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

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.

Retrieved from – http://www.firstpost.com/living/no-place-go-plight-assams-cornered-elephants-getting-worse-2196836.html

A Sip of Health

Pegged at approximately Rs 150 crore, the green tea market in India is growing strongly and steadily with demand coming in also from Tier II and Tier III cities and manufacturers increasingly focusing on launching new variants

20150315eh87Cheap, affordable and addictive – have been terms synonymous with tea from the time it ceased to be an elite drink of the royals to become an affordable drink of the common man. Green tea is one of the fastest growing segments of the global tea industry. It is prepared from the leaves of camellia sinensis that have undergone minimal oxidation during processes. The concept of green tea originated from China and later spread all over the world. Some of the popular Japanese green teas are sencha, gyokuro, kabusecha, matcha, tencha, genmaicha and hojicha.

The journey of tea in India has indeed been fascinating and interesting. With rising health awareness, Indians who are majorly black tea drinkers, are now showing interest in green tea variants. Green tea is becoming an acquired cultural habit that is being driven by urban India’s urge to stay fit. Though presently green tea penetration in India is less than five per cent, however its demand is not just limited to metros and Tier I cities, but has also come to include Tier II and Tier III cities which have started consuming this drink on a regular basis. As a result of this growing penetration, the green tea market in India which is presently pegged at approximately Rs 150 crore has been growing upwards 50 per cent year-on-year.

With urban Indian consumers buying green tea for its many health-promoting benefits, manufacturers are increasingly focusing on making premium variants available in all retail channels, especially in modern grocery retail outlets. For instance, consumers are spoilt for choice with tea products of companies such as Organic India, GAIA Herbs, Twinings, Typhoo, as well as big FMCG giants like Hindustan Unilever, Tata Global Beverages, who are either launching new variants or re-launching their green tea product range. Moreover, GAIA Herbs has also introduced green tea variants, namely cardamom, and honey and lime, to cater to an increasing number of health-conscious consumers in urban cities. International manufacturers are also expanding their presence in institutional channels, including hotels, to generate awareness of their premium brands.

Tetley, sold across 40 countries and a part of Tata Global Beverages, has six flavours in its green tea portfolio including ginger, mint, lemon, honey and lemon, citrus and spice, and aloe vera. The company enjoys a market share of 35-40 per cent. Though in the total tea revenues of Tata Global Beverages, green tea currently has a very small share vis-a-vis black tea, the company expects the green tea segment to contribute significantly in the coming years. And with the increasing emphasis on health and wellness, the potential for categories within tea is immense.

For Twinings, India is one of the top five growth markets. The company, that has about 35 per cent market share in the premium and super premium teabag category in the country, is looking at increasing its business in India five-fold in the next five years. India is the third largest tea sourcing country for Twinings after China and Kenya. The company is a big buyer of Darjeeling and Assam teas and is increasingly buying tea from the Nilgiris. Twinings is part of Associated British Foods. Their range of green teas in the India market include green tea, green tea and lemon, green tea and mint, Earl Grey green tea, jasmine green tea and lemon and honey tea.

Also to stay ahead of the race, Wagh Bakri Tea Group has been offering one of the largest green tea ranges in India consisting of green tea, organic tea bags and regular green tea. The company also has different flavours across its green tea range like green tea mint and green tea tulsi and is currently working on expanding its green tea range under its wellness category. Apart from major Indian cities, Wagh Bakri Tea Group is also aggressively marketing its green tea products in Tier II and Tier III cities. Though at present, the company’s green tea revenue compared to normal CTC is negligible but in one to two years the green tea category is expected to comprise of 10 per cent of the company’s overall sales.

Global trend

20150315eh88According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the overweight population is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2015 and growing healthcare costs in the US alone is expected to cross US$ 117 billion; all this is creating major opportunities for the growth in sale of weight management products such as green tea. Rising consumer awareness about the benefit of green tea in curing various diseases further triggers the global market of green tea.

