Jams and jellies from rhododendron flowers

After squash with medicinal properties, rhododendron flowers to be made into jam and jelly

 The rhododendron does not merely add a dash of bright scarlet to the near-barren heights of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh for three months of the year when it is in bloom.
It has also begun to light up people’s lives by becoming a source of livelihood for the rest of the year.
The villagers of Sakpret village in Tawang are set for a sweeter future. Four years after a community rhododendron squash production unit was set up in the village, there are plans to produce jam and jelly as well.
The Tawang rhododendron squash, as it is branded, is made from the extract of the flowers and has an array of medicinal properties.
The unit was set up under the technical guidance of InsPIRE Network for Environment, an NGO, under a project in collaboration with the department of science and technology.
The project — establishment of a community-owned rhododendron arboretum in the community forests of Arunachal Pradesh — has an overall aim to link enterprise development with conservation.
In India, more than 90 species of rhododendron are recorded, of which Arunachal Pradesh has 61. “The project is undergoing an upgrade. We are increasing the product base and planning to produce jams and jellies from the next season. We will take help from Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Dirang, for training. K.M. Jayahari, programme officer, and I have also been to the units of Centre for Technology Development in Uttarakhand and were trained in squash production before starting the work in Tawang,” Monalisa Sen, programme officer, InsPIRE Network for Environment, told The Telegraph.
Efforts are on to provide technological inputs and marketing efforts to improve the product and make it available to more people.
The project began in 2008 and the unit started production in 2009.
Nearly 3,000-3,500 litres of squash is produced every year. The community gets a net profit of around 40,000 per year.
The profit is shared equitably among the families of the village after a third of it is contributed to the village development fund.
Villagers were trained to prepare the squash in extremely hygienic conditions, as well as in the sustainable collection of rhododendron flowers, plucking less than one-third of the flowers from each tree.
The process is managed on eight hectares of community forest land.
A community resolution has declared the forest land as the arboretum and a community organisation — the Sakpret Village Community Food Processing Unit (Administrative Committee) — registered under the Registrar of Societies, Arunachal Pradesh.
“We are looking for declaration of the restored area as a new sacred grove, locally known as nge (in accordance with Buddhist traditions), for long term conservation and sustainable extraction of rhododendron flowers.
“The community has already restored two hectares of degraded area through reforestation using the rhododendron saplings raised in the community nursery. Declaring the area a sacred grove will be a new initiative to revive the traditional conservation values in the region, which will strengthen the overall nature conservation efforts,” the official said.


Tezpur medical hospital hits green hurdle

Medical hub hits eco snag


 An expert panel of the environment and forests ministry has found that construction of Tezpur Medical College and Hospital has begun without obtaining the mandatory environmental clearances, which is in “violation” of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification.

The issue came up for discussion at the 116th meeting of the expert appraisal committee for building construction, coastal regulation zone, infrastructure development and miscellaneous projects that was held from September 19 to 21 at New Delhi.

“The committee after discussion (has) concluded that since construction has already begun, this is a case of violation,” the committee report stated. According to the details of the meeting, an executive engineer of the public works department revealed that construction for the above project had already begun.

Environmental clearance for certain developmental projects has been made mandatory by the ministry of environment and forests through its notification issued on January 27, 1994 under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The objective of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, was to set procedures of environmental clearance before the establishment of a project of identified nature and size. The suitability of a site for proposed development is one of the primary concerns for environmental clearance of a project.

The committee has advised authorities to leave a 3-metre-wide green belt around the perimeter of the plot and the ways being implemented to save energy and ground/fresh water were also sought.

The committee decided to defer the proposal and requested the proponent to present the case in the next meeting after incorporating the above changes in the layout.

The proposed facility of Tezpur Medical College and Hospital at Bihaguri in Tezpur will consist of a hospital with 500 beds in general wards for all the departments, excluding pay-in cabins, according to the guidelines of the Medical Council of India. The facility will also have a Medical College for 100 students, which is also being designed on the norms prescribed by the MCI.

Sources said the college is expected to become functional by 2013. The site for the medical college at Bihoguri is nearly 18km from Tezpur on National Highway 52, spread over an area of 36.8 acres.

The authorities have provided details on water requirement for the project and its various sources, segregation of biomedical waste and others. The waste will be sent to the common bio-medical waste treatment facility for treatment and disposal and domestic garbage will be collected separately.


Positive hope for Manas transboundary

Joint funds to conserve Manas

Officials of India and Bhutan have called for efforts to set up a funding mechanism to ensure trans-boundary monitoring and co-operation between both the governments to conserve wildlife in Manas.
A report, Tigers Across Borders, released a few days back in Bhutan by its agriculture minister Pema Gyamtsho, hinted at the significance of Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Complex.
The report stated the findings of the first phase of a joint tiger monitoring study undertaken by Bhutan and India in 2010-11.
Partners involved in the survey included the governments of Bhutan and India, WWF, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Aaranyak and The Bhutan Foundation, which identified 14 tigers, five each living in Manas tiger reserve and in the adjoining Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, and four that are common to both the parks.
The report said the conservation complex — a trans-boundary landscape stretching from Ripu reserve forest in India in the west, to Bhutan’s Khaling wildlife sanctuary in the east, Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park in Bhutan to the north — could be the only landscape in the world with eight species of cats co-existing in the same area. The eight species include tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, marbled cat, golden cat, leopard cat, jungle cat and fishing cat.
A WWF official said the second phase would start in next month using camera traps. “Efforts need to be made to develop a sustainable funding mechanism to ensure trans-boundary monitoring and co-operation between both the governments. In general terms, a strategy that consolidates and then expands the present achievements can be followed to strengthen the trans-boundary conservation initiatives,” the report stated.
It said future plans should evolve a lasting commitment by the two governments of India and Bhutan for wildlife monitoring.
“Future programmes should also concentrate on developing specific field skills and practical training, to report poaching and illegal trade of species. These initial steps will inspire confidence to build partnerships and commitment for a long term collaboration,” the report added.
BTC deputy chief Kampha Borgoyary said the council was responsible for conserving this trans-boundary landscape and worked closely with Bhutan to protect it since its formation.
“The Manas landscape, besides Kaziranga tiger reserve, is the most promising tiger habitat in the whole of the Northeast. With adequate law enforcement, this complex will surely establish itself as a source site for tigers in the region,” the report stated.
The director-general of ministry of agriculture and forests, Bhutan, Karma Dukpa, said the two parks were looking for a common approach to conservation problems.
The report called for identification of areas, frequency and mode of joint patrolling by forest staff at the field level.
It also emphasised that information on illegal activities like poaching and other wildlife crimes should be directly shared at the highest levels of the park management and should be intimated to the frontline staff for necessary action


