New finding in climate change on tea says rainfall impacting tea yield

Shade trees line a tea garden. These trees have been found to be beneficial to the health and productivity of tea bushes. Picture courtesy:
Precipitation has been identified as a key factor affecting tea yield in Assam - a new research has shown.

"Preliminary findings of a project indicate that changes in precipitation are affecting yields due to water restrictions, rather than temperature. If rainfall is adequate and well distributed, higher temperatures will not restrict yield. But if precipitation is restricted, even optimum temperature cannot sustain the yield," R.M. Bhagat, deputy director at Tocklai Tea Research Institute, told The Telegraph.
The results were revealed in the working group report on climate change at the intersessional meeting of FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea held in Milan, Italy, last month. Bhagat was present in the meeting.
The study - Climate-smartening Assam's Tea Plantation Landscapes: Defining Socio-ecological 'Safe Spaces' for Future Sustainability - investigates the extent to which climate variability is influencing tea yield in a high quality producing region of the world as India, which is the world's second largest producer of tea.
The UK-India Education Research Initiative and the department of science and technology, government of India, are funding the project. The work was carried out at Tocklai Tea Research Institute.
Tea is a rain-fed perennial crop and one of the most important beverages in the world, with international trade being the largest in value among tropical and subtropical crops. Assam is one of the most important tea-producing regions of the world, contributing 17 per cent to global tea production and more than 50 per cent to the Indian market annually.
Studies were conducted in a few tea gardens on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, one of the four major tea-growing areas of the world. Multiple climate conditions were used in the analysis, including 30 precipitation conditions and 110 temperature conditions to capture the effect of climate intensity.
The initial results indicate that continuous periods of zero precipitation are associated with reduced yield. Total precipitation has a positive association with tea yield from July to September.
"The preliminary results from the north bank area indicated that in this area, precipitation might be the predominant driving factor. Such observations might be reflective of a good monsoon year resulting in higher yield, and a more variable monsoon year resulting in lower yield," the report said.
The north bank tea-growing region of Assam is situated within a rain shadow area of the state, and as such there is an expectation that precipitation would have a potentially greater influence on tea productivity than temperature.
Climate change is taking a heavy toll on the tea sector this year and Assam's September crop is down by 0.87 million kg compared to last year.
Model studies indicate that tea yields in the Northeast are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea, particularly the small growers, given their increased vulnerability to changes in the system.
A web-enabled decision support system is under development to provide better-informed climate advisory services under the project.
Detailed findings of the project, which studied 80 gardens, will be revealed next month at an international conference in the US.

Centre changes tack on tea after criticism

Centre changes tack on tea after criticism

The Union ministry of commerce has directed both the bought leaf factories and tea estate factories to route 50 per cent of their produce through auctions.
Earlier the ministry through a notification issued on April 15 had stipulated bought leaf tea factories to sell 70 per cent of tea through auctions, which had generated a lot of criticism from the industry and the Assam government.
"The new notification of directing both the bought leaf factories and the tea estate factories to route 50 per cent of the produce through the auctions is the result of a series of representations received from the industry by the ministry," a Tea Board of India official said.
The notification issued on October 1, called Tea (Marketing) Control (Second Amendment) Order, 2015, stated that the estate factories will also have to sell 50 per cent of their produce.
"Every registered tea manufacturer shall, on and from the date of commencement of this notification, sell not less than 50 per cent of the total tea manufactured in a calendar year through public tea auctions in India" the notification says.
The Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO) promulgated in April 1984, had provided for manufacturers of tea to sell not less than 75 per cent of their total annual production through public tea auction. There were a series of representations from all sections of the industry, urging the government for reconsideration of the stipulation of mandatory routing of teas through the auction system and the stipulation was finally taken back in 2001.
Chairman of Golaghat-based North Eastern Tea Association Bidyanand Barkakoty told The Telegraph that the April 15, 2015 notification and October 1, 2015 notification, which gave effect to amendment to clause or para 21 of the Tea Marketing Control Order (TMCO), 2003, is not needed in a liberalised, globalised economy. Such compulsions should not be applicable to any segment of the manufacturers.
"All buyers registered with the Tea Board of India have not been subjected to the obligation of making 70 per cent of their purchase from the auction centres. Moreover, all the buyers registered with the Tea Board are not registered with the tea auction centres," he said.
He said the total arrivals of tea at GTAC from April to September (sale no 14 to 37) is about 103 million kg and sold quantity is about 59 million kg, which shows that there are huge percentage of teas that remain unsold. "If more teas come to the auction centres then there is every possibility that the unsold percentage will increase and prices may further dip," he added.
A senior official of a leading company said the question is whether the GTAC has the required infrastructure to handle the increased quantity of teas, which will come once the estate factories start sending 50 per cent of their produce.
"This will be a big setback to those gardens who had invested a lot of time and money in creating markets outside to get remunerative prices. By asking them to compulsorily route teas through the auctions will not be a wise decision," another official said.


