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.
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