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

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.

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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)

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/

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.

Retrieved from – http://news.in.msn.com/business/article.aspx?cp-documentid=251604632

 

‘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

 

Hathikuli Goes Organic

August 2012: Darkness was yet to descend. In the last few minutes of daylight, Rajesh and I searched for spiders along the edges of the tea garden when the phone rang and the manager on the line informed us of a king cobra that had entered the factory area. More likely a rat snake, was our first thought. Rushing to the spot, we saw a crowd gathered around a tall machine covered with a polythene sheet.

At first we waited at the back of the gathered crowd, finding it difficult to push our way to the front. A local snake rescuer was on the way we were told. On his arrival, he very wisely asked the crowd to keep their distance, then lifted part of the polythene sheet. We finally got a glimpse of the snake’s head. It was indeed a king cobra. Nothing could have better underscored the fact that we were in a tea estate on the very edge of the incredible Kaziranga National Park.

Tea estates evoke images of green plantation lands in the far Northeast or in South India, with lines of hardworking women plucking and then depositing leaves in baskets on their backs. Few people actually consider the fact that most plantations were carved out of forest land, or forest corridors because with every passing year, they end up harbouring less and less biodiversity since they are ‘carpet bombed’ with pesticides designed to allow only an intensive monoculture of tea bushes to survive.  Large mammals and other wildlife are hardly what one associates with a tea estate, so when Sanctuary Asia asked us to undertake a rapid biodiversity survey of a tea estate called the Hathikuli Tea Estate in Assam, we were more than a little puzzled – did we hear it right?

Within minutes we were Googling Hathikuli. The estate belonged to Amalgamated Plantations Pvt. Ltd. (APPL), one of the largest producers of tea in the country. Of its 24 tea estates in the Northeast, one of them, historic Hathikuli, had been established in 1907. And then the full story began to emerge.

The management, it seemed, had taken on an ambitious goal – to turn certified organic! Our interest more than casually piqued, we discovered that Hathikulil’s conversion to organic began in 2007 and was finally completed in March 2011. What made this conversion all the more fascinating and significant was the fact that the Hathikuli Tea Estate shared a boundary with the World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park, and the Karbi Anglong Hills.

It took us just five minutes to confirm that we would like to get to Hathikuli double quick and start work!

Both of us are self-taught naturalists studying for our Masters. Our primary goal over the next few days was to read up every scrap of information we could on tea estates, their impact on biodiversity, the impact of biodiversity on the plantation and, of course, the Hathikuli saga (for that is what it was) itself.

The fundamental objective of the conversion to organic, we discovered, was born of a vision that suggested that chemical agriculture and toxic solutions for plantations would necessarily be phased out in the decades ahead. Hathikuli had started out organic (chemical pesticides were only discovered as a result of chemical warfare research post World War II), then shifted to toxic chemicals in the 1970s following global and national trends. Over the decades, this had an adverse impact on soils… and pesticide residues in the finished tea product had also begun to pose problems.

 The decision to go fully organic was taken, but this was not easy. To begin with, it was clear that output would initially fall, but this would be compensated by igher per kg. yields. A slew of projections and debates nsued. When all the counting was done, what triggered the final decision was the fact that the transition would immensely benefit Kaziranga, a World Heritage Site, by sparing it from toxic contamination.

The lay of the land

The massive 479.57 ha. Hathikuli estate has three divisions – Hathikuli, Rangajan and Deering. The plantation runs along a narrow strip of land, stretching almost 12 km. along the National Highway 37. The name ‘Hathikuli’ is derived from the Assamese word ‘hati’ (elephant) and ‘kuli’ (frequent)… a place frequented by elephants. The estate was always unique, drawing large number of visitors to Kaziranga who were welcomed by the Hathikuli management, which always encouraged ‘tea tourism’ to their estate and factory, of which they were justifiably proud. Today, in our view, they have even more to be gratified about – the Hathikuli Tea Estate has become the largest organic plantation of its kind in Asia.

It was to help establish the positive effect of a reconversion to organic practices on the biodiversity thatSanctuary asked us to undertake this rapid survey. Our brief was to conduct two surveys, pre-monsoon, which has been completed and is being reported here, and post-monsoon, which will be in progress as you read this.