Tea industry under food act scanner

Tea sector gears up for food act

 A legislation that came into force last year has forced the tea industry to conform to international norms, while keeping its focus on product quality intact.
The law — Food Safety and Standards Act — that came into force from August 5, 2011, dictates that all food establishments and manufacturing units have to either procure licence or get these registered with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) before August 4 in accordance with their turnover.
To prepare organisations associated with the tea industry to face the upcoming challenges of the act, Tea Board, in association with CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, organised awareness programmes at Jorhat on June 27 and at Golaghat on June 28. The idea behind the events was to ensure that all the stakeholders understood FSSAI regulations while maintaining quality and food safety standards in their products. About 75 tea estates and bought leaf factories participated in the events.
The event provided an insight was also provided into the critical steps to food safety — a set of guidelines issued by the ministry of health and family welfare through the act for all organisations managing food and beverage operations to ensure implement good hygiene and good manufacturing practices.
The guidelines state that no tea shall contain any additive or processing aid unless it is in accordance with the provisions of the act and regulations made there under, and no tea shall contain any contaminant, naturally occurring toxic substances or toxins or heavy metals in excess of quantities as may be specified by regulations.
On pesticides, it says that no tea shall contain insecticides or pesticide residues, solvent residues, pharmacologically active substances and microbiological counts in excess of limits specified by regulations. No insecticide shall be used directly on tea leaves except fumigants registered and approved under the Insecticides Act, 1968.
On the presence of chemicals, it says that pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, weedicides, microbials should be used in the gardens in accordance with the approved list and be sprayed in accordance with the recommended dosage recommended by Tea Research Association and United Planters’ Association of Southern India.
One of the provisions says flavoured tea shall be sold or offered for sale only by those manufacturers who are registered with Tea Board. Registration number should also be mentioned on the label. It shall be sold only in packed conditions with label declaration as provided in the Regulation 2.4.5 (23) of Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) regulations, 2011.
“Domestic consumers have the right to get tea which is safe and hygienic as consumers demand globally,” Indrani Ghose, principal counsellor, CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, told The Telegraph.
The Tea Board is taking a scientific approach to sort out the problems of different regulatory issues.
Colour adulteration is strictly prohibited from the consumer health point of view and colouring of tea has gradually become a matter of serious concern these days.
Sources said the treatment of teas with various colouring chemicals comes under the head of adulterants.
There are occasional reports that sub-standard tea leaves are coloured with Bismark brown, potassium blue, turmeric and indigo, to impart colour or gloss to the product.
Tea industry officials say the Tea Board has strongly advised the industry to follow the FSSAI guidelines for not using any colour in tea as violation of the guidelines may attract legal action.
The penal provisions are tough, with penalties ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 10 lakh. Moreover, unlicensed food business has been strictly prohibited. A licence can be valid for a period of one to five years.
Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman, North Eastern Tea Association, said the intention of the FSSA — to bring food safety of our country to international standard — was a welcome step. “There is a possibility that by following the norms laid down in the FSSA, tea may be able to get a better price in the domestic and international markets,” he toldThe Telegraph.
He, however, said it would add to the cost of production.
Dhiraj Kakati, secretary, Assam branch, Indian Tea Association, said the regulations had beneficial aspects and should work well, provided there was no red tape.


