A festive brew of culture – APPL to honour contributions and traditions of tea tribes

 A woman plucks leaves at a tea garden in Nagaon.

Amalgamated Plantations Pvt Limited, formerly Tata Tea, will host the first-everSirish Festival at the company’s picturesque Hathikuli tea estate near Kaziranga National Park on February 7 and 8 in a bid to promote the unique cultures and traditions of the tea tribes of Assam.

“Sirish Festival, the first ever integrated festival to honour the contribution of the tea tribe community to Assam, is a watershed moment for us. We expect that future editions of this annual festival will provide for not only national but also international recognition for this great community,” Ranjit Barthakur, chairman of APPL Foundation, said.

The foundation looks after the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities of the APPL and is primarily engaged with local communities in Assam in the areas of education and skill development, environment, healthcare, culture and heritage.

Sirish, a Sanskrit word meaning soul, is the local name for the shady trees in tea gardens. The festival will showcase traditional dance forms, sports, art and literature of the tea community of Assam. Apart from the local population of Hathikuli and its adjoining areas, representatives for all the 25 tea estates of APPL, tea tribe community leaders and icons from various fields will attend the festival.

The high point of the festival would be the recognition and honouring of two icons from the community – one each from the fields of literature and culture. The recognition will be in the form of a citation and cheque, which will be presented by the chief minister Tarun Gogoi at the venue on February 8.

A DVD of a modern rendition of a traditional jhumur songcalled Railgadi Jhumur will also be released during the festival.

The APPL Foundation official said competitions would be held among the participants of the tea community in jhumur dance, pole climbing, archery and other sporting events, which are popular among the community.

“Participants from APPL gardens will take part in this year’s festival but plans are there for participation from other company gardens from the next year’s festival,” the official said.

He said the tea community has made an immense contribution to the lifeline industry of the state and such festivals were necessary to give them recognition.

Although Robert Bruce discovered tea in 1823, the commercial cultivation started only after 14 years, when the first tea garden was established at Chabua in 1837. The British imported thousands of workers, mainly from the Chhotanagpur region, covering the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and also from Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. These indentured tea garden workers later came to be known as the tea tribe community.

The important constituents are the Santhal, Tanti, Orang, Munda, Bhuiya, Bhumij, Paharia, Proja, Gaur, Kharia, Bheel, Boraik, Ghatowar, Teli, Goala, Rajak, Koya, Telenga and Kamar. The culture of different tribes got intermixed within themselves and also with the existing local Assamese culture, and an amalgamation of tea tribe culture and a new way of living evolved.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150128/jsp/northeast/story_10306.jsp#.VMnDhdKUf-t

Assam’s agriculture sector benefitting from scientific practices

Science is being used to benefit the agriculture sector of Assam, and in other parts of North East India, given its sizeable population.

The production of large varieties of fruits and vegetables are now being exposed to advanced technologies for better yield.

Self-reliance is being promoted, as could be seen by the inauguration of the first of its kind agri hub nursery on horticulture farm in the AssamAgriculture University campus in Jorhat.

The nursery has been developed at a cost of Rs. 15 crores and financed under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana.

The nursery will annually produce 48 lakh seedlings of various vegetables and seasonal flowers.

This new project will give a huge boost to production and ultimately help in generating more income for the farmers.

“Today, we inaugurated this new agri hub and such things are very important as this will help in the growth of agriculture sector. Making use of such scientific practices will benefit Assam, especially the villages and will also help in tackling unemployment situation. Gradually the youth will also be interested in taking up agriculture, production will go up and income will increase,” said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

While the climatic condition in the North East is conducive for agricultural activities and a large section in the region is involved in agriculture, the lack of scientific application in the field has prevented optimum production.

Recently, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay, gave its approval for the funding of 20 research projects to be taken up by scientists of Assam Agriculture University (AAU) mainly focusing on the development of agriculture sector in the North East.

These initiatives are expected to give a boost to advanced research in the field of agriculture and benefit farmers.

