NEW DELHI, May 10 � With focus changing from quantity to quality tea production, Tocklai Experimental Station (TES) of Tea Research Association (TRA), is in the advance stage of developing four clones.
�Four clones are in advance stage. While earlier we went into yield, developing yield clones, there is more importance now on developing quality clones,� said director TRA, Dr AK Hazarika, interacting with mediapersons.
Simultaneously, the organisation is also prodding some gardens to use some old clones developed at Tocklai. TES has developed some 200 clones. It has to its credits some 22 patents. The latest being the dissolvable tea tablets. Its area of operation extend from Bihar to Myanmar and China border.
Explaining further, chairman of TRA CS Bedi said quality comes from the tea bushes. It is very challenging to put plantation material. He said the new clones should be ready in three-four years� time after rigorous tests. In about three-four years, we should be confident of producing excellent quality of tea with good gene sustainability,� the chairman said.
Some 65 per cent of the area in the North-east is being replanted with materials developed by Tocklai, said the chairman.
The prestigious institution, only one of its kind in the entire region, has organised a two-day international conference on �Infini Tea: Ensuring the Future of Tea� to mark its centenary celebrations.
The event inaugurated by Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma, is being attended by a host of delegates from India and abroad. State Industries and Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, top officials of Tea Board, tea planters and representatives of the tea industry are amongst those attending the function.
Set up in 1910-1911, TES to its credits claims to be instrumental in raising the average tea yield from a mere 550 kg per hectare to around 1732 kg per hectare. The total tea production in 1910-1911 was around 140 million kg compared to 960 million last fiscal.
Production of quality tea is now closely linked with the fate of the tea industry in Assam. �We need to produce better and better quality tea,� said Bedi referring to the challenges facing the industry.
He further said the industry has to target production of 1000 million kg of tea and an export target of 200 million kg. Cost of production is another problem. The country�s tea industry provides free housing, rations, power, health care facilities, adding to the cost of production, he said.
The Government of India is looking at brining down the cost of production, Bedi mentioned.
Briefing mediapersons along with officials of the TRA, chairman of the Tea Board of India (TBI) Basudeb Banerjee said that 38 per cent of the tea bushes are older than 50 years. Expressing his dissatisfaction at the current rate of replantation at .4 per cent, he said they were targeting the rate of 2.5 per cent.
However, he added that the revenue loss during the re-plantation period has to be taken into account.
A part of the revival package, Government of India had set up a Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) to encourage large-scale replanting and rejuvenation of old tea bushes to improve tea production and productivity.
It is envisaged to replant 2.12 lakh hectares of uneconomic tea areas over a period of 15 years commencing from 2007. Financial assistance is provided by way of long-term loan of 50 per cent and subsidy of 25 per cent. The balance 25 per cent is to be borne by the beneficiaries.
Banerjee replying to questions said that 40-50 per cent of the tea estates have applied for replantation.
The Tea Board chairman added that the industry is out of the woods after about eight years of glut in the market. The past year has been excellent with tea production touching 910 million kg.
�We are competing in the international market and our priority is the domestic market. The domestic market in India consumes about 800 million kg of tea annually.
Ruling out the possibility of allowing the small tea growers to sell their products through auction, the chairman of the Tea Board said their products are already reaching the auction centre through the buyers of tea leaves.
On the oft-repeated complaints of small tea growers not getting remunerative prices for the tea leaves, Banerjee said that a system is in place and a formula has been worked out to ensure that they get remunerative prices.