Assam forest deptt calls for Karbi Anglong support

Karbi Anglong council’s help sought

A forest department official on an elephant pulls the carcass of a rhino killed by poachers at Bagori range at Kaziranga National Park on Friday. (AP)
 The Assam forest department, which is facing flak over a rise in rhino poaching cases, has initiated steps to get the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council “on board” to help save wildlife in Kaziranga National Park.
The CRPF and Assam police also carried out a joint operation in Karbi hills today to track down rhino poachers. Rhinos often stray or cross over during floods from Kaziranga to the foothills of Karbi Anglong, where they fall prey to poachers. Six rhinos of the park have died this week.
“There has to be a joint responsibility in conserving Kaziranga National Park and ensuring safety of rhinos straying over to the foothills of Karbi Anglong district. The issue of cooperation has been taken up with the district council at the highest level, including forest minister Rakibul Hussain. We will provide all support to the forest department of the KAAC to get their cooperation in tackling wildlife issues,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Suresh Chand told The Telegraph.
Chand has been camping in Kaziranga for the past three days and talking to a cross-section of people, including the administration and police, to arrive at a solution. Sources said without KAAC support, any effort in conservation of Kaziranga wildlife would prove futile.
“We are willing to share the best practices we have gathered with them (KAAC) and there can be temporary deployment of their staff in Kaziranga,” Chand said, adding that police officials had agreed to provide arms training to the council’s forest staff to help them face armed poachers and had asked the state forest department to identify trouble spots in Karbi Anglong so that security could be strengthened.
He also said the National Tiger Conservation Authority was comfortable with the idea of having a tiger reserve in Karbi Anglong.
There are four corridors — Panbari, Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Amguri — in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong belt. During floods, migrating animals use these to cross over to higher ground in Karbi foothills across NH 37. Sources said these corridors were rapidly getting degraded as growing commercial activities were hampering the movement of animals to the hills.
A study by Wildlife Institute of India on “Ecological effects of road through sensitive habitats: Implications for wildlife conservation” states that high traffic volume poses a major barrier and threat to movement of animals between Kaziranga and Karbi hills during floods and effective measures need to be taken to improve the functionality of the corridors.
The WWF has been working since 2005 under its Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong conservation programme to conserve the corridors by involving local residents. It said this was a challenging task as the corridors, lying south of Kaziranga, were densely inhabited and many tourist resorts had sprung up there of late. It said use of land to accommodate growing population and tourism pressure was slowly choking some of the corridors.
As the forest department pondered over ways to check poaching and conserve wildlife in Kaziranga, its officials, along with members of the Centre for Wildlife Rescue and Conservation, managed to dislodge a rhino calf, which refused to budge from under a culvert in the park’s Kohora range. “The rhino calf was at first shot with a stream of water from a fire brigade engine to make it move from the spot but it refused to budge because of the large crowd that had gathered there. The shouting and yelling scared it,” forester Rupak Bhuyan of Kohora range said. It finally came out in the evening and returned to the forest.
However, in Sildubi part of the range, locals killed a wild buffalo when it went on the rampage and allegedly attacked people in the vicinity.
At Gorakati in Bagori range of the park, the carcass of a female rhino, which had died of natural causes, was found floating in the floodwaters with its horn intact. The carcass of an elephant, which had also died a natural death, was found with its tusks intact in the Barbeel camp area in the western division of the range.
Bagori range officer Kushal Deka said a rhino, which had strayed out to Jagadamba area of the range, was chased back to the forest by nearly 50 people of the area.
In the face of growing protests over rhino poaching in Kaziranga, Assam forest minister Rakibul Hussain went on the offensive today, asking All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) why it had not staged protests when rhinos were getting killed in huge numbers between 1986 and 1990 when a “friendly” AGP government was in power in Dispur. About 24 to 48 rhinos are estimated to have been killed during that period. He also asked BJP MP Rajen Gohain to raise the issue in Parliament if he had not done so till now.
Lending its voice to the save wildlife crusade, Aaranyak, an NGO working for wildlife conservation, today said it would hold a daylong sit-in here on Monday to demand the arrest of poachers. It also wants Dispur to ensure accountability within the forest department, which is responsible for the protection of the world heritage site.


Assam tourism in travel sector now

Assam govt opens travel agency

 Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited has decided to directly reach out to tourists by opening its own travel agency — Red River Tours and Travels — which is already taking bookings.
The travel agency is a subsidiary of Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited and has its own travel website. It will attempt to take on private players who dominate the tourism sector.
The website will provide unique packages that are being introduced by Assam Tourism, including river cruises, tree-top stays and eco-tourism packages.
“The USP (of the agency) is that it is government owned and we are making every attempt to provide reliable and quality services. We have just started and will continue to add value and choices as we advance,” Anurag Singh, managing director of ATDCL, toldThe Telegraph.
The travel industry in India is growing at a rate of 15 per cent per year and the online travel business is growing at around 35 per cent per year.
“When we have our own infrastructure there is no reason not to have our own travel agency. Why should tourists give commission to other travel agents when we can have our own?” Singh said.
The corporation develops and manages tourist lodges, hotels, restaurants, guesthouses and entertainment projects. It also purchases, acquires, construct and sells infrastructure to promote tourism in the state.
Currently, the travel agency is offering international, domestic and Northeast India packages.“The agency will also act as a nodal facilitation centre for travel solutions for tourist information centres, which are proposed in all the districts of the state. It will cater to the needs of tourists and offer a wide range of facilities, such as airport taxi service, tourist taxis, airline tickets, packages and hotels,” Singh said.
“When you are in the tourism business, you must know what the tourists want and that is why the ATDCL wanted to have its own travel agency,” he added.
Ashish Phookan of Jungle Travels India, a Guwahati-based eco-tourism company welcomed ATDCL’s entry into the travel business.
“It is good for the tourism sector because there will be more tour operators, which will bring in more tourists. It all depends on the quality of services rendered, if that is good, it will be a good development,” he said.
In 2011, 43.39 lakh domestic tourists and 16,000 foreign tourists visited Assam. During 2006 to 2010, the number of domestic tourists visiting the state has risen by 5.51 per cent. “We have been getting good number of enquiries, both domestic and from overseas. Compared to other destinations, Assam is still an emerging tourism destination,” Phookan said.