Centre assures World Heritage Committee on Manas evictions

Delhi vow to clear settlers

Paddy fields in the Bhuyanpara range of Manas National Park. Telegraph picture
The Centre has assured the World Heritage Committee that it will launch eviction drives in Manas National Park.
The issue will be discussed during the 39th meeting of the committee in Bonn, Germany, from June 29 to July 8.
The committee last year had asked the Centre through the state forest department to take urgent measures to address the fresh encroachment at Bhuyanpara range in the national park, and rehabilitate degraded areas.
Eight translocated rhinos have been poached in the World Heritage Site since 2011 leading to concern worldwide.
The state of conservation report for Manas sent to the committee last month stated that a multi-pronged comprehensive long-term strategy has been chalked out for targeting the encroachers.
"Eviction of encroachers has to be done after the paddy cultivation season is over and to ensure that no further clearing in the grassland/forest is made. All access to forest, including grazing of livestock, collection of firewood and minor forest produce, fishing and hunting, to be strictly banned and the law enforced through strictest of measures," the report said.
The report prepared by the park said additional incentives such as provisioning for rations, vehicle and elephants for patrolling, wireless sets for communication and provisioning of winter gear are also being addressed to boost the morale of the staff.
It said deployment of two companies of eco-task force of Territorial Army under Union ministry of defence, which are currently based in Kokrajhar, has to be done for systematic area domination and undertaking plantation in the adjoining Daodhara and Batabari reserve forest areas.
The report said a systematic plan would be made for creating nursery and plantations in the reserve forest areas and complete closure of the national park to any anthropogenic pressures would have to be ensured for a complete revival of the habitat for wildlife.
Currently, Daodhara and Batabari reserve forests are facing an onslaught of clearing and illegal removal of trees.
There is a tremendous potential to create large-scale plantations through the eco-task force in both these areas.
"The advantage of bringing in the force is that they are trained army personnel and will ensure area domination against the armed miscreants that support encroachers," it said.
The report said encroachment at Bhuyanpara is a recurring problem and the socio-political situation, including the presence of militant outfits in the vicinity of the park, unauthorised and illegal possession of weapons by civilians and the prevalence of country-made fire arms have also been some of the factors that have led to land mafia-backed encroachment inside the park.
Park officials said the current encroachment is not of a permanent nature and the people from at least 30 villages from nearby areas participate in clearing and cultivating small portions of grassland. Such encroachment is often backed and controlled by armed miscreants who have been identified and the information shared with intelligence authorities.
"What the committee says will be final and will also decide on whether a monitoring mission needs to be sent or not to Manas," a source said.
Last year, the Centre assured the committee that proper steps would be taken to improve the ground situation and not to send a monitoring mission.


