Assam white tea goes global
Guwahati, Aug. 26: The planters of Assam are making a silent but strong entry into the world of white tea — considered to be a monopoly of the Chinese — after having bowled tea drinkers over with the flavours of their strong-bodied brew.
When Raj Barooah, a tea planter of Assam, took white tea from his garden in Jorhat for the first time to be exhibited at the Hong Kong International Food Fair, he knew there would be some resistance, but once people there tasted it, their impression would change.
White tea is the most expensive of all teas and its price ranges from Rs 8,000 to 12,000 per kg. It is produced mainly for export. Made only from the unopened buds and young leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, its brew is light and delicate with a slightly sweet flavour.
It is finely plucked at an opportune moment, either at the start or at the end of the season and is the least processed of all teas.
“Initially, I had to cajole them to taste it. But once they tasted it, their impression changed,” said Barooah, the director of Aideobari Tea Estates (Pvt) Ltd, told The Telegraph.
The garden has just launched white tea under the brand name Rujani.
Barooah was part of an Assam government delegation under the directorate of tea, industries and commerce department, which participated in the Hong Kong International Food Fair from August 14-16.
“Assam white tea has its own place and I would like to take it forward,” he said, adding that the response has been good and is looking forward for some of the inquiries to bear fruit.
The production of white tea in the Northeast is nominal and is based on demand.
On the foothills of Bhutan, white tea produced at Doomni tea garden in Baksa district has made a name for itself.
“We have received a very encouraging response within the country and overseas. White tea production volume in the country shall always be limited. This is a speciality, within a speciality. Something like truffles, or a particularly great wine, or even saffron,” Gaurav Jalan, a senior official of Sublime Agro Ltd, which owns Doomni garden, said.
The garden makes 80kg of white tea.
On any plan of increasing production, he said such specialised manufactured product cannot be increased greatly without compromising quality. “We intend to increase nominally, but not like 200kg in three years,” he said.
Tara tea estate in Meghalaya, which sells white tea under the La Kyrsiew brand, has received an “overwhelming” response from its customers.
Of its total production of 2,200kg, it makes only 20-30kg of white tea.
“Some people regard our white teas as the best in the world,” an official of the garden said.
For Pijush Roy of Kamakhya Tea Trading, the only teashop in Guwahati, which sells white tea, it has been a happy affair till now.
“I started selling white tea from last year and have sold almost all what I have bought. There are some tea lovers locally who buy white tea, never mind the price,” he said.
The chairman and managing director of J. Thomas, Krishan Katyal, one of the country’s topmost tea tasters told The Telegraph, “White tea comes from the bud of the leaf. It is plucked before the scheduled opening of the bud.”
The liquor is clear and pale and the taste is fresh and light.
“There is a delicate sweetness with a lingering finish on the palate,” he said.
Assam forest department will have a peek into a South African rhino conservation management tool, which will help in successful prosecution of poachers.
The DNA tool christened as RhODIS (Rhino DNA indexing system) helps in providing irrefutable evidence in courts of law and linking crime scenes to suspected criminals leading to successful prosecution.
A three-day workshop organised by the WWF India in collaboration with Assam forest department on Saving Unicorns: International Co-operation for Rhino Conservation is starting here tomorrow and the tool will be demonstrated in the field at Kaziranga.
The tool was first used in a rhino poaching case in 2010 in which a Vietnamese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having rhinoceros horns from poached rhinos in his baggage when he was apprehended at OR Thambo International Airport in South Africa.
Apart from resource persons from South Africa, who will be demonstrating the tool, it will be attended by participants from Nepal, Uttar Pradesh forest and West Bengal forest department as well in addition to forest and police officials from Assam.
Officials said the DNA system has established DNA database for rhino profiles allowing rhino range states privileged access to share the data and information.
Till date, it has over 5,000 rhino samples on its DNA database and has contributed towards over 400 rhino investigative cases in the east and southern African region and has set the pace for new global forensic initiatives and standards that enhance conservation efforts in the fight against global wildlife crimes.
The tool has the potential to link with other databases allowing for greater global information sharing where necessary.
“There has not been much work done in Assam on wildlife forensics and stress is now being given on improving crime investigations,” chief wildlife warden R.P. Agarwalla toldThe Telegraph.
The department has been on the back foot as it has not been able to put a stop to poaching despite its best efforts and civil society organisations have been raising voices in the form of protests. Altogether 16 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga alone this year.
