Congo venture for tea major
MK Shah Exports Ltd, which has 12 tea gardens in Assam and Bengal, has become the first Indian company to buy gardens in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.
The company, through its African subsidiary — Great Lakes Plantations — has bought M’bayo and Madaga tea estates in Congo recently.
“We are the first Indian company to enter the Congo. The acquisition includes 1,500 hectares of land, as well as two tea-manufacturing factories. The area includes a tea plantation, timber plantation and cinchona tree plantation, from the bark of which the anti-malarial drug quinine is extracted,” Jaydeep H. Shah, the director of Great Lakes Plantations — the African unit of MK Shah Exports Ltd — told The Telegraph.
Both the properties are in Bukavu, which is only 35km from neighbouring Rwanda. This is the company’s first acquisition in Africa.
MK Shah Exports Ltd, which started as a tea-trading firm, carried out backward integration by way of purchase of tea estates in Assam.
Shah said Congo offers much better soil and climatic conditions for the manufacture of high quality tea leaf than Uganda.
“Rwanda has many government controls/regulations, which plantations owners need to adhere to whereas in Congo these regulations are far less stringent,” he said.
A Belgian company originally planted the estates and before the purchase, a local company owned it.
“The purchase was taken care of by our internal accruals. We continue to remain a debt-free company,” he said.
He said with this acquisition, MK Shah Exports Ltd consolidates its position as India’s largest orthodox tea manufacturer.
“The foray into Africa helps us to diversify our base as well as our offerings to our clients. We can now provide top class CTC and orthodox teas to our clients abroad,” he said.
Of late, a couple of Indian companies have bought gardens in Africa.
“Africa has many inherent advantages such as an abundant supply of manpower, good terrain and climatic conditions, a relatively stable cropping pattern when compared to that of India — all of which makes it an attractive destination to invest in. However, one thing is certain for us as far as making any investment decision is concerned — we invest only in quality properties,” he said.
The company produces 13 million kg from its gardens in India and the crop from the two new gardens in Africa will be 3.5 million kg.
“Our estate is just across the Rwandan border and thus, shares most of the characteristics of Rwandan teas. Being situated at approximately 6,000 to 6,200 feet above sea level ensures that the teas manufactured there posses a unique flavour and aroma,” he said.
Production has started and a team of managers who were earlier stationed at plantations in Assam are looking after the property.
“There are multiple villages surrounding the periphery of our property from where our workers come,” he said.
On the mode of selling its teas from Africa, he said the plan is to sell privately to its customers in Europe and US.
“A part of these may be sold at Mombassa auctions,” he added.
GTAC breaks price record
The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre could not have asked for a better beginning to the New Year, with a broken orange pekoe (BOP) grade of CTC tea from Halmari tea garden fetching the highest-ever price of Rs 346 per kg.
The tea was sold this morning at sale number 3 and was bought by Kamakhya Tea Trading, a Guwahati-based tea buyer, retailer and wholesaler.
The GTAC is already in a euphoric mood this year, as it has broken all previous sale records when it sold 163.06 million kg of tea in 2013.
“The best thing about Halmari tea is that it maintains constant quality throughout the year, unlike other Assam gardens. This is not the time for first flush or second flush but its quality is such that it commands such good prices,” Pijush Kanti Roy, proprietor of Kamakhya Tea Trading, told The Telegraph.
The company bought 203.8kg of tea in lot number 4 of sale number 3 today.
In 2012, Halmari tea sold for Rs 365 per kg in Calcutta and the garden has crossed the Rs 300 per kg mark many tim-es. Halmari tea was the best mark in the GTAC in 2012-13.
Roy said the tea has a good combination of liquor and flavour. “The tea that we bought is for the Guwahati market. We have been buying Halmari tea for a number of years and get repeat orders,” he said.
Procurement of Halmari tea for the Guwahati market is an indication that people here are looking to buy good tea.
Lalit Jalan, another tea buyer, bought 15 bags of Halmari tea for the Guwahati market. “People want to buy good quality tea,” he said.
Retailers add a 20 per cent margin when they sell the teas at shops.
The 374-hectare garden is situated in Dibrugarh district and belongs to Calcutta-based Amarawati Tea Company Ltd, which also owns the Duliabam Tea Estate. Its teas have been fetching high prices for many years now and it ranks among the top gardens in the state.
