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Climate changes endanger Assam tea flavour

Guwahati, March 27: Unprecedented climatic changes have raised fears that Assam tea may lose its unique flavour permanently, prompting researchers to look for new hybrid varieties that can cope with long, dry spells.

Assam’s tea bushes have been exposed to the worst dry spell this season, causing bushes to dry up in several gardens in Upper Assam and on the north bank.

According to Tocklai Experimental Station data, Assam has received only 24mm rainfall since November. In 1999, considered to be worst dry spell so far, the state got 55mm of rainfall.

The Tocklai director, Mridul Hazarika, said there could be a drastic biological change in the tea plants in Assam because of the change in climate.

“It is very difficult to predict the changes but there will definitely be a drastic biological change in the years to come. It could also impact the flavour,” he said.

The Tocklai Experimental Station, the world’s oldest tea research institute, has appealed to the industry to try to adapt to the new situation.

“The only option is to find ways to survive the new climatic changes. We will have to come up with new hybrid clones and tea seeds, which can adapt to the new conditions. We also have to think of water harvesting,” Hazarika said.

The Tocklai scientists, on their part, are holding awareness meetings for tea planters in Upper Assam. “We will start such meetings in gardens on the north bank from April 1,” Hazarika said.

Such has been the impact of the dry spell that production in many gardens is yet to begin. The industry captains said it would not only have an impact on production this year, but also in the next few years.

The chairman of the Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA), Abhijit Sarma, said he had never witnessed such a situation in the past 30 years. “This is one of the worst crisis the industry has ever faced and no one can expect help from the rain god.”

Sarma, a planter himself, said production in one of his best gardens, Wating, known for its quality tea in Golaghat, has not started yet. “Last year, the garden produced over 50,000kg of made tea by this time but this year production has not even begun,” he said.

Echoing Sarma, a manager of an agency garden in Jorhat said his garden has produced only 12 per cent of made tea, compared to last year. He said the planters’ association had appealed to its member gardens to make arrangements for irrigation facilities in their gardens.

The Tocklai Experimental Station director, however, said irrigation was not the answer to the changing conditions, since it would provide only temporary relief.

Manoj Jalan, chairman of North-East Tea Association, said the dry spell would not tell on production but also have a tremendous financial impact on the industry. “Many gardens have to uproot the dry tea bushes and start replantation. It means a huge investment,” Jalan said.

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