The presence of predators indicates the health of most ecosystems and tea estates are no different. This Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides. Credit:Rajesh Sanap

The tarantula Lyrognathus crotalus are performing a vital pest control service for the Hathikuli estate where a functioning ecological balance has helped the management to secure “organic certification” for their teas. Credit:Zeeshan Mirza

TOP AND ABOVE: The presence of predators indicates the health of most ecosystems and tea estates are no different. This Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides (top) and the tarantula Lyrognathus crotalus (above) are performing a vital pest control service for the Hathikuli estate where a functioning ecological balance has helped the management to secure “organic certifi cation” for their teas.

Our task was to observe and document the diversity of secondary predators in the tea estate and their role in controlling prey species, which are the ‘pest’ that chemical pesticides seek to ‘deal with’. We were also asked to establish the presence-absence of other interdependent fauna, and to compare the biodiversity of Hathikuli’s organic plantation to that of a comparable chemical plantation in the area.

Even our rudimentary investigations, we knew, might help tweak Hathikuli’s management plan to make the estate more native-predator-friendly. This in turn would have a positive effect by helping control insects and other lifeforms that impacted tea bushes, leaves and soils.

A very telling aspect of our survey, when it is completed and analysed by October 2012, will be a comparison of the species list of Hathikuli with secondary predators found in Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong.

Where is Hathikuli?

Northeast India, an important part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot, supports some of the biologically richest areas in the world, which affords it recognition as an area of global importance. Today, the forest cover in this region is merely one third of its geographical area, and the rate of habitat loss here is of serious concern. The low to mid-elevation moist forests of this region are particularly important, as they not only support most of its biological diversity, but are also more vulnerable to human exploitation and settlement due their relatively easier access. Despite its importance, this region has remained poorly explored, and all evidence suggests that much of the region’s diversity is being lost without even being recorded. A serious problem that hinders effective prioritization and evaluation for site-specific conservation attention is the lack of baseline biological data.

The Hathikuli Tea Estate is located in Assam in Golaghat District (26035’0.50”N, 93021’12.40”E, elevation 88 m.). It comprises 4.80 sq. km. of area having three divisions i.e. – Hathikuli Division, Rangajan Division and Deering Division. The plantation runs along a narrow strip of land but stretches for 12 km. along the National Highway 37. The climate is tropical with humid weather prevailing most of the summer and monsoon months. The total average annual rainfall is 1,300 mm. Maximum precipitation occurs in June and July. Maximum temperature is 38.00C in June and minimum temperature is 8.00C in December.

A Hathikuli snapshot

What follows is a very brief overview of our 10-day pre-monsoon survey, completed between May 4 and 15, 2012.

We conducted morning, evening and night trails (with armed guards, given the unrest in the area) to document species. We did use flash lights in the periphery of the tea estate, but sparingly, since militancy in the Karbi Anglong area was always uppermost in our minds. For this survey no species were collected. All we did was photograph them on location with notes that would help us identify them later. The greater part of our study was conducted in the Hathikuli division. But we also studied the high resolution photographs taken by local rescuers and included them in our checklist if positive identification was possible after referring to taxa specific literature.

Amongst the many creatures recorded at Hathikuli during the Sanctuary Rapid Biodiversity Survey, this colourful lanternfl y (Family: Fulgoridae) was a show stealer. A plant hopper, it functions by sucking nutrients from plants. Ants, which are voracious predators, are attracted to the nutritious liquid excreted by lanternfl ies, even as they prey on several of Hathikuli’s other pests such as Helopeltis. Credit:Rajesh Sanap

Amongst the many creatures recorded at Hathikuli during the Sanctuary Rapid Biodiversity Survey, this colourful lanternfly (Family: Fulgoridae) was a show stealer. A plant hopper, it functions by sucking nutrients from plants. Ants, which are voracious predators, are attracted to the nutritious liquid excreted by lantern flies, even as they prey on several of Hathikuli’s other pests such as Helopeltis.

We spotted five species of mammals – the Himalayan palm civet, the Indian palm squirrel, capped langur, common muntjac, and the Rhesus macaque. Hathikuli’s true wealth, however, manifested itself in the shape and form of little life forms – birds, butterflies, beetles and dragonflies. With Rajesh’s particular interest in tarantulas, not surprisingly, within hours of our arrival, we had located one.

