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.

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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.

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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.

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Tea garden eyes fish boom

Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (APPL), the second largest tea producer in the country, is aiming to produce 200 tonnes of fish by next year in its gardens in Assam.

The company, which started fisheries in its gardens in 2007, now produces 130 tonnes of fish which is 35 per cent higher than the previous year. The fishponds are spread over 149 hectares in 15 gardens six of which have their own hatcheries.

The average size of a fish pond is 1.5 acres with the largest one spread over six acres. Rohu and katla fish from the carp family are produced in the gardens. Fish are sold at farm gate, local markets and at its kiosks at Hathikuli and Powai gardens in the state.

“Our endeavour is to increase production to over 200 tonnes in the next two years in the ponds and provide quality fish seed to the fish farming community for their yield and revenue maximisation,” Prabir Banerjea, chief operating officer of APPL’s agri business division, told this correspondent.

The fisheries project of the company is the largest in the private sector in the Northeast.

Previously known as Tata Tea, Amalgamated Plantations has its operations spread across 24 tea estates in Assam and north Bengal covering 24,000 hectares and employing approximately 30,000 workers.

APPL production during 2012-13 was 33.54 million kg of tea. The company has diversified into spices, dairies and fisheries. Six multi-locational hatcheries have been operationalised for producing quality fish seed.

“As a testimony to our quality, fish farmers from Nagaon, Sonitpur, Golaghat and Dibrugarh districts have already purchased over 10 lakh spawns and fries in the last few months,” an official said.

“The fisheries project generates significant employment and creates wealth for the local population and provides fresher and therefore more nutritious fish,” he said.

Thorough studies and training were undertaken to implement the fisheries project which proved successful and showed promise. Fish ponds were excavated in areas that have been lying fallow and no ground water is drawn for the fisheries project to ensure that there is no depletion of water table.

The official said based on the success of its hatchery operations, the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture in Bhubaneswar has appointed APPL the authorised multiplier unit for a new variety of rohu to cater to fingerling requirements of the Northeast.

“We are also working in close partnership with local fishing communities in some districts for knowledge transfer of best cultivation and management practices we have adopted,” he said.

In 2012-13, the fisheries project has generated almost one lakh mandays employment in the gardens.

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Tea major forays into spice trade

Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited is planning to introduce a brand of spices sourced from the Northeast, including pepper from its plantations, in the national market.
Pepper being grown in a nursery inside an APPL garden.

Guwahati, July 14: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, the second largest tea producer in the country, is all set to launch its brand of spices.

The tea major, which has been growing other crops on its estates, is aiming big vis-à-vis spices and wants to become a national player within five years.

“The idea is to have fair price aggregation and develop market linkages with the organised sector. APPL’s vision is to become the preferred provider of agri business supply solutions in the Northeast to ultimately benefit the farmer,” Prabir Banerjea, the chief operating officer of APPL’s agri business division, told The Telegraph.

The company is growing only black pepper — the most traded spice in the world — in its gardens. Black pepper, known as the king of spices, is known for its hot, biting flavour and pungent aroma. The latest price for black pepper in India ranges from Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 per quintal. The company sources other spices from different states of the region.

“The brand names are being shortlisted and our brands could hit the market by August,” Banerjea said.

The company started growing black pepper commercially from 2007 and the yield this year was 24 metric tonnes — 20 per cent higher than last year. As on date, the company has 200 hectares under black pepper cultivation.

He said the company planned to announce the origin of the produce and their USPs across marketing channels in the organised sector, as “at present, spices from the Northeast are being sold in mandis and nobody knows where these are coming from”.

Independent nurseries have been set up in all gardens to ensure self-sufficiency in planting material and high-yielding and drought-resistant varieties have been sourced from south India.

Banerjea said single polished turmeric fingers with specified curcumin content were recently sent to Olam International — a leading global integrated supply chain manager and processor of agricultural products and food ingredients — for export. “This is for the first time spices have been exported from the Northeast,” he said. The turmeric was mainly sourced from Assam’s Karbi Anglong district.

The company is also setting up a state of the art processing and packaging plant for spices and fruits aggregated from the Northeast at the North East Mega Food Park in Tihu. Construction will commence after the monsoon this year and trial production will start from the winter of 2014.

The official said the company’s entry into the spices sector in the Northeast would create national links for local produce, benefiting the farming community of the region.

Spices are high value export-oriented commodities, which play an important role in the country’s agricultural economy, as India is the principal source of spices in the global market. In the Northeast, black pepper is mainly grown in Meghalaya, which produces about 400 metric tonnes of the spice annually.