Assam no to Bengal demand for hogs

Assam turns down hog demand from Bengal

The Assam forest department has turned down a request from Bengal for pygmy hogs. Last year, it had rejected a similar request for rhinos.
The West Bengal forest department had decided to reintroduce pygmy hogs in the grasslands of the Gorumara National Park in north Bengal after the Zoological Survey of India’s (ZSI) recommendation on its feasibility.
The Bengal forest department had requested for four males and eight females. The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is the world’s rarest wild hog and the most endangered.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in fact, has categorised the pygmy hog as “critically endangered” and is also listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
“We do not have adequate number of hogs till 2014 to give Bengal,” Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand told The Telegraph. Chand said this was based on the information provided by the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP), a collaborative project of Durrell with IUCN/SSC Pigs Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, Assam forest department and ministry of environment and forests.
“They (PHCP) had told us that it has to be done under a joint collaborative programme between Assam and West Bengal involving all stakeholders,” Chand said.
Gautam Narayan, the programme project director, said a lot of studies, including habitat, have to be done before it can be released in another place. “We have already released 60 hogs at Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary and Orang National Park,” he said.
Narayan said the programme began in 1996 when six pygmy hogs were captured from Manas National Park and now their number is 60, which is a good increase from the founder population captured from the wild.
Narayan said they have got permission from the forest department to capture a few hogs from Manas as the condition is now improving. The 2011 mission report of the Unesco and World Heritage Convention on Manas said the population estimates vary from 200-300 to 1,000, but are likely at the lower end of that range.
Last year, Bengal had requested for 20 female rhinos from Assam but that was also turned down.
The main threats to survival of pygmy hog are loss and degradation of habitat because of human settlements, agricultural encroachments, dry-season burning, livestock grazing, commercial forestry and flood control schemes.
The pygmy hog wild population is now only restricted to Manas in the world.


India calls for detailed study on climate change impact on tea

Stress on climate change impact on tea gardens

The Centre has submitted before the Intergovernmental Group on Tea on the need to take up comprehensive studies to find out the impact of climate change on tea plantations.
India, which headed the working group on climate change, submitted the report prepared by a scientist from Tocklai at an intersessional meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Tea on September 17 to 18 in Washington DC.
The Intergovernmental Group on Tea under Food and Agriculture Organisation represents a forum for intergovernmental consultation and exchange on trends in production, consumption, trade and prices of tea, including regular appraisal of the global market situation and short-term outlook.
The Centre in the report said the idea was to develop decision-support framework or toolkit for contingency crop planning for efficient management of tea plantations and make them climate resilient.
To develop this framework crop details, soil information, waterbodies and other crops nearby agronomic information (plant growth, physiological parameters), ground weather observation, location specific forecast data (even hourly) and historical data (appropriate short/long) would have to taken into consideration.
“Such data and details will be from surface as well as satellite. Once the prototype framework/toolkit is available, crop planning based on weather advisories can be made specific to a region. This approach will make it easy to adapt to the changing weather conditions and also will be able to cope with the extreme events, because this can be used as an early warning system,” the report that the Centre submitted said.
The Centre said the outcome of global studies on climate change was at continental levels, while the details at regional and sub-regional levels, which strongly influence the total economics, were inadequate.
“Until recently, we are not very clear about the contribution of climate change on tea production and quality in different regions. Yield depends on various other parameters like soil, water, nutrient and pest/disease and not just climate/weather. Using appropriate analysis, it has to be deciphered that how much contribution climate change has on production and quality, through variations in these parameters using historical data,” it said.
The report also said there should be analysis of database of local weather, soil, disease/pest incidence and tea yield in tea growing regions of Assam.
Another tool is the weather forecast, which allows taking at least take immediate management decisions at farm level.
“We intend to use appropriate observation and prediction system, which takes data from our databases directly and makes predictions at high resolution. We intend to use Nasa’s Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) for the purpose,” the report said.
Concerned over the challenges to the tea industry on account of climate change, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce in its report on tea said there was an urgent need to develop a strategy aimed at improvement and sustenance of tea productivity as well as its quality and direct research to find solutions to problems like prolonged drought arising because of climate change.
The committee recommended to the commerce department to take steps in this direction and collaborate with International Tea Research Institutes and ICAR on the matter.
The commerce department informed the committee of a research proposal on climate change on tea plantation under the Twelfth Plan.
The committee said in its report that the government should give more thrust to the development of high yielding planting materials that can withstand the biotic and abiotic stresses under the changing climatic scenario.


Logo for muga silk on anvil now

Muga silk products to get own logo

Five years after it got the geographical indications tag, muga is all set to have its own logo.
A senior official of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council, the registered proprietor of the geographical indications tag for muga, said the council had sent the logo to the geographical indications registry office in Chennai for clearance.
The ASTEC patent information centre developed the logo with legal support from the Delhi-based Corporate Law Group. Dispur, too, has cleared it.
“The geographical indications office will have a look at the logo and then ascertain if there is any opposition from anybody. It will take some time,” the official said. The logo is required under the geographical indications act.
Muga, the golden-yellow silk, is obtained from the semi-domesticated multivoltine silkworm, Antheraea assamensis, and is found in the Brahmaputra valley only. It possesses the highest tensile strength among all natural textile fibres and is comfortable to wear in both summer and winter. The golden texture and shine also increases with every wash.
The geographical indications for muga includes raw silk yarns and threads for textiles, dress materials, headgear, footwear, ties, motifs, fashion wear, quilts, furnishings and upholstery, mekhela sador and shawls. Assam got the tag in 2007.
Till date, only two persons have applied to the geographical indications office to become registered users of muga though at the time when the tag was granted, 27,878 people were involved in work relating to the golden fibre. The official said the application of one of the two had reached an advanced stage of processing.
In fact, the geographical indications act mandates that the tag would be revoked if a good number of people were not registered as users. The users also have to be registered under a legal body like an association or a self-help group. Authorised users have exclusive rights to protect the goods, monopolise markets and control prices of items.
“Once the users register, the logo will then be inscribed on all muga products made by them,” the official said.
To keep a check on the quality of products, the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology here has agreed to conduct tests at its seri-biotech laboratory.
The official said even the sericulture department was contemplating about becoming a registered muga user.
Of the total 2,019 metric tonnes of silk produced in Assam in 2011-12, 115 metric tonnes was muga.
Apart from muga, Assam orthodox tea and Nagaland’s Naga mircha have also got geographical indications tags.
Manipur, too, has applied for the tag for its handloom fabrics — shaphee lanphee,wangkhei phee and moirang pheejin.
The North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Ltd (Neramac) has filed applications for Naga tree tomato, Arunachal orange, Sikkim large cardamom and Mizo chilli.


