production in order to reduce pesticide application.

“The project will eventually lead to development of a toolbox of tried and tested practices to facilitate transition towards ecological production. The project envisages the development of a package of practices in relation to pest management, leading to the adoption of non-pesticide control methods resulting in reduction of pesticide application in tea,” N. Muraleedharan, director of Tocklai Tea Research Institute, said.

The three-year programme will start in Assam in collaboration with the Tocklai institute and tea growers from three different areas – Upper Assam, south bank and north bank. “The bureau had approached us to conduct the project as we are the experts in tea research,” he said.

The bureau is an international not-for-profit organisation that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems of agriculture and the environment.

On an average, a garden spends Rs 8,000 per hectare on pest control measures and this amount can go up when pest infestation becomes huge.

“Three pest management systems will be demonstrated representing transition from conventional to non-pesticide management. Pest management practices selected from those identified in the literature and field studies and ready for validation from current research, will be implemented in these experiments. Experiments within these blocks will evaluate other innovations to be added to the arsenal of practices available. The major pests such as loopers, tea mosquito, thrips, green hoopers and termites will be the target depending on their prevalence in the three selected zones,” Muraleedharan said.

He said with the introduction of the Plant Protection Code, the tea industry is increasingly adopting non-chemical control measures because the choice of approved chemicals is limited. The industry has started using light traps, sticky traps, manual collection and bush sanitation as non-chemical methods.

“India is the second largest producer and exporter of tea in the world after China. This production and trade are powerful engines for economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security, but often, harnessing this power can be difficult. Tea crops suffer from a range of pests and diseases for which pesticides are the main solution but this results in increased production costs and potential risks to human health,” a statement from the bureau said.

“We are evaluating the environmental and economic feasibility of applying alternative methods to manage tea pests and diseases in India. The scientific teams are doing this by fostering better understanding of these ecological approaches to management, evaluating current practices and examining how these alternative approaches can be integrated into tea production to raise overall sustainability of tea production,” it said. This will ultimately look to tackle pests in a sustainable and alternative way, protecting tea growers, workers and the surrounding biodiversity, it added.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150511/jsp/northeast/story_19394.jsp#.VVA4ho6qqko

Climate Change Is Slowly Killing Assam’s Tea Gardens

Usha Ghatowar smiles wryly when asked about the pay she earns picking leaves at a colonial-era tea garden in Assam.

“Do you think 3,000 rupees are enough when your monthly expenses can be double that?” she mumbles, as she puts on her “jaapi” hat of woven bamboo and palm leaves and takes a sip of tea from a steel mug.

As the women workers around Ghatowar nod in agreement the heavens open – it has started raining heavily in recent days after three largely dry months.

Unrest is brewing among Assam’s so-called Tea Tribes, whose forefathers were brought here by British planters from neighbouring Bihar and Odisha more than a century ago, as changing weather patterns upset the economics of the industry.

Scientists say climate change is to blame for uneven rainfall that is cutting yields and lifting costs for tea firms such as McLeod Russel (MCLE.NS), Tata Global Beverages (TAGL.NS) and Jay Shree Tea (JYST.NS).

While rainfall has declined and become concentrated, temperatures have risen – ideal conditions for pests like looper caterpillar and tea mosquito to infest the light green tea shoots just before they are ready to be plucked for processing.

Use of pesticides and fertilisers has nearly doubled as a result in Assam’s 800 big tea plantations, known as gardens, and the rising costs are making Indian tea less competitive.

As a result, firms in Assam are resisting calls from activists and student leaders to lift the daily wage of tea workers from about $2 agreed to recently, blaming weak prices and the doubling of crop expenses over the past 10 years.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, whose Congress party was routed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general election, has sided with the workers ahead of state polls due early next year.

ASSAM TEA GARDEN

COURTING THE TEA VOTE

State elections have national significance in India – Modi needs to win most of the state assembly contests in the next four years if he is to take control of the upper house of the federal parliament and ease the passage of his reform agenda.