According to Spices Board, the Northeast has tremendous potential for largescale production of spices and it is anticipated that the region can create exportable surpluses at competitive prices, ensuring that the country stays on top in the international spices market.

In fact, the spices sector has been making strides in the Northeast and Spices Board has proposed an outlay of Rs 66.75 crore in the Twelfth Plan to promote the sector in the region. The Twelfth Plan focus is on development of large cardamom and other spices with respect to area expansion, irrigation and land development, mechanization, organic farming and post-harvest processing.

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Tea major eyes China

The growing domestic demand for black tea in China is what Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, the second largest producer of the beverage in India with 21 garden in Assam alone, is planning to cash in on.

“We have sent a small consignment of black tea last month to a Chinese government company. This is a just a start-up consignment and if the feedback is good, there might be bigger orders,” the company’s managing director, Deepak Atal, told The Telegraph today. “Their norms for accepting tea from outside are very tough and we are looking into it.”

Atal, who recently visited China to attend a tea festival and international tea convention, said there was a separate session on black tea at the convention, indicating the importance accorded to black tea in that country.

“The younger generation in China is showing a great liking for black tea and this is what is motivating us to look towards that country,” he said, adding that the consignment they sent to China comprised CTC and orthodox varieties produced in the company’s Assam gardens.

The company, which has 21 gardens in Assam and four in Bengal, produced 32.34 million kg of tea in 2012, of which the state contributed 28.51 million kg.

He said a delegation from China had visited tea gardens of different companies, including Amalgamated, in India earlier this year.

According to 2012 figures released by International Tea Committee, China tea production is 1,761 million kg, which is 38.9 per cent of the world produce. Similarly, China exported 321.79 million kg, 18.64 per cent of the world export level.

Having surpassed India as the leading tea producer in 2006, the neighbouring country has been producing more than 500 million kg of green tea since 2001, which increased to 1,046 million kg in 2010.

Sources say China grows tea in more than 10,000 holdings and boasts production of the largest variety of teas in the world. Some of the notable types of Chinese teas include green, white, oolong, black and smoked black (a type of green tea), among others.

The production in China grew at 2.38 per cent during the nineties of the last century and registered 8 per cent growth between 2001 and 2010.

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Hathikuli tea goes organic

Guwahati, Jan. 20: Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), the second largest tea producer in the country, is going for all-out promotion of its Hathikuli organic brand.

The move is apparently spurred by the 50 per cent annual growth witnessed by the organic tea market.

Though its production is time-consuming and it enjoys a niche market, organic tea holds immense potential to get remunerative prices.

A company official said the three-year-long conversion of Hathikuli garden into an organic one has been a learning experience at every stage. It takes nearly four to five years to convert a garden into an organic one and results in tremendous crop loss.

The official said the plan was to sell the entire produce of Hathikuli in the retail market in the next five to six years and added that a retail outlet to promote the organic brand would also be opened.

It is also promoting and selling the brand online (infibeam.com) and through mega retailers like Spencers and Metro Cash & Carry. “The response has been good till now,” the official said.

A parliamentary standing committee report — Performance of Plantation Sector: Tea and Coffee Industry — stated that the organic tea industry, being labour intensive, generated huge scope for employment. Moreover, it said that the lack of chemical use and introduction of organic practices indirectly benefited the workers and their families. It added that the low or no carbon content of these teas made them exclusive and helped fetch premium prices worldwide.

The production process entails additional costs not only on the production front but also in getting it certified and marketed. In order to fetch a premium, it is necessary for the producers to go in for direct marketing.

“Conversion from conventional to organic tea not only leads to immediate crop loss during the conversion period, but it also takes nearly 10 to 12 years to regain the original level of production. Besides, there is greater difficulty in sourcing the organic field inputs, especially for plant protection. It also warrants additional labour force for application of field inputs and proper upkeep of the plantations,” Tea Board chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu said.

Keeping these limitations in view, the Tea Board is proposing to provide special incentives towards cost of replanting/replacement of old tea areas when they are converted to organic. “For such activities, the subsidy would cover, to some extent, the value of crop lost during the gestation period. Incentive would be provided for the new planting and certification cost. Preference would also be given to organic tea producers for participating in international fairs and exhibitions,” Bhanu said.

Though a few companies have started organic tea production, a package of best practices for organic tea cultivation is yet to be formulated.