He said rhino convictions were very low in Assam, which could be improved if efforts were made in the right way. “Plans are on to set up a wildlife forensics laboratory on the lines of Gujarat forensic laboratory in Assam too,” he said. An intelligence cell to collect more information about poachers is already operational.
The problem in Assam is that many offenders in rhino cases are out on bail and indulging in poaching again.
“Without conviction, we cannot show our supremacy over poachers. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create some more poachers,” Bibhab Talukdar, chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.
He said to find out the key sponsors or abettors involved in rhino poaching, Kaziranga authorities should immediately collect information from Golaghat, Kaliabor and Biswanath Chariali with regard to persons taking bail for the arrested poachers and start investigation from there.
WHC sounds Manas danger alarm
Manas National Park “seems” to be slipping back into “danger”, three years after it got back the coveted heritage tag.
The warning bells have been sounded by World Heritage Committee, which in a recent report said the park could slip into the danger list if the security and encroachment situation worsened.
“A further deterioration of the security situation, associated with the reported surge in poaching, and concerns regarding encroachment could create the conditions to re-inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the committee said in its draft decision report after going through the state of conservation report of Manas sent by the Centre.
The report will be discussed in the committee’s 38th session to be held at Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25. Officials from the Centre and other agencies will be present in the meeting to put forward their viewpoints.
The main issues afflicting the park are poaching and increasing encroachment. Seven of the rhinos translocated to Manas since 2011, when it had got rid of the danger tag, have fallen prey to poachers.
The committee noted with serious concern the reported poaching of nearly one-third of the rhino population of the park — a reminder of the fragility of its recovering outstanding universal value — and urged the Centre to ensure that forest guards are adequately equipped and trained to protect the property against poachers, that they maintain effective patrolling to secure the recovering population of rhinos and other wildlife and to ensure that the anticipated translocation of eastern swamp deer is carried out effectively.
The committee said Manas had about 100 rhinos at the time of its inscription on the World Heritage List. In 1992, the committee put the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the damage caused to it by militants. By 1997, the number of rhinos was reduced to 39 and by 2001 rhinos had been extirpated from the property. The committee had noted in 2012 that the recovering outstanding universal value of the property was still fragile, given the increase in poaching.
The state government in its state of conservation report sent to the Centre in January this year had spoken of the steps taken by it to control poaching.
The committee has also received reports from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of new encroachment in the Bhuyanpara range, recalling the situation at the time of the property’s inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. It had asked for a reply from the Centre but there has been none yet. Sources said the encroachment at Bhuyanpara has now increased manifold and more than 7 square km is said to be under encroachment.
There is also rampant encroachment in the park’s other range, Panbari, which has an area of 16.3 square km. About 912 people are occupying the area and they refuse to leave despite financial incentives. Besides, there is a potential source of conflict between the Assam forest department and the BTC on power over Manas and its wildlife. Under the memorandum of settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests have been transferred to the BTC but not the wildlife.
Given the multiple conservation issues affecting the property, the committee has requested the Centre to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission to assess the property’s state of conservation, particularly in relation to security, poaching and encroachment, and to assess whether it faces potential danger as defined in the operational guidelines.
It has requested the Centre to submit a detailed report, including an executive summary, to the World Heritage Centre by February 1 next year on the state of conservation of the property, the steps taken to improve the situation and updates of its financial situation for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session next year.
“A lot of efforts have been made to revive Manas since 2005. But poaching of seven rhinos since 2011 is a worrying factor, with five killed last year alone. The primary aim of Manas authorities should be to check further poaching and strengthening of patrol and intelligence gathering along with proper training to frontline staff,” Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak and Asia coordinator of International Rhino Foundation, told The Telegraph.
"Smart guards" for Kaziranga
Kaziranga National Park is thinking the “smart” way to take on poachers.
The proposal of having “smart guards and smart communication” has been developed by director of Kaziranga National Park in view of Gauhati High Court’s order to improve protection of rhinos in the World Heritage Site.
The proposal is now under discussion.
“Since Kaziranga National Park is home to the largest number of greater Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the species is constantly under threat from poachers. Owing to vigorous patrolling by the field staff as well as proactive role by the park authorities, poaching is contained to certain extent. However, it is high time that modernisation of the strike force, forest guards and other frontline staff is carried out by upscaling the anti-poaching infrastructure. The home of the rhinoceros can be protected from poachers and the species, along with other endangered wildlife, will continue to thrive and multiply,” the park director, M.K. Yadava, said in an approach paper on Issues and Possible Solutions to protection of one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park, which has now been thrown up for discussion.