We looked at the burrow, located under a tea bush along a mud drain and saw the thick web lining. A tickle with a grass blade and the owner came out of the burrow to investigate. It was a medium-sized tarantula, heavily clothed with black hair – a female Lyrognathus crotalus, a species common in Northeast India. Tarantulas are large hairy spiders that live much longer than other spider species and they spend virtually all their life in a single burrow making them invaluable bio-indicators. Monitoring a single individual over an extended period of time is a relatively easy task and we found ourselves very encouraged because the presence of tarantulas on the estate was a good sign since that surely meant that a variety of prey species existed to support the voracious predator.

That spiders were plentiful in Hathikuli was evident from even our initial, cursory, walks. From the wolf spider to the tarantula, lynx spider, giant crab spider, orb web spider, nursery web spider, straw spider, signature spider and the common garden spider…  these ‘pest controllers’ were busy at work. Night surveys proved to be even more exciting (and considerably easier) as numerous insects would cluster around the lamp posts right next to the Manager’s Bungalow (a heritage structure). This provided us with opportunities to observe predators in action. We saw several robberflies, 41 butterfly and 11 dragonfly species.

The last named must surely be called the hawks of the insect world. Dragonflies are a delight to watch as they flit gracefully over waterbodies, then come to rest at fixed perches after chasing intruders or grabbing prey on the wing. Dragonflies lay their eggs in water and their larvae too are voracious predators, devouring almost anything they can overpower. This makes them biological pest controllers par excellence. Their inter-specific relationships are also fascinating. At one of the ponds in the tea estate we found seven species including the marsh hawk, ruddy marsh skimmer, crimson marsh glider, ditch jewel, picture wing, clubtail and hooktail, plus some damselflies.

One afternoon, we spotted a large dragonfly that would not settle like the others. It kept circling the pond, pausing mid-air and then, suddenly, and at great speed, it would tap the water surface and then resume the process of circling the pond. We had not observed this behaviour before, and look forward to discussing it with experts.

A sub-adult capped langur Trachypithecus pileatus gorges on nutritious fi cus fruit. Leaf eaters, the presence of these primates on the estate is a clear sign of a recovering ecosystem and is very positive to the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve. Credit:Rajesh Sanap

A sub-adult capped langur Trachypithecus pileatus gorges on nutritious fi cus fruit. Leaf eaters, the presence of these primates on the estate is a clear sign of a recovering ecosystem and is very positive to the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve.

Hathikuli is also visited by many birds, ranging from the Rufous Treepie, Black-hooded Oriole, Oriental Turtle Dove, Yellow Wagtail, White-cheeked Bulbul, White-throated Kingfisher, Black Drongo, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Jungle Myna, Black-rumped Flameback, Red-breasted Parakeet, Asian Barred Owlet, Red-vented Bulbul, Indian Cuckoo and more. The forest of the Karbi Anglong hills were lush green and dense, despite the fact that ours was a pre-monsoon survey. We were sorely tempted to venture deep inside this area, but were advised not to for security reasons. Often both of us would walk in different directions to cover more ground and thus increase our sightings tally.

Reptiles are undoubtedly key predators and must be counted as very positive to an organic estate. We saw garden lizards, geckos, southern house geckos, worm snakes, common wolf snakes, red-necked keelbacks, banded kraits, monocled cobras and, that one large king cobra we described above.

Mosquito bug  Helopeltis

(Miridae: Heteroptera)

 This insect pest occurs widely in the foothills and the plains and mainly attacks tea and weeds growing in tea areas. Adults are quick but not strong fliers. Females are bigger than the males. The species has prominent eyes and a small drumstick like process that stands vertically on the upper side. It has black wings and head and long antennae. Nymphs and adults are more visible in early and late hours of the day and take shelter under tea leaves specially in the lower frame during day time or when disturbed. One individual usually completes its life cycle on a single bush. Damage of tea shoots and young leaves occurs due to the insertion of its eggs primarily in the buds, followed by shoots and the young leaves and their petioles. Severe damage occurs due to intensive feeding by all the stages and due to chemical reaction within the leaf resulting from feeding punctures and extra-oral digestion. The feeding spots develop a watermarked area, which turn circular and pale green and subsequently dark brown within hours of feeding. The circular area later becomes dark brown and when dried up, a hole develops. The toxic reaction of feeding often results in the curling and deformity of leaves. As a consequence, the shoot is retarded. Chemical control at recommended doses is becoming increasingly difficult. Helopeltis are predated by Oxyopes sp.(lynx spider), other spiders, dragonflies and robber flies.