The tea that was sold today was produced in mid-December last year.
“The Halmari tea factory produced 8.5 lakh kg of tea last year, which will increase to 10 lakh kg of tea in a few years of time. The increase will come from contribution by young teas planted in the last five to six years,” a source said.
A number of steps have been taken by the Tea Board of India to improve the quality of Indian tea. An important step was setting up two tea councils, one for South India and one for the north, in order to monitor the quality of tea meant for export and for imported teas meant for re-export.
Golden brew brings cheer
There is euphoria in Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) with the country’s largest CTC auction centre recording the highest sales in its history.
Official sources said the GTAC sold 163.06 million kg of tea last year, 4.98 million kg more than in 2012.
“This is the highest sales in the history of this tea auction. The brokers and warehouse owners have handled the teas quite efficiently,” GTAC secretary Jayanta Kakati told The Telegraph. The centre can handle much more tea and there is a lot of scope for improvement, he added.
“We aim to sell 200 million kg tea in 2014 and steps are being taken to achieve the target,” Kakati said, adding that the bought leaf sector had assured them of more tea. In 2012, the GTAC had sold 158.08 million kg.
He said the centre would try to sell more tea from April through faster cataloguing so that the producers get their money quickly.
The average price of tea sold at the GTAC from January to December 2013 was Rs 135.37 while in 2012 it was Rs 133.76. Of the 163.06 million kg tea sold, 126.63 million kg was through auction and 36.42 million kg through the private route. The value of the 163.06 million kg sold was Rs 2,207 crore.
Sources said industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi had put in a lot of effort to improve the centre after he took charge as chairman last September. He has been insisting that bought leaf factories sell more tea through GTAC. He even gave a “veiled” warning that bought leaf factories would cease to receive benefits from the state government if 50 per cent of their teas were not sold through the GTAC.
The GTAC had held a road show in Calcutta last year to help increase its buyer base and has also requested tea producers in the state to send more quality tea. “The road show was well received and the companies will reciprocate soon,” a tea industry official said.
The GTAC was opened on September 25, 1970 to help the tea industry play a pivotal role in the state’s economy and enable local entrepreneurs to get a slice of the tea trade.
“The centre has had difficult times but all stakeholders are doing their best to do better,” a tea broker said.
The point of concern for the centre is that it still gets only 27.5 per cent of the tea produced in Assam, which produces 55 per cent of the country’s tea produce, which now stands at 1,132 million kg.
“Pressure is being put on the companies who are not routing teas through the GTAC to sell their tea from here,” a tea official said.
The participation of top tea companies at the special charity tea auction last year was a signal that companies are willing to join hands with the GTAC. The collection of Rs 1.83 crore in a single day was also a record.
Kakati said several steps have been initiated to strengthen the confidence of buyers in GTAC.
First ramie variety developed in Assam named after Bhupen Hazarika
Assam’s legendary singer late Bhupen Hazarika now has a textile connection — with Assam’s first ramie variety of fibre being named after him.
“Late Bhupen Hazarika’s message of peace, prosperity and harmony will be spread through this oldest, traditionally grown, natural fibre crop variety,” A.K. Sharma, scientist-in-charge, Ramie Research Station, Sorbhog, told The Telegraph today.
This is the first variety developed by Ramie Research Station, which was established at Barpeta district more than five-and-a-half decades ago. The research station is a sub-station of the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, Barrackpore, West Bengal.
On why it took so long to develop the first variety, sources said not much interest was shown to develop ramie for years, especially as the institute lacked manpower and also had security problems.
Ramie (Boehmeria nivea), one of the oldest vegetable fibres, has been used for thousands of years. Its existence has been observed in mummy cloths in Egypt. The fibre is native to Southeast Asian countries, including China and the Philippines.
The variety, R-1411 (Hazarika), has been identified and submitted for release to the central variety release committee of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research after being tested at three testing locations — Nagaon, Sorbhog in Barpeta district and Cooch Behar in West Bengal.
The variety has attracted the attention of farmers for good performance in adaptive trials.