He said the pressure on Kaziranga National Park is tremendous as the rhinoceros population is very high and the entire boundary porous. The northern side is surrounded by the Brahmaputra and its numerous islands. There is a very large population of traditional fishing communities all along the river, some of whom may be potential field men for the gangs of poachers. The southern side of the park is also full of human habitation, making patrolling very difficult, he said.
Yadava said under the smart guard system in the context of prevailing situation in Kaziranga National Park “S” stands for sustained stamina 24x7x365. “M” means motivated, “A” action-oriented, “R” ready to act. “T” stands for trained and tactically superior, “G” means ‘get down’ to the poachers, “U” undeterred by adverse conditions, “A” always armed (weapon, equipment and kits) “R” right thinking at the right time and “D” implies develop yourself. The smart guard will be well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated.
“The pilot proposal here would create an elite force of about 50-75 smart guards to begin with. Though there is a large number of equipment (in the thought process), initially it is proposed to start with day-vision binoculars, hand-held GPS sets, range finders, night-vision goggles, hand-held thermal scanners, powerful searchlights including illumination systems, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. To this is added portable battery packs (as the equipment would need power supplies during long hours of ambush and patrolling)” Yadava says.
The director says the introduction of smart guard system would change patrol, ambush and surveillance strategies which would require training and motivation of front line staff. “Six months’ intensive training has been proposed to make the field staff adapt to the new technologies and systems for better performance.”
On the other hand, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) today moved the state forest department demanding that the state government lobby with international agencies to create pressure on those procuring rhino horns supplied by poaching rackets in order to prevent poaching.
The peasants’ body, which has been spearheading a movement against the government on different issues of public interests, today launched a protest against poaching of one-horned rhinos in the state’s forests including Kaziranga National Park.
Nearly 500 members of the KMSS, led by its president and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, staged a demonstration here alleging that the state government had failed to prevent poaching as 168 rhinos have been killed during the past 12 years of Congress government in the state.
According to the latest census (March 2013), there are 2,329 rhinos in Assam, up from 2,290 the previous year.
The KMSS supporters shouted slogans against forest minister Rakibul Hussain, alleging that the department had failed to identify rackets involved in continuous poaching of rhinos.
They alleged that steps taken to improve security arrangements in the forests were not enough.
Fast and fresh Assam teas now worldwide
Assam teas will be delivered “fast and fresh” worldwide with Siliguri-based online brand Teabox all set to launch its operations from Guwahati.
Founded in 2012, Teabox delivers tea direct from its place of origin to customers and ships the world’s freshest teas chosen by tea experts all over the world within 24-48 hours of production. It is delivered within three to five working days to its customers worldwide.
“The market for Assam teas is bigger than Darjeeling in terms of volume. A majority of consumers prefer strong teas and Assam, especially second flush, does an excellent job in terms of matching the customers’ preference. Hence going forward, we would be procuring large quantities of teas from Assam and Guwahati would be the largest of our centres by way of business,” Teabox founder and CEO Kaushal Dugar told The Telegraph.
Characteristics like rich malty flavour, fuller body, bright colour, briskness and sweet aroma have made Assam tea a hot favourite among tea enthusiasts all over the world. The company is planning to start the Guwahati centre in the last quarter of this year. At present, it operates from Siliguri.
“We are looking to procure from around 30-40 best plantations in Assam. We sell only orthodox tea,” Dugar said.
As of now, 30 per cent of teas being sold are from Assam. This will increase and there will be more variety when it launches its Guwahati centre. With a range of over 150 varieties of fresh tea from over 75 different plantations in Darjeeling, Nepal, Assam, Kangra and the Nilgiris, the company claims to provide the largest selection of single estate and premium fresh teas of the country online.
“Tea has a huge market globally but most of the consumption/buying happens offline. We are really trying to shift the pattern of buying from offline to online, which is very challenging, as tea is a product that people look/feel/smell and then buy. But wine and coffee have done that successfully, so we believe tea should not be that different,” he said.
The company has already delivered over five million cups of tea to connoisseurs in over 65 countries. Seventy per cent of its customers are repeat ones. On why people should buy from Teabox, Dugar said it is because of the extremely high quality of teas, backed by superior customer experience and service.
“We buy the best teas and make them better through our extensive in-house quality control systems. Our shipping team ensures that they reach most destinations in three to five working days,” he said.
“We believe that a majority of the offline market in tea can be converted into online. The size of the online market is $5 billion to $6 billion whereas that of offline market is $40 billion. There is space for other firms to join in the online tea market sphere,” Dugar said.
