Colombo shows the way for tea industry

Tea forum makes history

History was made in Colombo yesterday as six tea producing countries joined hands to form the International Tea Producers’ Forum which will help them to raise issues of concern unitedly.
“It is a very significant development for the tea industry and one which will help it to put up a united forum to raise issues of concern,” chairman of Tea Board of India M.G.V.K. Bhanu told The Telegraph from Colombo. The ministerial level meeting that started yesterday concluded today. D. Purandeswari, Union minister of state for commerce and industry led the Indian delegation.
The setting up of the forum had been on the agenda earlier but somehow could not materialise due to various factors. One of the most important issues has been the issue of different levels of maximum residue levels (MRLs) in tea.
Sources said the problem of MRLs is an important one as different consuming countries have different standards of judging MRLs in tea and this will keep on happening unless there is an agreement among tea producing and consuming countries on the maximum residue level (MRL) in pesticides being used.
The meeting was presided over by plantation industries minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and organised by the ministry of plantation industries and Sri Lanka Tea Board. The main brief of the forum is to safeguard interests of tea-producing countries and deliberate and evolve collective solutions on problems affecting producers. The countries which signed the joint communique are India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Rwanda and Malawi.
Kenyan and Sri Lankan delegations were lead by ministers of the respective countries. Iran and China were represented by officials from respective embassies in Colombo but they did not sign. Vietnam did not attend.
“The idea is to make tea as the most preferred beverage universally through stimulating its consumption by facilitating and execution of generic promotional campaigns and raising awareness of the health benefits of tea” Bhanu said.
Five strategically important markets — the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Egypt — have been selected for extensive and intensive promotional intervention through execution of five specific activities over five years. For the Indians, the activities identified are extensive promotion of the India Tea logo, engagement with the local trading community, consumer-oriented promotion, utilisation of social media and focus on export of value-added teas by putting in place infrastructure enablers.
A source said the constitution of ITPF was adopted subject to ratification by cabinets of respective countries and the forum will be initially headquartered in Colombo. Any country producing more than 2 million kg in a year can become a member of ITPF.
“Consuming countries may also be invited to the meetings in future but they will not have voting rights,” the source said. The forum was required as sustainability of tea industry is important for all producing countries because of employment, income generation, foreign exchange earnings, livelihood of workers and growers.
ITPF will be initially an independent body and in future may try for affiliation under Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Election of general council and executive committee will take place in the next meeting sometime in November.
Three tea producers of Assam were in the 15-member Indian delegation — Bidyananda Barkakoty (chairman North Eastern Tea Association), Rajib Barooah (chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association) and Prabhat Bezboruah (past chairman of Assam Tea Planters’ Association).
“It offers a platform for discussing issues worldwide and come to a consensus and these developments only strengthen the industry,” secretary of Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association Dhiraj Kakati told The Telegraph.


Namdapha--- a tiger reserve left to its own devices

From "nominal"  protection to no guns for fear of militants, this is Namdapha tiger reserve 
 The National Tiger Conservation Authority has painted a bleak picture of Namdapha tiger reserve with “nominal” protection measures coupled with rampant poaching.
“There is little presence of the authorities/management in the reserve and protection has been minimal, indeed nominal, and it has pretty much been left to its own devices. As one understands, this has been the plight of Namdapha — as is evident from reports of other teams that visited the park and personal visits — for many years, and is the root of much that ails the reserve,” the report said.
Protection and enforcement in the park is almost non-existent.
“For one, there is no permanent protection camp in the reserve. The management says attempts to set up permanent camps have been futile,” it revealed.
“Even the staff is reluctant to patrol the interiors of the reserve and it was clear from our various interactions that patrolling was not a regular feature, but sporadic and occasional. They cite fear of retaliation from Lisus, lack of equipment, facilities and infrastructure. Another reason is lack of direction from superiors,” the report said.
Lisus are a hunting tribe and known to indulge in poaching inside the reserve.
“There is no provision for rations and despite this being a malaria-affected area, no preventive medicine is given. The guards are not armed, except with rifles/shotguns. Guns are not available either,” it said.
The tiger conservation authority had sent a five-member team to Namdapha tiger reserve after it got reports about rampant hunting and feeble protection measures and a senior forest officer being shot.
In February last year, camera traps set up by Aaranyak, a wildlife NGO, succeeded in capturing an adult male tiger — the first time in Namdapha.
The 1,985 square km sanctuary in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh was declared a tiger reserve in 1983.
Most tribes living around the reserve are known to be involved in poaching.
According to local sources and previous information, poachers from Myanmar are known to seek tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, bears and elephants.
“Reportedly, traders from Myanmar supply traps and also buy contraband wildlife derivatives. Poachers who come in from Myanmar also take help from local communities,” the report said.
It said it was an “open secret” that bush meat or venison is available at Miao town, the headquarters of Namdapha tiger reserve.
“It is not openly sold in the bazaar as was done earlier, but supplied directly to regular clients and influential people in the town,” it said.
The five-member team recommended that the reserve required good, effective and committed leadership, priority filling up of staff shortage, getting support from local communities, voluntary relocation of 84 Lisu families and audit of the expenditures of at least the last five years.
“Namdapha faces a number of issues, not least of which is poaching and the fact that the best grasslands have been encroached upon. If we are to save Namdapha, the current state of apathy cannot continue,” said Prerna Singh Bindra, a member of the National Board for Wildlife.