“It is definitely a very good thing because we are able to link up with BARC and it is just an opening. If we do well, I am sure many more projects will flow in. Our scientists will also get an exposure in BARC and other places. It will open up new avenues,” said K M Bujarbaruah, Vice Chancellor, Assam Agricultural University (AAU).

There is a huge scope for development in the agriculture sector in the northeast through implementation of advanced technologies, which besides bringing revenue will address the employment problem.

Retrieved from – http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/assam-s-agriculture-sector-benefitting-from-scientific-practices-114112200538_1.html

North East’s food processing sector part of PM’s ‘Make in India’ mission

The North East’s Food Processing sector was a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make In India’ mission, Union Food Processing Industries Minister Harsmirat Kaur Badal said

”Organic production has a very huge national and international market and only North East India has the potential to meet this demand through organised production”, Badal said at the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Exclusive Interactive Session.

”I am happy to inform you the North East Food Processing Industry is part of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make In India’ mission”, she said.

Badal said this was her maiden visit to the North East and ”I am here to hear from the industry captains, entrepreneurs, growers of the food processing and allied sector and address their issues”.

”I was surprised to find very little utilization of funds when I took charge of the ministry but in five months I have ensured use of 50 per cent funds in a proper way”, the minister added.

She urged entrepreneurs to make maximum use of the National Mission on Food Processing.

Mega Food Parks have been conceptualized with all common infrastructure of a food processing industry under a hub like the North East Mega Food park in Tihu and ”our Government plans to set up food park in all the districts in next five years”, Badal said.

She also expressed concern on food waste in India and emphasized on the need for scientific and proper use of the infrastructure.

”Farmers are the future of Food Processing Industry and our ministry will ensure that food grown and produced reach consumers without wastage. This is what I call ‘Khet to Thali’ and we are committed to it”, she added.

Retrieved from – http://ibnlive.in.com/news/north-easts-food-processing-sector-part-of-pms-make-in-india-mission/512192-37-64.html

Spice factory to come up in Nagaon

Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL) — the second largest tea producer in the country — will commission the largest spice processing unit in the Northeast by the year-end.

Spread around 6 bighas with 30,000 square foot built-up area, the spice unit will come up in December at Naltoli in Nagaon district and will have production facilities forprocessing ginger, turmeric, black pepper, bay leaf, bhut jolokia, mustard and coriander. The spice unit, which will source products from the region, will be housed at the Integrated Infrastructure Development Centre of the Assam government.

“We are growing only pepper in our gardens. The rest will be aggregated from farmers across the region,” told a senior official of the APPL, who looks after its agri-business.

Altogether 3,46,000 pepper vines have been planted, of which 46,000 vines have borne fruit. Self-sufficiency in planting material has been achieved after independent nurseries were set up in all the 25 gardens of the company.

APPL aims to become the country’s largest producer of black pepper, the king of spices, by 2025. The company is investing Rs 20 crore in the spice unit, which will be set up in two phases. The spices will be sold under a brand name. Technical help and post-harvest management support will be provided by expert bodies.

“We will first look at selling to exporters and based upon the response, we will look at the consumer market,” the official said.

He said marketing channels have already been established with the organised sector comprising extractors, blenders and exporters. These sectors will form the core of the company’s marketing efforts and agri-business production, he said.

According to the Spices Board, the region can create exportable surplus of spices at competitive prices to ensure the country’s top spot in the international spice market.

The board is planning to provide financial assistance to spice growers’ co-operatives, farmers’ associations, NGOs representing spice growers and individual entrepreneurs in northeastern and hill states in the 12th Plan to establish primary processing facilities for organised marketing of the produce in the domestic and international markets with possible value addition.

APPL is a full-member of the Sustainable Spices Initiative, which brings together leading international companies and NGOs aiming to transform the mainstream spices sector, thereby securing future sourcing and boosting economic growth in producing countries.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140901/jsp/northeast/story_18785028.jsp#.VAaYVMWSz-u

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.

IMG_1727

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