Asia Pacific contributes the largest market of green tea in the world. Apart from India, countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and China are growing markets of green tea in this region. Rising population and healthcare awareness is further expected to boost the green tea market in Asia Pacific. Europe is the fastest growing market for the green tea industry.

Major companies operating in the global green tea market are AMORE Pacific Corp, Arizona Beverage Company, Associated British Foods LLC, Cape Natural Tea Products, Celestial Seasonings, Finlays Beverages, Frontier Natural Products Co-Op, Hambleden Herbs, Hankook Tea, Honest Tea, ITO EN, Kirin Beverage Corp, Metropolitan Tea Company, Northern Tea Merchants, Numi Organic Tea, Oishi Group Plc, Oregon Chai, PG Tips, Pukka Herbs, Qi Teas, The Kent Tea & Trading Company, The Republic Of Tea, The Stash Tea Company, Uncle Lee’s Tea and Yogi Tea.

Retrieved from – http://www.financialexpress.com/article/fhw/cover-story-fhw/a-sip-of-health/50721/

Tata Tea goes international

Tata Global Beverages (TGB), the Rs 7,622-crore beverage arm of the Tata Group, has inducted Tata Tea into its global power brand list. With this, the brand has become the second Indian product of the group to achieve this status. The other is mineral water brand Himalayan.

Typically, products with a strong international appeal, such as Tetley, Tea Pix and Eight O’ Clock Coffee, have been part of the list for some time now. TGB had inducted Himalayan into this club four years ago.

Tata Tea’s induction was on the cards but was delayed with the management debating whether such a move would be beneficial because of its strong presence in markets such as India, Southeast Asia and West Asia. However, Ajoy Misra, managing director of TGB, says: “We launched Tata Tea in Canada two-three years ago and it is doing well there. Remember Canada is an evolved tea market, where you have established brands. Tetley is already there, with Unilever’s products.”

TGB proposes to push Tata Tea deeper into the Canadian market, targeting areas beyond where the Indian diaspora is. (Its taste is considered stronger than Tetley’s.) The same strategy will be applied in the UK, where Tata Tea is available in select outlets.

These efforts are tied to TGB’s objective of building a strong portfolio of products that can straddle price points and segments. “Currently, there are white spaces, notably in coffee and water, which could be filled both organically and inorganically. In the UK, the top-end, mid-end and bottom-end are covered with Tea Pix, a luxury tea brand; Tetley, in the centre; and Tata Tea now, at the lower end. We would ideally like to replicate this model in other markets and across our verticals. If that necessitates an acquisition, we will do it. If an in-house product can fill the gap, we would look at that as well,” said Misra.

According to Misra, the acquisition of the Map coffee brand in Australia last year was part of this plan to fill gaps in key markets.

In India, the company might consider introducing one of its international coffee brands such as Eight O’ Clock (available in the US) or Grand (available in Russia) to fill the vacant slot in packaged coffee. The company is also mulling taking Tata Coffee’s packaged brand, Mr Bean, national as an alternative. Mr Bean is a popular packaged coffee brand in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

TGB will also look at co-creating products with Tata Group companies in areas such as ambient beverages.
Misra says it is also talking to “institutes and institutions”, exploring the prospect of jointly developing new products with them.

This aggression by TGB comes with the group and company chairman Cyrus Mistry laying special emphasis on the consumer and retail vertical among three other clusters as part of his Vision 2025 document. The plan here includes achieving a market capitalisation comparable with the 25 most valuable companies in the world in the next decade. Among other things, Mistry proposes to invest $35 billion (Rs 2.1 lakh crore) in the next three years in consumer & retail, defence, aerospace, financial services, realty, and infrastructure.

Retrieved from – http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/tata-tea-goes-international-115013100024_1.html

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

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

TGB announces guidelines to sustainable beverage production and consumption

Tata Global Beverages (TGB), today announced their plans for 100 percent sustainable sourcing by 2020.

Tata Global Beverages’ sustainability strategy rests on five key pillars, of which Sourcing is one. The five pillars are Ethical Sourcing, Water Management, Climate Change Management, Waste Management and Community Development.