“R-1411 had better quality parameters in fibre colour and low gum content which will fetch additional benefits. Its yield is 6.77 per cent higher than others, depending on agronomic management and climatic conditions during crop growth. It has the potentiality to lift the national yield to 16 quintal/hectare/year (under rain-fed conditions) and 24 quintal/hectare/year (under irrigated conditions) and ensure additional productivity per hectare,” Sharma said. It has good biotic resistance for diseases and pests.
Ramie is considered a valuable textile fibre for its high tensile strength, lustre and microbial resistance. The fibre is also much in demand globally because of its high tensile strength and eco-friendly image.
The production of ramie in the country is 12 metric tonnes, of which 10MT is produced in the Northeast. Of the 100 hectares under ramie cultivation in the country, 90 hectares are in the Northeast. The production of ramie in China was 124,000MT in 2011.
Jute commissioner Subrata Gupta said there are challenges in ramie production but efforts are under way to overcome it.
In northeastern states, especially in Assam, ramie is grown because of its congenital climatic condition and is popularly known as rhea. Conventionally, dresses and fishing nets used to be woven in Assam from ramie fibre.
According to the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres, the fibre crop should be made popular.
“A lot of steps are being taken for mechanisation of ramie cultivation. This has led to 75 per cent reduction in the cost of cultivation,” Sharma said.
Buyers warn GTAC of not taking delivery
Business at Guwahati Tea Auction Centre, the largest CTC auction centre, is likely to be hit if the concerns of tea buyers in proper packing of tea is not adhered to. This will ultimately force them to buy directly from the gardens in huge quantities.
“The Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association is trying its best to promote GTAC. But if the constituents (brokers and warehouses) do not adhere to the rules, then we may have a major problem on our hands and very soon the auction centre may suffer in terms of business,” Dinesh Bihani, secretary, Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association, said.
The buyers’ association has appealed to all the constituents to take steps to regain buyers’ confidence.
Sources said several tea buyers had complained of delivery of badly packed tea bags. The agents for Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited, Ahmedabad, which makes Wagh Bakri tea, namely Pioji Tea Limited, Kesaria and Co, D. Dayalbhai and Co. and Global Tea (Assam) Pvt Ltd, have informed the GTAC that a large number of tea bags had been delivered to their buyers in restitched condition, taped, tampered with and having ineligible markings.
“This has sent out a very bad impression to the buyer who has clearly instructed us not to take delivery of bags which are in poor condition. We would like to inform GTAC and its constituents that from immediate effect we shall not take delivery of paper sacks and bags that are taped, restitched, damaged or remarked,” one of the agents stated said in a letter dated December 28.
Similar concerns have been addressed by Tata Global Beverages Limited and others.
J. Thomas, one of the largest tea auctioneers, in a note stated that packaging plays a vital role in marketing of teas and it is worthwhile to give it a careful look.
“Proper packaging not only protects your teas in transit, but is an important tool in brand building,” the note says.
Sources said tea buyers make payments before lifting the teas and at the time of delivery often find tea packaging not adhering to GTAC guidelines.
“We are left with no alternative other than stop buying teas of such marks/gardens,” a tea buyer said.
Another buyer said, “We are caught in a trap. We cannot stop buying but we can be selective in our approach. If the situation does not improve, we will buy directly from the gardens. Some packeteers are doing it.”
The GTAC has convened a meeting on Monday to address buyers’ concerns.
“The concerns are valid,” GTAC secretary Jayanta Kakati said, adding that the Tea Board of India had been informed of the problem. He said some of the bags were over-packed and it was time that best packing norms were followed.
Assam industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who is also the chairman of GTAC, has of late been taking steps to improve the functioning of the auction centre to restore its brand equity.
Tea board initiatives yield quality fruit, says Bhanu
Initiatives taken by the Tea Board of India to improve the quality of Indian tea have borne fruit, as not a single consignment of tea has been returned citing poor quality in the past year.
The outgoing chairman of the Tea Board of India M.G.V.K. Bhanu told The Telegraph that many initiatives were taken to improve the quality of tea during his tenure in the past two years.
Bhanu will hand over charge as chairman on December 26 in Calcutta and return to work for the Assam government.
Two tea councils have been set up, one for South India and one for the north, in order to monitor the quality of tea meant for export and for imported teas meant for re-export.
“This initiative has helped improve the quality image of Indian tea abroad and it is worthwhile to note that during the last one year, not a single consignment of tea has been returned due to poor quality” Bhanu said.
