| Representatives from Kawasaki display the machine at the Borbhetta experimental tea station in Jorhat. Telegraph picture |
Jorhat, March 31: The Tea Research Association (TRA) is collaborating with Japan’s Kawasaki to equip the Assam tea industry with a harvesting machine in the eventuality of shortage of labour.
Kawasaki has provided the Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI), formerly Tocklai Experimental Station under TRA here, with two tea-harvesting machines manufactured by it, so that the institute can find out how effective it is in conditions prevailing here and suggest modifications if required.
N. Muraleedharan, director of TTRI, said a memorandum of understanding prepared by the TRA would be signed with Kawasaki shortly.
Muraleedharan along with the secretary and the chairman of TRA had visited the Kawasaki plant. Representatives from Kawasaki came and assembled the machines here.
Four people are required to use the equipment, two to carry it and two to carry the bag and empty it of the leaves.
“In most of the tea producing countries in the world like Africa, Japan, Australia, Argentina and even in south India because of shortage of labour, tea leaf-plucking machines are used to harvest the crop,” he said.
Muraleedharan said the use of machinery was limited in the Northeast.
“As of now though there is no labour shortage but during peak season and during festivals when labourers indulge in absenteeism, leaves remain unplucked and there is a loss to the industry,” he said.
The director said one of the machines had been used to shear the crop at the Borbhetta experimental tea station here by Tocklai scientists.
It was found that besides the two leaves and bud other leaves were also cut off.
“We will have to test the machine for another year or more. In the first two or three cuttings this is likely to happen but in the next generation when the fresh shoots come up, we will be better able to pluck only the new leaves and buds,” he said.
Tocklai would research into the agronomy, plant physiology biochemistry and determine the quality parameters. “We cannot compromise on quality,” he said.
The machine made for harvesting crops in Kenya, when positioned here, was found to fit perfectly between two rows of bushes. However, there were hindrances in the form of shade trees and drains that had to be skirted.
“When new plantations are laid it should be seen that the shade trees do not fall in the middle nor should the labourers using the machines fall into drains which pass through,” he said.
The director felt that the use of the machine would benefit and raise the level of labourers who would now have to acquire technical skills.
Muraleedharan said the industry should be ready to face a shortage of manpower and machinery is sure to make inroads.
“We have held two workshops in Siliguri and here. We demonstrated mechanisation processes as practiced in south Indian estates where machines are used extensively because of a shortage of labour,” Muraleedharan said.