The company’s sustainable sourcing strategy has a major focus on sustainable agricultural practices. A key component of this effort aims at achieving optimum productivity, and gradually reducing the dependence on synthetic inputs in the form of Plant Protection Formulas.

Tata Global Beverages’ commitment to reducing the use of synthetic Plant Protection Formulations, in the supply chain, is an integral part of TGBs commitment to greater sustainability to ensure the protection of the environment for the benefit of all.

The document published “Guidelines on Plant Protection formulations” outlines the vision to maintain sustainability in the supply chain by supporting Good Agricultural Practices, collaborations and partnerships, independent certifications, pilot projects and agricultural extension activities.

This applies to all the tea that is purchased either through auctions or directly from suppliers, including subsidiary and associate plantation companies, big and small estates and small holders.

Speaking on the same, Ajoy Misra, MD and CEO of Tata Global Beverages said, “As a responsible player in the natural beverages segment, TGB cares deeply about sustainability and recognises the importance of systematically reducing the use of Plant Protection Products in the tea industry and have been proactively advocating for the same. From bush to cup, we are always conscious of our obligation towards our consumers and seek continuously to maintain and improve the quality of tea production, delivering not just to norms but above and beyond them wherever viable.”

Array

Tata Global Beverages is one of the founding members of trustea, a multi stakeholder initiative led by the Tea Board of India. The Trustea India Sustainability Tea Programme envisions verifying over 600 factories, covering 500,000 workers and 40,000 small holders by December 2014.

The Tea Board of India through its Trustea initiative and the launch of a new Plant Protection Code (PPC) in July this year announced their plans to certify 500 million kg of tea, amounting to 51 per cent of India’s tea supply by 2017.

Tata Global Beverages is in full support of independent third party certifications of sustainable agriculture such as Rain Forest Alliance, Trustea or UTZ from our tea suppliers as evidence that the tea they supply to us is sustainably sourced.

Retrieved from – http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/tgb-announces-guidelines-to-sustainable-beverage-production-and-consumption-114080701028_1.html

The Manipuri Entrepreneur who has changed the tea drinking habit of the region and created 2000+ jobs

This story is as refreshing as the brew they make. Ragesh Keisham has set out to give Manipur its proper place under the sun, and make true the sobriquet attached to it of being the ‘land that laid the golden egg’.

Ragesh is the Founder of SuiGeneris Inc, a venture that has innovated and discovered a new variant of tea made from lemongrass aka Cymbopogon Citratus, being sold under the brand name of CC Tea.

Ragesh says they have got interests for the product from local as well as international market and by next year they will plant about 600 acres with CC Tea. CC Tea has captured about 25% of the local Manipuri market and by next year 2015, the plan is to double the share. What appears like a great future has had its own share of challenges and turmoils, but today the SuiGeneris story is one of hope and inspiration.

Beginning of journey

SuiGeneris means unique or “one of its kind” in Latin, and Ragesh says he chose the name because that is what he has set out to achieve with his venture. SuiGeneris and CC Tea were launched in August 2011, but the legwork started way back in 2007. However, this is not the first venture that Ragesh set out to do. Ragesh says he had nurtured the dream of being a businessman right from childhood. The inspiration is perhaps his grandfather, who, Ragesh says, was a flamboyant businessman of his time, but also went bankrupt in his lifetime. His parents then stuck to the norm that is characteristic of Manipur, which is taking up a government job. “Manipuri people are always dependant on government jobs, and today there are 7.5 unemployed youth registered in government registers,” he points out.

Ragesh dabbled in some freelancing and consulting jobs at the beginning of his career. The first proper venture he set out to do was a BPO business, which was a contract he took from his friend in the UK for data digitization. However, the venture folded up soon because of unfavourable social conditions in Manipur. The problem was reliance on electricity, which Ragesh says is a scarcity in Manipur. Regular power cuts plague the state and sometimes the power supply is only for 4 hours in a day. Given such constraints the BPO business soon folded up.

