From the ubiquitous morning sip to the proverbial storm in a tea cup, tea is a beverage that is deeply rooted in Indian culture. And today, the prospect of making a living out of this liquor is bright. “With the advent of the globalised economy, the future of the tea industry in India looks bright,” says Ananda Dasgupta, associate professor and head of academics at the Indian Institute of Plantation Management in Bangalore.
“This is despite the fact that some large plantations in Dooars have closed down and tea exports have dropped,” points out Manas Banerjee, a former resource person of the Small Growers Training Programme of the Tea Board of India. “It’s because the small gardens are gradually filling in the void. So, in the long run, there is no cause for alarm,” he explains.
India has the largest tea industry in the world. The average annual production of tea is close to 960 million kg a year while the domestic consumption is almost 700 million kg a year. “It is an industry that offers good prospects and professional courses in tea management help students hone their skills for efficient management of tea plantations,” says Aurobindo Sen, faculty member at the DIPRAS Institute of Professional Studies, Calcutta.
Tea management includes the management of accounts and looking into the financial parameters of tea production to set goals for profitability. Basic finance is taught as one of the topics in the course offered by the Calcutta-based Birla Institute of Futuristic Studies. Even though anyone armed with a bachelors degree can join the tea industry, a degree in agricultural science, botany, food sciences or horticulture prepares one well for the job.
There are two basic areas of employment — in the field and at the factory. Some institutes now offer training in both. For example, the DIPRAS Institute of Professional Studies offers a one-year certificate course in tea management. There are 15 seats on offer and the basic qualification required is graduation in any stream. The course fee is Rs 65,000.
The Birla Institute of Futuristic Studies offers a post graduate certificate course in tea management. “The course has a tea tasting module that provides a brief overview of the tea manufacturing process,” says Mitali Sengupta, coordinator of the Birla Institute of Futuristic Studies. Students are trained not only to acquire management skills but also communication skills that help in their all-round development as managers. “Besides, their field knowledge has to be vast so that they can deal with problems of soil management, pest management, water conservation and fertilisers,” says T.K. Basu, visiting faculty at the Birla Institute of Futuristic Studies.
The one-year course at DIPRAS Institute of Professional Studies was started in 2000. The institute also organises industrial training at tea estates and arranges for a residential training programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in field and factory management.
A significant portion of the tea business consists of tea blending and auctions. “The value of a particular brand of tea is determined by tasting the tea,” informs C. Abyshekar, head of commodities at Duncans Tea Limited. Tea tasters identify the quality of a particular brand of tea and help eliminate its undesirable effects. But tea tasting skills are best honed with experience.
Most students of tea management join tea plantations as trainee assistant managers and have a probation period of six to 12 months. The Indian Institute of Plantation Management conducts an 18-month postgraduate diploma course in agribusiness and plantation management wherein corporate training is imparted for 11 weeks. “We have 90 seats and entry is through an all-India test conducted by the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in Hyderabad,” says Dasgupta.
“One has to have a love for work in the rural setup to be successful in this sector,” stresses Barun Deb Banerjee, advisor to the Tea Board of India. Agrees N.P. Todi, managing director of Todi Tea Company, “We look for technically qualified people serious about this kind of work.” Salaries start at Rs 5,000 along with a few perks and goes up to Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 after three years. Managers of tea plantations, however, earn more, starting at Rs 30,000 per month.
Subhendu Narayan Ganguly, former director of the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation, sums it up aptly, “The economics of tea production, as it currently exists, provides ample opportunities for those keen on making their mark on the cups that we all enjoy.”