 Lessons to be learnt

Climate change is an issue that all tea estates and plantations will need to come to terms with. One response could be to carpet-bomb plantations with toxic chemicals in response to the new and hardy vectors and pests that emerge thanks to altered humidity and temperatures. The other option would be to follow the Hathikuli Tea Estate experience, which could be replicated across the country. This is because in nature’s scheme of things, predator and prey have always worked out their own balance, which is what they will do in response to climate-induced ecological changes too.

Because pesticides ‘do not know how to stop killing’ they end up wiping out predators, leaving the field open to pests that come back in larger numbers, with greater resistance to applied toxins. This is a lose-lose situation that will also inevitably cause costs to escalate, even as educated consumer resistance to pesticide grows.

Clearly, no new plantations should be allowed in wildlife corridors or habitats. And where they already exist, the working plans should be adapted, taking a cue from the Hathikuli Tea Estate, to rebuild predator-prey balance, which will end up with a safer end product, capable of fetching a higher monetary yield per kg.

As for Kaziranga, the fact that chemicals will not leach into its wetlands from Hathikuli should be celebrated by all those who would like to see this rhino, tiger, elephant and wild buffalo habitat survive well into the future. Quite apart from such megafauna, this natural wonderland is also home to over 470 species of birds, making it one of India’s most vital Important Bird Areas. As we prepare to return for our post-monsoon Hathikuli survey, we eagerly anticipate even more diverse sightings of native biodiversity. Sanctuary Asia will also work with the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam and the National Tiger Conservation Authority to analyse the results of this rapid survey, including new investigations on soil micro fauna/flora, so crucial not only to the growth of tea bushes, but also, that perfect predator-prey balance in nature that any organic estate aspires to emulate.

This lynx spider is a voracious arthropod. Ever since Hathikuli has gone organic, spiders have been recognised as a strike strategy to keep tea pest populations under control. Encouraging a diversity of spiders to fl ourish will be a key objective of the estate management. Credit:Zeeshan Mirza

This lynx spider is a voracious arthropod. Ever since Hathikuli has gone organic, spiders have been recognised as a strike strategy to keep tea pest populations under control. Encouraging a diversity of spiders to fl ourish will be a key objective of the estate management.

One of the most serious issues facing tea estates today is how to deal with pests such as Helopeltis sp. (a bug), which we will especially focus on in our post-monsoon survey. We are acutely aware that withdrawing chemical applications have initially resulted in lower physical tea yields. But yields have started to rise thanks to improved soil health and the fact that money is not being spent on toxic chemicals, and the per kg. recovery of organic tea is higher… Hathikuli’s economic horizons look bright.

The fact is that Hathikuli has already negotiated the most difficult period of transition. In the months and years ahead, with every rise in the population and diversity of secondary predators, tea productivity (and the estate’s profit graph) must correspondingly rise. One key strategy will be to establish ‘sanctuaries’ within the estate that offer refuge to predators such as spiders, dragonflies, butterflies, snakes and lizards.

What is wonderful is that Hathikuli’s organic adventure will greatly benefit the wildlife of Kaziranga, not just because of the biodiversity that rises on the estate, but because of the long-term benefits from reduced bioaccumulation risks in the national park. What we would like to monitor very carefully now is the return of secondary predators to the most recently converted estate land. As naturalists we can safely assume that the biodiversity lists in these areas will rise with the passage of time, but this return must be documented and the survey results peer reviewed, so that the experience can be reliably shared and replicated across the country.

A better understanding of the ecological cycle in Hathikuli is vital to Kaziranga itself. In our view the Hathikuli management should work closely with the office of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam and the Director of the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve. Apart from shade trees, which do offer refuge to bird and other life forms, Hathikuli would need to set aside small unplanted parts of the estate where wild flora and fauna should be encouraged to return.  Such refuges for  natural predators, will for instance enable native ant species to nest.  And if this does not automatically happen, no harm would be done by considering the option of artificially culturing native ant species, which will help tackle the Helopeltis bugs whose eggs the ants consume.

Similarly the larvae of predatory beetles and praying mantis species may be cultured to play a role in natural pest control. Other logical steps would be to manage the drainage channels across the entire estate so as to protect tarantula spiders and their burrows, which are damaged or destroyed when deepening or otherwise maintaining drainage systems.

As young naturalists who are involved in the study and observation of secondary predators, we look forward with excitement to the adventures ahead of us.