Tea tribe votes can swing results in about a quarter of the seats in Assam, the country’s main growing area, and the BJP has been making inroads.

In an interview to Reuters, Gogoi denied an opportunistic motive behind his call for the wage to be raised to about $3 a day.

“I had warned the tea planters about climate change but they did not take care for a long time,” Gogoi said. “They thought it would be easy money. I can’t allow injustice for tea labourers.”

Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA) Chairman Raj Barooah said they would examine Gogoi’s demand but “there has to be a fair wage that can sustain the industry”.

The average temperature in Assam has risen by 1.4 degrees Celsius in the past century and rainfall is down by 200 mm (8 ins) a year, said R.M. Bhagat, chief scientist at the Tea Research Association in Assam’s tea hub of Jorhat.

“In the last 30 years we have seen that the magnitude of the effect of climate change is pretty high,” he said. “Rainfall has gone topsy-turvy. There is either too much or too little water, forcing planters to use sprinklers on what is a rain-fed crop.”

Several tea garden labourers and planters Reuters spoke with said tea factories in Assam now only run for about six months compared with round-the-year operations earlier.

Less rainfall resulted in an 8 percent fall in tea exports last year, according to the Indian Tea Association (ITA).

India is the world’s No.2 tea producer but is less export-oriented than other producers thanks to its big home market, and Sri Lanka has been extending its lead as the world’s third largest exporter behind China and Kenya.

 

LEARNING TO ADAPT

Labour accounts for 60 percent of the total costs for tea firms in Assam, whose prices last year were higher than those auctioned in Mombasa in Kenya, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Limbe in Malawi and Indonesian capital Jakarta.

Profit margins at Kolkata-based McLeod Russel, the world’s largest tea producer, are estimated to have fallen to their lowest in six years in the year ended March 31, according to Thomson Reuters data.

 

To cut labour costs, tea companies like Aideobarie Tea Estates, owned by ATPA’s Barooah, are exploring greater use of machines to harvest and spray nutrients or pesticides.

Barooah, whose company employs 48-year-old leaf plucker Ghatowar, her husband and now her eldest son, is also thinking of expanding into high-margin white tea made from tea buds.

Other tea gardens have moved to cultivating black pepper, turmeric, ginger, vegetables and fruit alongside tea, while Indian scientists are testing tea varieties that can adapt and survive in hotter and drier conditions.

But in the face of long-term climate change, that may not be enough.

“With rain so scarce, a day may come when Assam will not grow tea any more,” said tea scientist Subhash Chandra Barua. “Planting a crop is fine but economic cultivation may not be feasible”.

Retrieved from – http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/05/04/climate-change-assam_n_7210080.html

 

No place to go: The plight of Assam’s cornered elephants is getting worse

There’s a hot zone in Assam that has nothing to do with ULFA insurgents, Bodo militants or illegal migrants from Bangladesh. It’s about elephants.

Sonitpur district can be called Ground Zero of that human-elephant conflict.

Between 2001 and 2014 there have been 245 human deaths and 146 elephant fatalities in Sonitpur. In one year, 2001 alone, 32 elephants died in Sonitpur in retaliation for a spike in human casualties. And the brunt of those deaths have been felt in the tea gardens that dot the district. There’s no mystery why it’s happening says Anupam Sarmah of the World Wildlife Fund.

“Sonitpur had maximum forest loss. Almost 65 percent. That’s why it’s so severe. And the tea garden is the hot spot of human elephant conflict.”

For the wild elephant, the tea garden is just an extension of the forest.

Sandip Roy.

When a herd of wild elephants camps out in a tea garden, on land where tea bushes have been uprooted and Guatemala grass planted to rehabilitate the soil, they can ruin the land overnight says A. K. Bhargava, the managing director of Apeejay Tea.