Colombo meet to chalk global tea forum

International tea producer's forum on anvil

 Ministers of nine tea producing countries will meet for two days starting Monday in Colombo to discuss the setting up of the International Tea Producer’s Forum to address the concerns of tea producing and consuming countries.
India will be represented by a 15-member delegation led by minister of state for commerce D. Purandeswari. It will include Tea Board chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu, Indian Tea Association chairman A.N. Singh, North Eastern Tea Association chairman B. Barkakoty and Assam Tea Planter’s Association chairman Rajib Barooah.
“It is a forum through which tea producing countries can exchange their concerns with consumer countries. The issue of maximum residue limit is also important,” Bhanu toldThe Telegraph.
The pesticide residue problem is regarded as significant in the tea industry, with different tea producing countries having different norms for the maximum permissible levels.
Regarding India, concerns have been raised time and again on the high MRLs (maximum residue level for hazardous substances) of pesticide residues in teas produced in the country.
“When we export we have to conform to international conditions and there is no way out,” a tea industry official said, adding that the issue was a complex one, for which discussions were on.
The international focus now is on harmonising the MRLs across all tea producing countries and this is one of the main reasons behind formation of the forum.
The forum is also being formed to safeguard interests of tea producer countries and deliberate and evolve collective solutions on problems affecting producers.
Sources said the idea of setting up of the forum had been doing the rounds since 2006 and was raised at various international fora.
Last year, on the sidelines of the 20th Inter-governmental Group on Tea meeting held in Colombo, delegates of the 10 tea producing countries had passed a resolution to proceed with formation of the forum. This group is a Food and Agriculture Organisation subsidiary.
A ministerial level meeting, that was supposed to be held in Rome prior to the meeting of the Committee for Commodity Problems on May 28-30, 2012, could not be held because of non-receipt of confirmation from many of the member countries.
That meeting is the one being held on Monday and ministers of India, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Rwanda and Vietnam will be attending it along with Kaison Chang, secretary of the Inter-governmental Group on Tea based at Rome and the FAO country representative residing in Colombo.
Another idea behind creating the forum is to globally position tea as the most natural and healthy beverage by promoting its consumption through generic promotional campaigns and raising awareness about its health benefits.
It will undertake market studies, surveys and research projects aimed at addressing specific issues concerning tea in general or any variety of tea, including, but not limited to, identifying tea consumption patterns and assessing consumer preferences across continents and countries and disseminating the results of such studies and surveys for the benefit of all members.
It will also coordinate technical cooperation, sharing of technology and expertise among member countries and undertake and facilitate programmes for providing training to members or their executives in various aspects of tea marketing in different geographical segments.
India is the second largest tea producing country in the world with a global market share of 23 per cent after China, which contributes about 32 per cent. It is, however, the fourth largest exporter after Kenya, China and Sri Lanka. The tea produced by five major countries in the world, including India, in 2011 was 3,422.61 million kg.