Fabindia in expansion mode in NE

Fabindia eyes growth in region

Spurred by good demand and quality, Fabindia is now on expansion mode in the Northeast.
The company, which started with a store in Guwahati at the behest of and in collaboration with JJ Marketing owned by Jahnabi Phookan and Jesmina Zeilang, has added one more store in Dibrugarh and is looking to expand further, given the good response.
“The encouraging response in Guwahati prompted the company to expand further into Dibrugarh. We expe-ct a continuous and sustained growth in keeping with the economy of the state,” Pallabi Basu, regional manager, Fab-india, told The Telegraph.
In fact, in response to the growing demand, the company has come forward with a larger inventory and a professional team to manage the store, while JJ Marketing continues as its agent.
The second store, started last month in a heritage bungalow in Dibrugarh, has also been well received.
Sources said the company was already thinking of opening stores in other places but this would take some time. “A lot of issues like logistics have to be studied and once that is through there is no problem,” a source said.
Both outlets in Assam are franchisee owned.
Fabindia is the country’s largest private platform for products made using traditional techniques, skills and hand-based processes. It links over 80,000 craft-based rural producers to modern urban markets, creating a base for skilled, sustainable rural employment and preserving India’s traditional handicrafts in the process.
It believes in an inclusive economy and sources extensively from indigenous craftsmen and procures significantly from artisans in the Northeast. One of the company’s biggest strengths has been customer loyalty, which has been achieved through a combination of factors, including value for money products, good quality and a distinct look.
The official said there was tremendous awareness for handcrafted and handloom products in the Northeast, which already has a rich handloom heritage. “So far, the business has been viable here and are eliciting a good response here.”
The best part is that the artisans get work from Fabindia throughout the year, which on one hand has prevented them from looking for other sources of income and on the other, has guaranteed Fabindia a po-ol of talent that is unrivalled.
The company has also tried to initiate community outreach programmes in these areas by building schools and providing quality education.
The official said the company had worked with clusters and design developers in Assam and Nagaland to add variety to its products.
Sources said though handicrafts of this region were of good quality, utilitarian in nature and diverse in range, they have not gained access to the markets in other Indian or overseas markets. The crafts of this region also suffer because of logistics — difficult terrain and prohibitive cost of transportation of the predominantly voluminous products.
In fact, the Centre is toying with the idea of having a dedicated scheme for handicrafts in the region. It will also try to provide adequate infrastructure support for improved quality and productivity and to give entrepreneurs and artisans access to a larger market at both domestic and international level.
The working group constituted by Planning Commission for the handicrafts sector during the Twelfth Plan has recommended setting up of Northeast handicrafts and handmade textiles clusters as centres for excellence with well-integrated forward and backward linkages.
According to the projections made by the working group, handicrafts exports from Northeast by the end of Twelfth Plan should earn Rs 1,500 crore while domestic earning should be Rs 2,500 crore.


Online shopping in NE on overdrive

Online shopping gains popularity

From selling bar coasters to buying gadgets and lifestyle products, the young and old across the Northeast are fast becoming voracious online shoppers.
eBay India, the country’s most popular online shopping platform with over 4 million registered users from 3,311 Indian cities and over two million Facebook fans, has come up with some interesting facts about the Northeast.
“Northeastern states, in particular, have grown tremendously in the past 12 to 18 months. Gadgets and lifestyle products have been the most popular categories followed by media and collectibles,” Deepa Thomas, head, partnerships, eBay India told The Telegraph.
In the online shopping portal’s latest report — India Battle of the Gadgets — Guwahati and Aizawl have interestingly surfaced among the top 20 cities, with high demand for tablets, compact digital cameras and long zoom digital cameras. The report is based on an analysis of all gadget transactions on eBay India from April 1 to June 30, 2012.
Every minute, eight products are bought on eBay India.
Increased penetration of the Internet driven by higher disposable incomes, availability of cheaper access devices and the advent of 3G have led to rapid adoption of e-commerce in all corners of the country.
“In addition, people in non-metro cities are able to gain access to products not available in their cities,” Thomas said.
The eBay India Census, 2011, found Assam taking the lead in the Northeast with 49 per cent of their purchases being in the gadgets category followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim.
Suraj Sharma, CEO of rock.in, an online store dedicated towards bringing the world’s finest fashion labels to India, said, “We have discovered that the Northeast is one of the most fashion-conscious regions of the country. Seven per cent of the traffic on the online store comes from the Northeast, with most of the orders coming from Assam and Meghalaya.”
“We have also observed that the average basket size in the Northeast is more than that in the metropolitan cities. This means that the Northeast people shop for more products at once than those who shop from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore,” Sharma said.
Though the portal offers both women’s wear and menswear, the ratio of female shoppers to maleshoppers in the Northeast is 7:3. “However, most of the shoppers (both male and female) purchase mainly from the various international brands we have to offer, such as La Redoute, House of Dereon, Fever London, et al,” Sharma said.
He said one of the most interesting trends among Northeast shoppers is that 70 per cent of them opt for prepaid orders. “Most of the orders are paid in advance via debit/credit cards and Netbanking. While cash on delivery is a trend elsewhere, only 30 per cent of the Northeast shoppers opt for the same.”
For Flipkart, Northeast has always been a good market. “The demand for categories like books, media and games is very high,” a senior official of the online shopping portal said.
Even direct-selling companies are taking the online route to augment their sales.
For Amway India, which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the Rs 5,229 crore direct-selling market in India, online sales have assumed significance among the company’s distributors over the past three years and contribute nearly 20 per cent of overall sales of the company in India.
“While we are expanding our reach through brick and mortar presence, we are also encouraging distributors to use our website to buy products online,” Amway India managing director and CEO William S. Pinckney said.
Domestic firm Modicare’s focus on online sales began from 2011. “While the platform has been there for a decade now the real focus on online sales started last year,” Manisha Amol, vice-president (marketing), Modicare Ltd, told The Telegraph.
The Northeast market is crucial for Modicare, which is eyeing five per cent revenue from online sales by the end of this fiscal.
Chavi Hemanth, secretary general of the Indian Direct Sellers Association (IDSA), said, “The trend of companies leveraging the online platform to augment sales has grown recently. Companies such as Amway, Oriflame and Avon have taken the online route.