But Bhargava, who self-deprecatingly calls himself a maali or gardener also admits “Their home is our home.”

It’s in that spirit that Apeejay Tea has joined hands with World Wildlife Fund to implement a three-year strategy to minimize human-elephant conflict in one of its epicentres. Apeejay owns four tea estates in the Sonitpur hot zone. The area however has many other problems- illegal encroachment in forests, militant activity and deforestation with political blessing.

The project hopes to come up with a matrix that can put a number to the loss from damage to property. It wants to set up movement corridors for safe passage for the elephants. And it hopes to find innovative new ways to keep elephants from coming into conflict with the humans in the area.

That can prove to be quite the battle of wits.

Elephants are remarkably intelligent creatures and can quickly figure out when they are being hoodwinked. Dipankar Ghose of the World Wildlife Fund says in the 80s and 90s the big buzzword was EPT or Elephant Proof Trenches that were dug to keep the elephants out. But soon elephants figured out how to get around trenches. A young elephant got inside the trench and helped nudge the herd across and when everyone had crossed over they dragged the young one out.

Farmers would place solar-powered red lights in their field which would blink in the dark mimicking predator eyes. But they have to be moved around otherwise the elephants soon figure out that it’s not a real predator.

Assam has a large population of kunkis or domestic elephants that can drive the wild ones back into the forest. But Ghose says now he sees elephant herds splitting into three herds and going into three villages. “There are not enoughkunki resources to combat that,” says Ghose.

Clearly there’s not going to be one magic solution that will solve human-elephant conflict. It’s going to require reinvention, imagination and investment. And if kunki anti-depredation squads work in Assam, they will not work in Bihar which does not have that many domestic elephants.

In India on average 400 people are killed every year in conflict with elephants.

The problem, says Sarmah of WWF, is unlike the tigers, 70 percent of whom are in protected areas, 80 percent of elephants in India are outside protected areas. And compared to 2,226 tigers in India, as per the last census, there are 27-30,000 elephants in the country. The conflict is ongoing and deepening but it does not capture popular imagination the way a man-eater might. “Tiger is like cricket and elephant is like hockey for us,” quips Sarmah.

And though it’s humans who are spreading into what used to be elephant territory, people do not see it that way. “If half my crop is damaged over night my tolerance is reduced even if I love Ganesha,” says Ghose. But he remembers when a raiding elephant died in a village, electrocuted by accident when an electric pole fell on it, the villagers who were up in arms about it, were deeply upset. They garlanded the dead animal and offered prayers, afraid of the ill omen of an elephant death in their backyard. In Monabarie tea estate when six people were killed in three days by an elephant, the Forest Department asked the villagers to write a petition to have the elephant declared rogue, but the villagers balked.

But it is expensive keeping elephants safe from people and vice versa. An electric fence can cost Rs 3-5 lakh per km and needs maintenance. There are lower energizer fences being explored that would cost Rs 80,000 per km. There are plans afoot to develop an early warning system that would alert farmers about approaching elephants. The Apeejay-WWF project is investing in bio fencing in place of the electric fence and setting up nurseries to grow thorny bamboo for that purpose. The goal is to plant 40,000 saplings in three years.

The tea-estate and NGO partnership becomes even more relevant in the current budget climate. Everyone agrees in principle that when a four-lane highway is built, care should be set aside to create corridors for animals whose habitat is being fragmented. But the question is who pays. Highways will says elephants are the forest department’s responsibility. But the forestry and environment ministry had its budget slashed 25% under the Modi government. That’s where a corporation and NGO partnership offers some hope even though an elephant does not belong to either the tea estate or the World Wildlife Fund but to all of us.

In three years there should be a formal elephant corridor through the Sessa Tea Estate. It won’t end the conflict or stop the human pressure on forest cover. Wild elephants will still need 400 kilos of food a day and as hills are deforested they will search for it in fields and granaries.

But we might just brew our Assam tea with a clearer conscience.

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