Earlier, buyers had raised concerns regarding the quality of Indian tea and consignments had been rejected because of this.
The setting up of a separate directorate to look after the needs of small tea growers, which now account for more than 35 per cent of the country’s production, was also an important initiative.
A separate cadre of engineering graduates has been deployed as factory advisory officers to render technical guidance to tea factories and help them adopt good manufacturing practices.
A sustainable development programme — Trustea, which aims to assure the consumer that what he is drinking is a safe cup of tea — was also launched this year.
On his two-year tenure, Bhanu said he had delivered whatever he had committed at the time of joining the Tea Board. “It is particularly satisfying to me that I have been able to set in motion several activities aimed at improving the overall quality image of Indian tea both in the country and in the international market,” he said.
On the future of the tea industry, which has a steady demand for natural healthy beverage the world over, he said it would grow from strength to strength. Bhanu said production this year in India is expected to touch an all-time high of 1,180 million kg — an increase of 200 million kg since last year.
“This 200 million kg increase was not entirely owing to favourable climatic conditions. It was also due to better collection and collation of production data by activating field officers of the board. Also, this significant rise in production has not adversely impacted tea prices in the domestic market, which would indicate that domestic consumption is on the rise. But the actual domestic demand needs to be assessed properly to keep the demand and supply in fine balance,” he said.
In five to seven years, small tea growers will contribute around 50 per cent of India’s total tea production but this does not mean that this sector is going to be a competitor against the organised sector, Bhanu said.
“On the other hand, both the sectors stand to benefit through a symbiotic relationship,” he added.
On the problem of maximum residue level (MRL) where importing countries have their own standards, he hoped that some unanimity regarding uniform standards would be reached among the consuming countries in the near future. Bhanu said the auction system is being fine-tuned to make it user-friendly and attract more buyers to participate in the system.
Two cheers for Pakke tiger reserve in Artunachal Pradesh: melanistic golden cat and chinese pangolin found
Guwahati, Dec. 22: Two records — the spotting of melanistic golden cats and a Chinese pangolin during camera-trapping exercise — have brought cheer to the 862 square km Pakke tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.
Six tigers comprising three males and three females were also spotted apart from leopard, clouded leopard, wild dog, Asiatic black bear and others.
The camera-trapping, which helped determine the minimum number of tigers in the sampled area within the reserve, was conducted from December 2012 to January 2013 in two ranges — Seijosa and Tipi — of the tiger reserve.
The exercise was conducted as part of the phase-IV monitoring of tiger and prey population under Project Tiger in collaboration with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Arunachal forest department and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - India . Fifty-seven locations were chosen for deployment of cameras.
The NTCA, in its report, said, “For the first time in Pakke tiger reserve. four melanistic golden cats (Pardofelis temminckii) were photo-captured during the camera-trap season and there was a first photographic record of the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) too.”
The report said besides tigers, other co-predators and prey species were also spotted during the survey, implying that despite the low-density area in terms of wildlife, there is a good assemblage of carnivores as well as herbivores in the tiger reserve.
“The reserve, which is considered one of the global bio-diversity hotspots, is rich in wildlife and if all the areas were surveyed properly, there could be more such first-time records,” Tana Tapi, divisional forest officer of Pakke tiger reserve, told The Telegraph.
The Pakke reserve is bounded by a contiguous forest of Nameri tiger reserve in the south, Kameng river in the north and west, and Pakke river in the east.
The reserve has a great diversity of mammalian faunas with at least 40 species recorded. It is also rich in avifauna with 294 species.
The NTCA said as Pakke tiger reserve is adjacent to Nameri tiger reserve in Assam, joint monitoring work needs to be done for this tiger landscape.
“This will help us understand the true dispersal and survival of individuals within the population, which is essentially the same but managed by different administrations. This will also help in planning management strategies and will have important conservation implications for tigers as well as other wildlife that exists in this landscape,” it said.
The NTCA has said monitoring of prey species for tigers and other large predators should be continued on an annual basis to understand whether prey populations are in the process of recovery, have stabilised or reached carrying capacity. Development activities, poaching and indiscriminate felling of tress leading to habitat loss are some of the prominent threats to Pakke tiger reserve, sources said.