India is the second-largest producer of tea. However, the tea industry is facing some issues pertaining to weakening demand. Internationally too, the export market for Indian tea has fallen. Tea Board India is doing its part to improve the situation. M. Balaji, Executive Director, Tea Board India, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, spoke to BE’s Nikhil Raghavan on the tea industry in southern India.
Q. What has been the growth in cultivation and output of tea in the various estate regions in south India?
A. India is the world’s second-largest producer of tea and highest producer and consumer of black tea in the world. In south India, a total number of 246 big gardens and around 55000 small tea growers are contributing to produce around 16% of the national tea yield. A total registered area of 101363 hectare is under tea cultivation in south India and small tea growers contribute around 48% of the total tea production. Presently, there are around 145 estate tea factories and 198 bought leaf factories in south India.
Q. What are the specific problems being faced by the industry?
A. Low and poor wages for tea garden workers and acute shortage of labour is one of the main problems. The Tea Board is providing needful assistance on mechanisation to overcome the labour shortage. Low income during the long gestation period after pruning is another persistent problem. Subsidy is being provided for rejuvenation and pruning. Poor price realisation due to lack of quality/ fine leaf is another problem. To overcome this problem, intensive awareness programmes and trainings on quality produce are being provided to small tea growers and bought-leaf tea manufacturers. Non-availability of agro inputs like manures and fertilisers in the appropriate time is another problem. Additionally, conversion of tea gardens for real estate and crop diversification into vegetable and floriculture is also another emerging issue.
I would also like to draw your attention to the problems arising from non-availability of patta and proper land documents of small growers in Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu and in Kerala. A portion of the small tea growers in the Nilgiris district do not have patta in their individual names due to non-updation of land records. In Nilgiris, most of the tea gardens are in fragments and predominantly the patta is being held jointly. The matter was taken up with the governmental authorities and the concerned district administration has informed that they are initiating another survey of the area and after that, the joint pattas would be examined and individual pattas would be distributed. Additionally, in Kerala, non-availability of high yielding and quality planting material is a concern.
Q. What measures should the government take to improve the output and cultivation of tea?
A. Governmental focus on organic tea farming, encouraging speciality in tea production and more domestic promotional initiatives can improve the situation.
Q. What is the Tea Board doing to improve the industry situation?
A. In order to ensure the quality of tea and ensure better price realisation coupled with increase in productivity, various steps are being taken by us. The first step is to revamp the traditional model and introduce state-of-the-art technology. We are focusing on product diversification and pushing to increase in production of orthodox, organic and speciality teas which will enhance export values. The second step is digitisation. In order to ensure an integrated auction platform for trading and improvement of price discovery, IIM Bangalore has recommended a re-structured e-auction system. The Tea Board is in the process of introducing the same.
Other important activities
Completion of baseline survey in tea gardens: In order to collect tea garden ownership and land details, the Tea Board has conducted a baseline survey in 2018 and a draft Tea Directory has been prepared.
Completion of grading of tea gardens: The Tea Board has taken an initiative to assess the performance of each garden to assess their capabilities for future planning.
QR code mobile app: As a part of the digitisation programme, all the registered small tea growers will be covered and integrated under one single mobile app, known as “Chai Sahyog” which has been launched by the Tea Board in February 2019. In south India, the app was launched in August, 2019. Through this app, all the small tea growers, field officials, tea factories will be integrated and advisory services, DGLPMC prices, weather report, calendar of events (workshop, training programme etc.), and field official visits will be made available and it will also act as a discussion forum.
Quality of raw material: Tea Board has developed a machine which will do the fine leaf counting. The machine is being tested in 12 locations. In the first phase, it will be tested in Assam and West Bengal and it will be tested in south India in the second phase.
Awareness on quality check: Many awareness programmes are being conducted to check adulterated and coloured teas. Steps are being taken for promotional activities in the external as well as domestic market.
District Green Leaf Price Monitoring Committee (DGLPMC):
The Tea Board convenes a DGLPMC meeting every month to oversee the compliance of green leaf price payable to the small tea growers.
Factory installation capacity: In order to verify and to recommend the enhanced capacity of tea machineries, all the factories are being regularly inspected in south India.
Online Licencing and online application portal: In order to give timely licenses and also to ensure transparency, various licenses are being issued online to tea industry stakeholders.
Disbursement of financial assistance: The Tea Board Zonal office, Coonoor, along with other functional offices disburses substantial funds benefit of tea growers / factories by way of various subsidies. During this CFY, it is anticipated that the Coonoor office will disburse around Rs. 24 crore for the benefit of various stakeholders of the tea industry.