The parliamentary standing committee wants the small tea growers to be included in the organic tea movement. “These small growers already possess livestock on their plantations and have been in the production of farm compost for long. Further, the financial constraints restraining their capacity to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their fields have made it easier for them to switch over to organic cultivation,” it said.

The committee asked the department of commerce to take steps to promote organic tea cultivation among small tea growers and include them in training programmes.

The committee found that organic tea is directly marketed and producers have to travel extensively in Europe, the US and Japan and directly contact organic consumer groups for sale of their product and would like the department of commerce to facilitate the growers in search of markets for organic tea through appropriate incentives.

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THE SANCTUARY – WILD LIFE AWARDS

Wind Under the Wings Award

APPL received the Special Sanctuary “Wind Under the Wings” Award for “their farsighted decision to turn Hathikuli into an organic plantation, a step that took great courage and conviction”. The award ceremony, attended by the Managing Director – Mr Deepak Atal and Manager, Hathikuli – Mr Daljeet Singh, was held at Mumbai on 30th November 2012

APPL targeting organic tea market

Eyeing European markets for export and tying up with large format retail stores in India, Amalgamated Plantations Pvt Ltd (APPL), a Tata Enterprise, is trying to capture large part of the Rs 640-crore organic tea market in India.

“The organic tea business is growing by 15 per cent every year. For us, that is the only way to go. In the export market, we are targeting European countries like Germany and Japan besides US and UK,” Deepak Atal, managing director of the second largest tea producer in India, told reporters here today.

In the Indian market, they are tying up with large retail chains like Walmart, Nilgiri and Spencer”s.

“Consumers are now more health conscious than ever before and when we market it rightly with these retail chains, the scope in organic tea market is tremendous,” he said.

In 2011 their Hathikuli Tea Estate spread across 687 hectares in Assam”s Golaghat district near Kaziranga National Park was certified as organic. It was recently awarded at the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Awards in Mumbai for protecting biodiversity.

“Initially the production fell from 8 lakh kg to 3.5 lakh kg because we were not using fertilizers to control pests. But now the production has started increasing gradually and in the next 2-3 years we will return to the 8 lakh figure,” Atal said.

For marketing in the European market, the tea estate is also in the process of being certified as a Rain-forest Alliance (RA) for its eco-friendly practices.

From the last one year, their two other tea estates in Assam – Diffloo and Teok – have been using only bio- fertilizers.

“But there has been no drop in yield. So from next year we will extend bio-fertilizers to all estates in a phased manner. It will reduce the chemical load on soil and increase its productivity and health in the long term,” the official said.

At present, APPL has 21 tea gardens in Assam and 4 in West Bengal.

Along with tea, they have been growing spices like pepper, ginger, turmeric, etc as multi-crop plantation.

“We are now installing a food processing unit near Guwahati for our agri-business. Some of these products will be sold as our brands while others will be sold to the large retail chains,” Atal said.

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‘Organic’ tea estate helps save wildlife

When Deepak Atal, managing director of Amalgamated Plantations Pvt Ltd (APPL), thought of converting Hathikuli tea estate in Assam to an organic one in 2007, his idea was to improve the ecology of Kaziranga National Park, bordering the tea garden.

Five years down the line, the organic tea garden contributes to the greater biodiversity of the world heritage wildlife sanctuary by banning pesticides. At the same time, it is reviving its growth in production slowly.

The tea estates maintained by APPL (largely in Assam and four gardens in West Bengal) are the only surviving plantations links of the Tata Group.

According to Atal, tea production in Hathikuli went down from 8 lakh kg in 2007-08 to 3.5 lakh kg in 2009-10. But, it has signs of improvement of late.

“The Hathikuli estate produced 4.5 lakh kg tea last fiscal and it is expected to produce 6 lakh kg tea by FY14,” he said.

Spread over 467 hectares of tea growing area, the estate has in-house bio production and vermi-composting units for organic formulations for soil nutrition, foliage growth and integrated pest management.

The vermi-compost production unit at the estate has an annual capacity of 1100 million tonnes a year, which is touted to be one of the largest such units in the North Eastern region.

Atal pointed out that the company is planning to market its organic tea and organic pepper produced at the Hathikuli estate through modern-format retail stores. “We have already tied up with Walmart and Nilgiris for this,” he said.

The project has been given away the “Winds Under the Wings Award” by Sanctuary Asia on November 30 to recognize APPL’s efforts to save wildlife.

Reference – http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/organic-tea-estate-helps-save-wildlife/article4171459.ece