On the other hand, tea shipped from Inland Container Depot from Amingaon on the outskirts of Guwahati takes about 30 days to reach the UK and about 20 days to get to Dubai.
In 10 years, no Assam forest minister has set foot on Manas national park, a World Heritage Site....
http://epaper.telegraphindia.com/detail/75437-151450765.htmlManas: A conservation road less travelled
No forest minister of the state has gone to Manas — a World Heritage Site in almost a decade — to get a first- hand account of the problems it faces.
There is a lurking danger that if the situation does not improve, it may well lose its hard fought heritage site tag, which it got back in 2011.
The national park that is noted for its spectacular scenery, with a variety of habitat that support a diverse fauna, falls under Kokrajhar parliamentary constituency, which goes to polls on April 24.
Well- known wildlife conservationist Bittu Sahgal says, " Manas is a tragedy foretold.
One of the world's most exquisite forests, it lies neglected and victim to both politics and social unrest. The forest minister of Assam should visit the park and speak to locals about protecting it." " The Bodo people themselves should recognise this heritage site as vital to their identity. It is a tragedy that they have allowed outside influences to destabilise the ecology of this forest, which actually belongs to their own children and should have been protected forever," Sahgal told The Telegraph . After the elections were announced, a rally was addressed by party president and BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary on April 18, along with party MP ( Rajya Sabha) Biswajit Daimary, to campaign for its candidate, Chandan Brahma, at Rupahi, 4km south of Manas, but there was no mention of Manas.
Six candidates — Chandan Brahma ( BPF), Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary ( Trinamul), Urkhao Gwra Brahma ( Independent), Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary ( Independent), Sabda Ram Rabha ( Independent), Hira Sarania ( Independent) are fighting for the Kokrajhar parliamentary seat ( ST).
" There has been no mention of Manas till now by political leaders in the rally today," Ajay Kherkatary, the president of the Manas Bhuyanpara Conservation and Ecotourism Society, told The Telegraph . " We have been telling the political leaders of the need to provide importance to Manas through action. For us, Manas is important and we have to save it," he said.
Rhino conservationist Bibhab Talukdar, who is the chair of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, says that Manas has been ignored by politicians. " I feel that Manas, being a World Heritage Site and also a tiger reserve, has been ignored by all politicians. Manas has been witnessing many challenges like Kaziranga, but for conservation and protection purposes, Kaziranga always gets more priority and publicity and support. After the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council, Manas seems to be hanging between the two power centres — the state and the council. Both lack the strong willingness to assist each other to promote Manas," he told The Telegraph . The national park takes its name from the Manas river, a trans- boundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India.
It is named after Manasa, the serpent god in Hindu mythology.
Forest officials concede the fact that Kaziranga has always got more from the state than Manas despite the latter being more rich in wildlife diversity.
The park has six national and international designations — World Heritage Site, national park, tiger reserve, biosphere reserve, elephant reserve and important bird area — which probably no other protected park in the country has. A total of 55 mammals, 36 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded in Manas which harbours by far the greatest number of Schedule I mammals of any protected area in the country.
Eighteen rhinos were translocated to Manas, of which poachers killed seven after it got back its heritage tag in 2011. " This is indeed a great setback towards restrengthening Manas to gain its lost glory back. BTC should take it as a challenge to manage Manas as best as possible and compete positively with Kaziranga," Talukdar said.
Though the BTC runs the park on a day- to- day basis, it is governed by the Wildlife ( Protection) Act, 1972 ( as amended in 2006). " Permission for doing research in Manas has to be taken from the chief wildlife warden," a wildlife researcher said.
" Manas should be on the political agenda of Assam if we are to save it," Rathin Barman, another wildlife conservationist who has been involved in the rhino rehabilitation in Manas, said.
According to a IUCN report on Terrestrial Biodiversity and the World Heritage Site List, the importance of Manas is much more than Kaziranga by the criteria of " irreplaceability". Manas is 417th in rank in terms of irreplaceability whereas Kaziranga is 2,236.
This apart, there is a potential source of conflict between Assam forest department and the BTC on the power.
Under the Memorandum of Settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests has been transferred to BTC but not wildlife.
The problems Manas faces are enormous — from militants, rising encroachment, poaching, delay in getting funds, vacant posts which have dealt a blow to it.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority says the incidents of rhino poaching in Manas have definitely been a cause for concern and evidence collected from the scene of the crime confirms the use of sophisticated weapons, bullets for which have been recovered.
Both sides have been accusing each other for not doing enough for conservation of Manas with the result that the park is losing out.
Kokrajhar votes on April 24