“Although I was born in Manipur, I have not lived there, my education happened in Pune. So I didn’t know much about the place. So I thought people are doing BPO business, let me also do it,” he explains. However, once he realized the constraints in doing a BPO business, Ragesh set out to understand which could be his next outing. About zeroing in on farming, Ragesh says the rationale was that to do any business in Manipur, it had to be something that could use the local resources available and not be reliant on something external.

Founding SuiGeneris

Farming, a dominant occupation in Manipur, caught his attention and that sow the seeds of SuiGeneris Inc. His tryst with agriculture started in 2005, when Ragesh started researching and brainstorming with many experts in the agricultural field about that one product which could be turned into a bigger venture.

During one such discussion with Dr. M Ahmed, a senior scientist from the aromatic field, the perfect solution was suddenly evident and Ragesh was impressed by the numerous therapeutic benefits of Cymbopogon Citratus (CC). As some varieties of lemongrass grow in the wild, a very high yield was predicted for CC in Manipur. Ragesh’s quest had finally found a direction and he incorporated SuiGeneris Inc in 2007.

Next he imported 10,000 saplings of superior quality CC from Indonesia in 2007. Ragesh Keisham “During my research I found that lemongrass could be used to make a type of oil, so I decided to do the same. On Dr. Ahmed’s guidance, I also made a project report and approached SBI for loan. I was given half assurance that I will get the loan, but it never happened. Six months down the line, the plants started flowering and Dr. Ahmed told me that if it starts flowering then the utility of the plant is gone. I had to cut it and burn it. The first 6 months was pure heart burn for me. Then in the next 6 months the plant started growing and flowering again, but I still had no loan from the bank,” recalls Ragesh.

Two crops had to be burnt down, and predictably Ragesh was dejected and thought of quitting and doing something else. In the process he attempted many things – tried using the grass as fodder for cattle, thatching roof, but nothing worked. He started searching online for a solution and came across an article that said lemongrass had been used to cure fever in Brazil and was called fever grass. This article gave Ragesh the idea to use lemongrass as a beverage. He boiled the leaf to make the beverage, but the brew that came from it was not palatable.  “I boiled the leaf and it was the most beautiful green I had ever seen, but when I drank it, it had the most horrible taste. It was literally undrinkable. So I knew I had to find a process of drying it. So after lot of trials, I found the process of drying it. And then the tea that came tasted really good,” he says.

With the product ready, Ragesh decided to convince his parents to try it, who were ardent tea fans and had about 20-30 cups of tea a day. In the beginning his parents found the tea little light, but over a period of use they developed a taste for it and took to it completely. “That was the day I knew I had hit a jackpot. Because if my parents who were tea addicts could drink my tea, then anybody can drink my tea,” smiles Ragesh.

With the first hurdle crossed, Ragesh now had to take the product to the masses, and to launch anything in Manipur market is an uphill task. With no money to invest in advertising, Ragesh thought of an ingenious way to sell his product. During his research for CC Tea, he had read a lot about the impact of gloabl warming on the environment. So he decided he  would give talks in local schools, colleges and clubs about the subject. “I prepared a presentation of 1.45 hours where I gave a lot of message about global warming and climate change. I recruited 2-3 people who helped me take appointments from local schools, colleges, and clubs. In the presentation, the last 15 minutes I reserved to talk about CC Tea, and how global warming and CC tea are linked. Once the participants understood the problem of global warming, I told them we had to plant lot of trees. I asked young children if they would like to be my volunteers. Those who wanted to volunteer had to pay me Rs 100 per month and I would plant a tree on their behalf and they would also get a pack of CC Tea.”

Ragesh says he had to adopt this method because not only was Manipur a tough market to launch in, but also because he didn’t have any money to for packaging of the product. Through this exercise CC Tea was handed out in very rough packing of transparent plastic pouches. With the tea in their hands, people started brewing and drinking it, and slowly the product caught on. Ragesh did this exercise for one whole year and then stopped it. “Once the product stopped, customers started enquiring where CC Tea was and there was a huge demand for it,” he says.