Noodles sector in Notheast India on upswing

Demand drives noodles sector in Northeast India

The Choudhary Group factory at Chaygaon in Assam’s Kamrup district
The noodles business in the Northeast is in a high growth mode with companies expanding operations and dishing out newer varieties of the popular processed cereal product.
In fact, Nepal-based Chaudhary Group, famous for its Wai Wai brand and which is the number two in the country, is adding one more plant in Assam, even as younger players are concentrating on quality. The company is number one in the Northeast, having a 65 per cent share in the market.
“It will be a six-million-packs-per-day factory and come up at Silchar,” G.P. Sah, chief executive officer of the company, told The Telegraph. It currently has a factory at Chaygaon in Kamrup district, which produces nine lakh packs per day.
The company, which has a 16 per cent market share in the over Rs 1,300-crore noodles market in the country, has three factories with a combined capacity of 18 lakh packs per day.
Wai Wai has been in the Northeast market from the early 1990s. Earlier, it was exported from Nepal. “Its production in India started in Sikkim in 2006 and the production base was further expanded to Assam in 2009 and to Rudrapur (Uttarakhand) in 2011. This helped the brand to become closer to its customers,” Sah said.
Noodles are value-added items made from flour. Among processed cereal products in India, noodles have a share of about 45 per cent in terms of output and constitute the largest segment in this sector.
Sah said the noodles market was growing by 20 per cent annually in India and the Northeast is no different. Wai Wai has a more established consumer base in the Northeast, Sikkim, Bengal and North India, compared other parts of the country.
“We are the leading players in the Northeast in the noodles category. People of the region are looking for convenience and flavours in food products. We aspire to go with the changing trend and serve our consumers with world-class noodles. As a company, we have 28 years of experience in noodles production and distribution and we offer a range of noodles, which no one offers in the country. In the next five years, our sales will grow three times and we will employ more than 2,000 people in Assam. At present, our employee strength is more than 600,” he said.
The company has exported noodles from Assam and currently offers ready-to-eat noodles, snack noodles and noodle bhujia, among others. “We are going to introduce some new flavours soon,” he said.
The operations in the Northeast are important for the company, as it earns 50 per cent of its revenue here.
On the entry of newer players in the market, Sah admitted the competition was going to get tougher in the times to come. Apart from established brands such as Nestle’s Maggi, Nissin Foods’ Top Ramen, GlaxoSmithKline’s Foodles, a number of new players, including local firms, have forayed into the Northeast. “However, we are technologically ahead of others and have vast experience of managing this business even in an intensely competitive scenario. As on today, the range of noodles we offer is unmatched in the country.”
On the other hand, AA Nutritions, a local company, said the future of the business lay in quality, and if manufacturers stuck to best quality practices, then consumption was bound to increase.
A company official said it had been instrumental in introducing the first ready to eat brown noodles in the region. “Though our capacity is very small in comparison to the Chaudhary Group, we have been able to create a niche segment for our Yummy ready to eat noodles because of our market positioning and good quality. In the food business, all strategies fail in front of taste and quality. Yummy noodles assure the best quality to consumers and in the long run, it will yield good results for us,” the official said.
He said along with the known reasons for growth of the fast convenient food segment, the major reason for popularity of noodles in hilly regions of the Northeast was the lack of fuel such as wood or coal in remote areas because of wet climate. “Our noodles are already cooked and can be eaten directly from the packet. Hence, it does not need any fuel to cook.”


Assam in top three silk club of India

Assam third among silk producing states

Eri, often referred to as “poor man’s silk”, has helped Assam rank among the top three silk producing states of the country.
According to Central Silk Board, Assam has climbed to the third spot, up from fifth last year, thanks to robust eri silk production.
Called poor man’s silk because it requires minimum infrastructure for production and is practised by the poorer sections of society, eri is the product of a domesticated silkworm, Philosamia ricini, which feeds mainly on castor leaves.
According to 2011-12 figures, Assam’s silk production stands at 2,109 metric tonnes, next only to Andhra Pradesh (6,019MT) and Karnataka (7,800MT). Of the state’s total production, muga accounts for 115 metric tonnes and mulberry 18 metric tonnes, whileeri rules the roost at 1,976 metric tonnes.
“Tremendous efforts have been put into increasing the production of eri silk and promoting it, which has now paid off,” Sarat Deori, joint secretary, Central Silk Board Northeast, told The Telegraph.
In the Eleventh Plan, the Centre had allocated Rs 84.66 crore for eri production alone.
Deori said there was a lot of scope for product diversification using the silk, as it could be blended with others fibres, and added that the eco-friendly silk had a huge international market.
Eri behaves like cotton and is warm like wool. Because of its coarseness, the yarn can be blended with other yarns and made suitable for manufacturing all varieties of fabrics, dress material, ornamental fabrics along with thicker fabrics like chaddar, wall hangings and furnishings and hosiery fabrics.
Four varieties of silk (mulberry, erimuga and oak tasar) are produced in the Northeast and the region contributed 15 per cent of the total production of silk in the country at the end of the Eleventh Plan period. Production of raw silk in the Northeast at the end of Tenth Plan (2006-07) was 1,653 metric tonnes, which has increased to 3,385 metric tonnes at the end of Eleventh Plan (2011-12) — a 105 per cent increase, a major part of which is eri production.
Deori said product diversification was non-existent earlier, adding that eri got prominence since the Ninth Plan.
B. Choudhury, a scientist at Central Muga Eri Research and Training Institute, Jorhat, said there was sufficient potential to increase production. “Assam has all the four varieties of silk and can even reach the second spot,” he said.
Dilip Barooah, managing director of Fabric Plus, a textile firm that deals in mugaeri and other silks, said eri had a great future and great possibilities. “We have finally understood the value of eri,” he said. The company has already started hand-spinning the yarn at Mirza in Kamrup district.
The Planning Commission-constituted working group for textiles and jute industry for the Twelfth Plan has proposed more support for eri silk like setting up of mobile testing and certification units to ensure disease-free seed cocoons and for strengthening and establishing a systematic eri seed production programme.


