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Strategy for planters to tackle drought

Guwahati, May 13: The Tea Research Association has come up with a strategy to minimise the impact of drought that has hit the tea industry hard this year.

A senior official in the Indian Tea Association (ITA), the apex tea association, said the drought had caused an estimated 45 per cent loss of crop in Assam in April — 45 per cent in Upper Assam, 48 per cent on the north bank and 38 per cent in lower Assam. The total loss is 6 million kg of tea.

The director of Tea Research Association (TRA), N. Muraleedharan, said the problem was becoming acute as the number of rainless days was increasing every year.

“Considering the regular occurrence of drought or drought-like situation, it is advisable that every garden must work on a strategy to minimise its adverse impact for sustainable tea production. We have suggested certain measures which can be helpful to mitigate the ill-effects of drought,” he told The Telegraph.

The strategy, in the form of an advisory, has been stated in a special bulletin on Drought Management in Tea brought out by the TRA and released to its members today. The association, which has around 600 tea companies as its members, has chalked out short and long-term measures.

The short-term measures focus on plucking and the long-term measures on demarcation of drought-affected areas, improvement in microclimate, water-conservation, application of manure and protection of plants.

The TRA said almost all the tea-growing areas of the Northeast suffered from moderate to severe moisture stress conditions during the early part of this year. The quantum of rain received between January and April was inadequate, leading to an extremely arid and dry environment.

A statement issued by ITA last month had stated that rainfall was significantly lower between January and March. In Upper Assam, it was down by 49 per cent while in lower Assam it was down by 25 per cent. Besides poor rainfall, high wind velocity in some tea-growing areas led to rapid loss of water from plant and soil. Despite pruning, tea plants suffered because of the arid climate. The effect was more severe on unpruned tea plants, resulting in stunted growth, wilting and defoliation of branches. The recovery and growth of pruned teas in the affected areas is slow and sub-optimal, the TRA bulletin said.

It suggested that in case of teas with stunted growth, which can be seen in well-drained, well-shaded and irrigated or partially irrigated areas, plucking should be done on a uniform level. In case of teas suffering from severe defoliation, the bushes should be allowed to recover completely before the start of plucking. The research association has called for improvement in drainage as it encourages penetration of roots to a greater depth, enabling the plants to absorb water from deeper zones of soil during drought.

Though rain in the last few days has brought cheer to the industry, officials said it would be difficult to recover the lost crop. The industry is now calculating the impact of the drought on the May crop — the prime quality second flush which fetches high price.

A tea industry official said the strategy charted out by TRA was not a panacea to the problem, it was only to ensure that the damage does not carry on.


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