The Telegraph
Monday , February 18 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Call to merge tea sectors

Jorhat, Feb. 17: The Indian tea industry has called for integration of small tea growers with the organised sector — a win-win situation that would ensure better prices for the former.

Speaking at the 123rd annual general meeting of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club here today, the association’s vice-chairman A.K. Bhargava said one of the key elements of social sustainability was the need for large organised tea estates to work together with the small growers, who now accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the country’s tea production.

He said it was extremely important that the organised sector integrated the small segment within their supply chain and helped them maintain food safety and quality standards. “This would be a win-win situation, as it would reward small growers with better prices,” he said.

On cost competitiveness, Bhargava said it was something of a paradox that even with some improvement in price realisation over the past two to three years, a large number of tea estates — in almost all tea producing regions in India — continued to report losses. “Doubtless, this is because of very high cost of production which has resulted from sharp increase in input costs and cost of employment. Mitigation of social costs also remains a challenge and there continues to be a need for dovetailing government schemes — particularly at the panchayat level — so as to make them applicable to tea estates,” he said.

He said the industry faced a dilemma — to follow a “quality first” policy in the face of mounting cost pressures that required it to be mindful about productivity enhancement.

“This balance is always a delicate one that will test the managerial skills of the planter community. While on the aspect of quality, India today has a comprehensive food law administered under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India,” Bhargava said.

Former Union tourism secretary M.P. Bezboruah, who was the chief guest at the event, provided tips to the Assam tea industry to formulate a full–pledged tourism brand under the name tea tourism in view of the fact there was great scope in this sector.

He said tourism in the tea sector in Assam had been promoted only in bits and pieces. Like Assam tea, which is famous the world over as a brand, tea tourism should be packaged in a much professional way and promoted as a brand to attract tourists across the globe, he added.

“We already have a brand (Assam tea) so it will not be difficult to market tea tourism as a brand that provides a unique experience in nature’s lap,” the retired bureaucrat said. “The lush green tea gardens, mostly on the foothills in the state not only make lovely picture postcards but have an interesting history and culture along with heritage bungalows attached to them.”