For the detailed butterfly and dragonfly checklist go to www.sanctuaryasia.com.

Going Organic

 The Hathikuli Tea Estate started its organic conversion in 2007.

  • In 2007, it was decided to convert 161.23 ha. area (Only Hathikuli division) to organic farming.
  • In 2008, the entire estate under tea (479.57 ha.) was taken up for organic conversion.
  • In March 2010, Organic Certification was received for 161.23 ha. area.
  • In March 2011, the whole Estate along with the production and processing unit was certified as fully organic under the standards of NPOP, NOP and EEC.
  • In September 2011, the estate has been able to receive JAS certification – the Japanese standards.

OneCert Asia is the certifying body for Hathikuli T.E. OneCert is accredited by APEDA (Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) under NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production).

 Editor’s postscript

Conventional wisdom suggests that tiger reserves and other Protected Areas have little option but to change the working relationship with lands that abut their boundaries. This must necessarily involve and engage those who own or occupy such ‘buffer’ areas. In the case of farmers, the objective would be to either encourage them to opt for organic agriculture, or turn farms to forests… become ecosystem farmers who benefit from biodiversity. In the case of commercial plantations such as the Hathikuli Tea Estate, the transition from chemical to organic farming should be fuelled by tax and other incentives and subsidies that would be infinitely more beneficial to India than the fossil energy, fertiliser and toxic chemical subsidies currently in favour.

This monocled cobra Naja kaouthia is a nocturnal predator. The reptile is often seen in and around old growth trees in whose boles rodents abound. When confronted with danger the snakes will raise the bodies, spread their hoods and hiss loudly. At such times they can be quite aggressive and will lunge to bite and even spit venom. Credit:Rajesh Sanap

This monocled cobra Naja kaouthia is a nocturnal predator. The reptile is often seen in and around old growth trees in whose boles rodents abound. Then confronted with danger the snakes will raise the bodies, spread their hoods  and hiss loudly. At such times they can be quite aggressive and will lunge to bite and even spit venom.

Sanctuary Asia Rapid Biodiversity Survey by Zeeshan A. Mirza and Rajesh V. Sanap, Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012

Retrieved from : http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/index.php?view=article&catid=579%3Aconservation&id=8934%3Ahathikuli-goes-organic&option=com_content&Itemid=311

TATA into Organic Tea Cultivation

A Train runs from Bhatinda, Punjab to Bikaner, Rajasthan. The passengers know & identify it as “Cancer Express”. If a passenger asks regarding the arrival & deperture of the train in any station, he or she just asks in this way,- “when the Cancer Express will arrive”? Actually, a  very “up-to-date & state-of-the-art” Cancer Hospital is there in Bikaner, to which lot of people come from Bhatinda to take the treatment of Carcinoma/Cancer.

Bhatinda in fact is a place of Agriculture. The farmers in that place use lot of “Pesticides & chemicals” in their agri-fields. Experts have researched & explained that, lot of farmers are suffering from cancer due to the use of Pesticides in their agri-fields since years back. Regarding this issue, one episode of the program of “Satyamev Jayate” starring host Amir Khan, dedicated to organic farming, has highlighted the harmful effects of use of chemicals and pesticides on agricultural land. The experts say that “Organic Cultivation is the only answer & alternative of it”.

Now, the Organic agriculture has been started in every nook & corners of this country. But Organic agri-practice is not so easy to undertake; and that’s why the farmers try to increase their yield using chemicals and pesticides. But hopefully, some people and some organisations have initiated the Agro-practices in Organic way. In the state of Assam, Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd (A TATA Enterprise) has started the Organic Tea Cultivation in one of its Tea Estate, namely  Hathikuli Tea Estate near by Kaziranga National Park. The organisation has started the production of Organic Black-pepper also in a parallel way. The Organisation has launched “Hathikuli Organic” brand with the teas of Hathikuli – CTC, Orthodox & Green tea. Hathikuli Tea Estate is the largest certified Organic tea garden.  Already, the Organisation has launched Organic brand in selected outlets of West Bengal & Assam.

It is needless to say that in an organic tea estate, no pesticides or chemicals are used. As a result, there is no chances of harmful effects of the chemicals and pesticides.

It is believed that in the coming years organic farming will eliminate the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in the agricultural land for years.

Hathikuli Organic

Retrieved from – Amar Asom, dated 7th Aug, 2012