Mizoram opposes NBWL on tiger reserve fencing

Mizoram opposes Dampa fencing

Mizoram has opposed the National Board for Wildlife’s recommendation to erect fencing inside Dampa tiger reserve, as it will restrict the movement of wildlife to and from Bangladesh.
The National Board for Wildlife had asked the state forest department for its views before setting up border outposts along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Dampa tiger reserve, which would lead to 1,520 hectares being diverted.
Official sources said the issue was discussed at its wildlife board meeting in Aizawl recently.
They resolved to object to the construction of fencing and a road for patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border within a 62km stretch in the tiger reserve.
The reserve shares an international boundary with Bangladesh for around 127km in the southern part.
The department said the construction would disturb the sanctity of the lone tiger reserve of the state.
Dampa was declared a tiger reserve in 1994.
Sources said the national board would now have to reconsider the proposal.
The ministry of home affairs had planned to construct a three-line wire fencing, besides seven border outposts, and had informed the National Board for Wildlife that the road and the fencing was of utmost importance to stop the infiltration from Bangladesh.
However, the state wildlife board said there were no concrete and reliable reports of the movement of insurgents/illegal immigrants from Bangladesh through the tiger reserve.
The state board said the construction of seven border outposts with nearly 33 personnel each, will significantly undermine the security and habitat of wild animals.
Though the reserve is rich in bio-diversity, only a few studies have been conducted on the plants and animals, the management evaluation report of the reserve prepared by National Tiger Conservation Authority said.
In the meeting, BSF officials said the construction of road and border outposts outside the fence would violate international regulations.
The BSF had, in compliance with the decision of the standing committee of the national board last year, submitted a revised proposal with new alignments.
The revised requirement of land was 1,520 hectares.
It was originally estimated that the total area to be diverted from Dampa tiger reserve would be 69.26 hectares. This was later reworked.
The proposal was first submitted to the Centre in 2007 for approval under the Forest Conservation Act for the Indo-Bangladesh border fence and patrol road.
A team of experts, constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), has opposed the construction in the tiger reserve.
“I fully endorse the Mizoram wildlife board proposal and the border is no threat to national security,” Firoz Ahmed, a wildlife biologist with Aaranyak, said.
Ahmad was part of an expert team constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority that visited the reserve.


Arunachal villagers develop protocols for its rare resources

Arunachal villagers to share knowledge at bio meet

Thirty families of Salari village in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Kameng district have developed bio-cultural community protocols for medicinal plants, setting terms and conditions for access to their knowledge and resources to outsiders.
The state will unveil the bio-cultural protocols for the first time at a side event of the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 11) on October 18 at Hyderabad.
bio-cultural protocol is developed after a community undertakes a consultative process to outline their core cultural and spiritual values and customary laws relating to their traditional knowledge and resources, based on which they provide clear terms and conditions regulating access to their knowledge and resources.
The protocol, in the form of an agreement, provides information to outsiders wishing to access its traditional knowledge on medicinal plants and how to obtain the necessary consent to use its knowledge and resources. It ensures that the community receives a fair and equitable share of the benefits arising from the utilisation of its plant resources and traditional knowledge according to mutually agreed terms.
The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) meet — one of the largest bio-diversity meets in the world – will be held from October 8-19 in Hyderabad.
One of the largest international conferences to be held in India, COP 11 will bring together more than 15,000 people from more than 193 countries to co-ordinate international efforts to achieve the objectives of the convention. The CBD is an international treaty for the conservation of bio-diversity, the sustainable use of the components of bio-diversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources.
“The bio-cultural protocols are ready to be released at the CBD meet,” B.S. Sajwan, principal chief conservator of forests, Arunachal Pradesh, told The Telegraph.
The villagers belong to the Sartang community and are followers of Mahayana Buddhism. A 25 to 30-member delegation comprising village elders, traditional healers and officials from the state will attend the meet.
The Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation, Naharlagun, in collaboration with the state forest department, state medicinal plant board and experts from United Nations Development Programme had facilitated the preparation of the protocols.
“It is the result of an intensive consultation with the local community members, the traditional healers and other stakeholders in the area on the traditional practices with regard to the natural resources, and national and international laws which are in place to ensure protection of such traditional practices for management of natural resources and the associated traditional knowledge. This, being the first document of its kind in Arunachal Pradesh, will help the communities take informed decisions not only on the management of their natural resources but also the sharing of benefits that may arise from use of such resources and the associated traditional knowledge,” the report on bio-cultural protocol quoting Sajwan stated.
Sajwan said the side event would showcase different models of conservation practised in the state, developed by various organisations. It will showcase the development of state strategy on medicinal plant conservation and sustainable use, community-based eco-tourism guidelines developed by the state tourism department and preparation of the protocols.
Rhododendron conservation will also be highlighted and a publication on a case study on enterprise-based conservation activity in Arunachal will be released.