Guwahati to have tea cold storage facility

Guwahati in queue for tea cold storage

A screenshot of the Teabox website
A Siliguri-based online brand, Teabox, is setting up cold storages for tea in Siliguri (Bengal) followed by Guwahati (Assam) and Coonoor (Kerala).
"This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the country according to my knowledge. We procure teas from plantations within 24-48 hours and this will immediately go to our cold storage facilities where they will be stored at negative temperatures for a long period of time," Kaushal Dugar, founder of Teabox, told The Telegraph.
Once the teas are procured from gardens, they will be cleaned, vacuum-packed and kept in cold storages, he said. An advanced cleaning unit will also be established for the purpose.
He said four important factors that affect tea quality are oxygen, moisture, temperature and light. "With our current packaging, we protect our tea from oxygen, light and moisture but with the cold storage facility we can protect tea from temperature fluctuations that happen throughout the year," Dugar said.
He said the cold storage centre at Siliguri would come up in two months. Guwahati and Coonoor will have the facility in the next six months to a year. The estimated cost for each facility is about Rs 3-4 crore.
The company has raised around $6 million in funds, which will be used primarily to support its growth in key markets, including setting up infrastructure.
He said high storage temperature and temperature changes significantly affect the physical, chemical and sensory quality of tea. Cold storage retains the tea quality, composition, flavour and colour. The temperature difference between day and night is also a factor leading to a qualitative change in tea.
"The rate at which tea loses its freshness and flavour also depends on the tea and how freshly it was packed. Our teas are particularly special because they are vacuum-packed at the origin and stored in controlled environment (cold) that retains the freshness/deliciousness all year long," he said.
N. Muraleedharan, director, Tea Research Association in Tocklai, said keeping teas in cold storage would keep them fresher for a longer period of time.
With its sourcing centres located in the tea-growing regions, Teabox procures teas directly from the growers, does extensive value-addition and ships them to customers all over the world.
Founded in 2012, the company 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 customers worldwide.
The company offers the largest selection of single-estate teas online with a selection of more than 200 fresh teas from over 200 different plantations in Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiris, Kangra, rest of the Northeast and Nepal. The company claims it has delivered over 20 million cups worth of tea to customers in 75 countries.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the state budget this year had announced setting up of small cold storage units for storing green leaf during the peak-cropping season for small tea growers.


Assam tea in Nobel brew

From Sonari to Stockholm

Nobel Museum Tea blend. Picture courtesy: Nobel Museum
Guwahati, Dec. 12: An orange pekoe tea variety from a garden in Upper Assam's Sivasagar district was blended with a Chinese tea for the special guests at the Nobel Prize ceremony on Wednesday.
"One of the components for the Nobel Museum Tea blend is a lovely rich Assam orange pekoe (OP) 1 from the estate of Mangalam in Sonari. Assam contributes to a traditional rich bouquet that does not fade when flavoured with the bergamot from Southern Sicily and the Swedish raspberries. It leaves a slight malty aroma after the first sip," said Gihan V. Mauris, managing director of The Tea Centre of Stockholm, said in an email to The Telegraph today.
The Nobel Museum Tea blend was prepared by The Tea Centre of Stockholm, a small Sweden-based company, in collaboration with Nobel Museum.
The tea blend was created for the first time in honour of Alfred Nobel celebrating his work and what it stands for.
The Chinese Keemun tea is produced in Qimen county in Anhui province.
Orange pekoe is characterised by whole leaf. "While composing a blend, one must imagine the base tea. This base tea blend should be able to withstand future fluctuations in taste, aroma and also quality and price. So we, as blenders, hardly ever use only one origin in our base. Instead, we try to capture the unique and delicate bouquets of different origins and bring them together to create a blend like no other," he added.
Mangalam tea estate, a 150-hectare garden, lies 52km from National Highway 37.
It produces very high quality Assam Orthodox and CTC teas, fetching premium prices due its quality and demand.
Its Orthodox tea is totally absorbed by the German market and the CTC teas are also in good demand.
The company has 10 gardens in Assam.
"This is a very good news for us; it proves that our teas are of high quality. We pluck fine and produce some of the best golden tippy teas," said D.P. Maheswari, managing director of Jay Shree Tea and Industries Limited.
Last year, the broken pekoe clonal grade of tea of CTC variety produced at Mangalam tea garden in Sivasagar district, belonging to Jayashree Tea and Industries, fetched a price of Rs 401 and Rs 405 per kg at Calcutta Tea Auction Centre.


White tea from the land of strong tea- Assam

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 looks for South African rhino DNA tool

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.