Ragesh then borrowed some money from his family and with proper packing launched CC Tea officially in the market in August 2011. “I only had enough money to make 200 packs of CC Tea, and on the launch date all of it was sold in 10 minutes,” he says proudly.

Present day and future

Ragesh took the first loan from his wife by mortgaging her jewellery to buy big machines and get the business up and running. “Nobody was giving me finance, although I was convinced about CC Tea. My parents, sisters and wife stood by me and understood what I wanted to do. They had complete faith in me. So with the money that I had in my hand I ordered more packaging material, and when people started seeing a good product in the market, it was easy for me to raise capital,” he says.

The beginning was still slow because money was coming in slowly. Ragesh says he has borrowed from unknown people who are willing to lend him Rs 20,000-30,000. “I started gathering small amounts; once I had a particular amount in hand I would order one machine. Then again I would go out and look out for investment and have another amount in hand, I would order another machine. That’s how I started recruiting men, buying machines — it was a very slow process, because it is difficult to convince people to give money,” he recollects.

From starting in a small 200 sq. ft. space to now a factory spread over 5 acres, SuiGeneris has come a long way. The company now employs 2,000 women in its fields and has a team of 77 executives who are responsible for the various aspects of business. The company had a turnover of Rs 3.5 crores this year. Ragesh says with the current machinery they are producing about 30,000 units of CC Tea – which includes 200 gms tea packet, as well as tea bags.

SuiGeneris has managed to take 600 acres of land on lease, where production is currently underway in full swing. Once the crop starts getting harvested and processed by next year June, Ragesh forecasts an ability to produce about 48 lakhs units of CC Tea.

Ragesh claims they have already captured 25% market share in Manipur and with increased production, they should be able to increase the share in the coming days.SuiGeneris recently entered into a contract with IBCC (Indian Baltic Chamber of Commerce), which will enable them to supply CC Tea to Europe and Commonwealth Independent States. For distribution within India, they are in talks with many companies and things should firm up in the coming days, says Ragesh.

“I don’t want to sign too many contracts, because what we are producing is not even sufficient for North East now. And we are slowly upgrading. The market opportunity is huge, and tea drinkers have started liking my tea. Normal tea drinkers consume 4.6 million tones every year, and if I could upgrade my production capacity 8 times, that would still mean only 0.03% of the world’s market share, and it’s not very difficult to achieve,” he says.

Another aspect that gets Ragesh excited is the difference he is making in the lives of Manipuri people. “0.03% of the world market share means Rs 96 crores each year, that’s 5000 number of employment. Yes I am concerned about revenues, but what is more beautiful is that I will be able to employ  5000 more people. There are under privileged women in the society, but with SuiGeneiris their lives have certainly transformed in whatever small way,” he says proudly.

Lessons from the journey so far

Ragesh says for anyone who wants to enter into agriculture or plantation, grass is a good entry point. “There are many plants in the world where you can earn good revenues from, but the difficult part is maintenance. Before you gain full knowledge, start plantation from a grass family. And try to come up with an end product. So if someone has to foray into farming, come up with an end product, else it is very risky,” he advises.

He encourages everyone to take the entrepreneurial plunge, because there is a huge satisfaction when you sit back and see things have shaped at the end of the day. “Failures are stepping stones to success, but luck is also important. However, luck is just 5% of the mixture, rest of the time you learn from your mind and experience. Use your mind to apply what you a have learnt, and there is nothing like a right or wrong decision. I make a decision and then I make it right,” advises Ragesh.

And finally he says he would like to send out a strong message to the people of North East not to be just reliant on government jobs. “If you are a police or IAS officer, it’s good, and you become a better person. But if you are an entrepreneur and if you are successful, you can change thousands of lives and I would say entrepreneurism is the need of the hour,” he says.

Reference – http://yourstory.com/2014/06/suigeneris/