Tea board eye over tea exports

Board to test quality of export tea

The Tea Board of India will monitor teas exported from Assam and West Bengal to ensure strict compliance of quality norms.
The board has constituted a committee, Tea Council of North India, to check tea exported from north India. This primarily includes the inland container depot at Amingaon and tea warehouses in Assam and West Bengal.
The council comprises Tea Board of India chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu, McLeod Russel India Ltd director Azam Monem, director of J. Thomas and Company Krishan Katyal, director of J.V. Gokal and Company Bharat Arya and director of Balaji Agro International Anshuman Kanoria.
The tenure of the council shall be two years.
“The modalities will be worked out later but the samples will be tested on a random basis,” Bhanu told The Telegraph. He said the modalities would deliberate on the mechanism to test samples.
The random inspections will adhere to the procedures laid down in the Tea (Marketing) Control Order, 2003, Tea (Distribution and Export) Control Order 2005, Tea Warehousing (Licensing) Order, 1989 and Tea Waste (Control) Order, 1959.
“We have been demanding for long random checking of samples before any consignment is exported. We hope that the proposed council will work as a screening mechanism,” North Eastern Tea Association chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty told The Telegraph. The testing can be done at any National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited lab or at the Tea Research Association lab in Calcutta. The NABL is under the department of science and technology.
India exports CTC (crush, tear, curl) varieties of teas mainly to Egypt, Pakistan and the UK, and the premium orthodox variety to Iraq, Iran and Russia. The export of tea was 190.95 million kg in 2011-12 against 213.79 million kg in 2010-11 while the estimated value of export during 2011-12 was Rs 2,863.33 crore against Rs 2,995.70 crore in in 2010-11. North India produces about 75 per cent of country’s tea and south India about 25 per cent.
The parliamentary standing committee on commerce has expressed concern over the commerce department’s unpreparedness to deal with unscrupulous exporters who import cheap tea from other countries and export the same, without any significant value-addition, under false certificate as tea of Indian origin. The committee said the department’s apathy towards such practices had undermined the image of Indian tea in the export market and it should take urgent steps to redress the situation.


Meghalaya tea goes organic

Organic tag for Meghalaya tea 

The factory of Anderson tea estate in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district. Picture by Andrew W. Lyngdoh
Guwahati, July 29: Meghalaya will soon have its own organic tea brand.
Meg, as the brand will be called, will be launched by the Meghalaya agriculture department from tea produced in its own farms at Umsning and Upper Shillong. This was stated in a report brought out by the department, which added that the brand should hit the market this year.
From the Durama brand, which is sold locally, to LaKyrsiew premium organic tea for niche customers in the UK, Meghalaya tea is on the way to having an identity of its own.
“Tea grown in Meghalaya has acquired a niche market and should develop a brand on its own,” former Meghalaya horticulture director C.. Rangad told The Telegraph.
In fact, the state’s topography helps plantation of two distinct types of teas. In its lower reaches towards the Assam border and in the Garo hills, high quality teas with rich flavour are produced, while in its central areas, with misty slopes ranging in altitude from 3,000-5,500 feet, excellent hill teas, similar to those grown in Darjeeling and Sikkim, are produced.
The total area under tea cultivation in the state is 1,684 hectares and the production in 2009-10 was 3,785 metric tonnes.
The scale of production, however, is small.
Tara tea estate, which sells tea under the LaKyrsiew brand, produces hardly 1,500-2,000kg a year, while being obsessed with quality.
The estate’s manager, R. Richmond, told The Telegraph, “We have to concentrate on maintaining high quality.” He said the company had been selling high-end tea to niche customers in the UK and was now looking for a market in Europe too.
“We make a blend of Darjeeling and Assam,” he said, adding that the future of Meghalaya tea was making teas for high-end customers.
A source said though the state had been offering help for tea cultivation, the fact that private entrepreneurs had gone ahead without financial help from the government is an indicator of the bright future of tea in Meghalaya.
With good scope for the future, the Tea Research Association will also open a branch at Umsning in Ri Bhoi district. The association’s secretary, Joydeep Phukan, said they would be opening a branch in Meghalaya as a part of the grant provided by the Centre for the Toklai Tea Research Centre centenary.
The association approached the state government in 2010 and after discussions and site visits, they were offered land at Umsning in Ri Bhoi district.
“Once the land is handed over to the association, it plans to have an office with a scientific officer as well as analytical lab for testing. The office will start in three months’ time,” he said.
“The association will give more emphasis on training small tea growers of Meghalaya and on exploring the potential for making Meghalaya tea more popular. Some of the teas produced in Meghalaya are considered to be high-end orthodox teas and with some amount of branding and organic production, Meghalaya has a good future in tea,” Phukan said.
Another brand of prominence is Anderson tea, produced by Anderson tea estate. The brand started in 2009 from its factory at Umran Dairy along the Guwahati-Shillong road in Ri Bhoi district.
The tea estate first procured seeds from Assam and plantation commenced in 1997. The areas under plantation included Umsning, Lailad, Umshohphria, Umtyngar and Umran Dairy, all in Ri Bhoi district.
The leaves were first plucked in 2002, which was followed by an increase in the area under plantation.
Anderson tea estate managing director Almeric Sohkhlet said Anderson tea was a blend of CTC and orthodox (Darjeeling) teas. “We have noticed that while production is less, demand is very high. We cannot even cater to the domestic market,” Sohkhlet said.
He said the company did not want to buy teas from the market to supplement the shortfall in supply, as that would negatively impact the quality.
Earlier on, the company had also exported its brand to Germany. “But now we have stopped supplying as we are unable to meet the demand,” Sohkhlet said.