WWF concern over Indian Rhino Vision programme

WWF warns of target failure

The discovery of the third carcass of a translocated rhino in Manas on January 13 has forced World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), a principal partner in the Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 programme, to warn that there is a real danger that the programme may not achieve its intended target.
The primary responsibility of providing protection to the translocated rhino at Manas, which falls within the Bodoland Territorial Areas District and is 150km from Guwahati, lies with the state forest department and the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the WWF said yesterday. “We can’t achieve our targets unless we have their full attention,” the statement said.
Two rhinos had been killed earlier at Manas. The first carcass was recovered on October 14, 2011, while the second was recovered on May 23, 2012.
“It seems that the forest department and the BTC have not learnt lessons from the earlier poaching incidents. As a result, one more rhino has been lost,” Dipankar Ghose, director (species and landscapes) with the WWF, said in the statement.
Experts had, following the death of the second translocated rhino, put out 10 suggestions, which it appears have not been heeded (see box). The security re-assessment carried out by the WWF, Aaranyak (a wildlife NGO) and the park had, at the time, said patrolling at Manas was not intensive, and that the authorities had not made way for adequate tracks. Those that existed were not well maintained, the report said. “There isn’t adequate supervision of animals and there isn’t adequate monitoring,” it had said. The number of rhinos killed in Assam this month alone stands at three. The other two poaching cases have been reported from Morigaon in central Assam and Gohpur in Upper Assam. Assam had lost 21 rhinos to poachers last year.
IRV 2020, which was launched in 2005, aims to increase the rhino population in Assam from 2,001 (the population of the animal then), to 3,000 by the year 2020. The IRV effort involves wild-to-wild translocation of rhinos from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora wildlife sanctuary to Manas and Dibru-Saikhowa National Parks, as well as Laokhowa and Burachapori wildlife sanctuaries.
IRV 2020 is a joint effort of the Assam state forest department, the BTC, the International Rhino Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and WWF-India. All partners have pledged their commitment to the programme of bringing back rhinos to various sanctuaries, including Manas, which had seen its population of 60-80 rhinos being wiped out during the turmoil in the Bodo areas from 1987 to 1996, leading to its World Heritage site tag being removed. The tag was reinstated in 2011 after the successful translocation of eight rhinos.
“In the latest case, the rhino could have been killed on January 3 or 4, going by the condition of the carcass,” a source said. The rhino was last seen by a WWF-India field team on December 31, before it strayed. The post mortem report says there were 12 bullet holes in the body and the horn, nails and tail were missing.
Manas, a known habitat of the endangered species, now has 21 of its entire rhino population left in the park. Between 2008 and 2012, 18 rhinos had been translocated to Manas, of which three have been killed by poachers in a span of 18 months. One calf has so far been born of Manas’s translocated rhinos. Six rhinos from Centre of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation had been relocated to Manas, of which one has died.
Experts in the field are worried that the latest poaching has been reported from Bhatgali in Manas’s Bansbari range, which is said to have the best infrastructure among the park’s three ranges. The killing site lies within 3km of three anti-poaching camps — Bhatgali, Kahibari and Fort — bringing to the fore once again the penetrating capability and success rate of poachers who operate in the region.
“This clearly shows that the patrolling supposed to be carried out by the frontline staff of the park posted in these camps was not being carried out effectively,” the WWF stated. “The message is very clear: Rhinos will not survive unless these elements are neutralised. Everybody has to be committed and it also has to be sustained,” A. Swargiary, field director of Manas, told The Telegraph.
The WWF’s warning seems to be taking initial effect in the state’s wildlife set-up. “We are fully committed as well as open to suggestions and help from all. Prime facie, it appears that there are lapses as to why the nearby camps could not detect the carcass. Necessary action will be taken and the field director has been asked to get tough,” chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said. “We will not allow IRV to be derailed,” he said.
People associated with conservation efforts in Assam are dismayed with the latest cases of poaching. “The authorities need to recruit more security personnel, set up more forest camps and create more patrolling paths so that more area can be covered swiftly and regularly by forest personnel at Manas,” said Dharanidhar Boro, a senior forest official and a known name in the field of rhino conservation. “Manas needs to be equipped with modern equipment immediately.”
The latest incident of poaching at Manas perhaps also calls for a rethink in terms of the security measures adopted for translocated rhinos. The normal practice is to radio-collar the animals. “The radio collars drop off after about a year, by which time the rhino would have established its home range,” said Amit Sharma, coordinator, rhino conservation, WWF.
The radio-collar fitted on this rhino is believed to have fallen off some time in November last year, after which it could no longer be monitored remotely. “Since then, it became imperative to conduct regular elephant and foot patrols to ensure security for this rhino, which was last located by a WWF-India field team on December 31. 2012,” the WWF statement said.
Given the poaching, the patrols obviously weren’t carried out. General lack of security at the park has also led to cameras, installed by NGOs, being stolen.
Roland Lin Chih-Hung, a senior official of the Asia and Pacific Unit, World Heritage Centre, Unesco, said it is contacting the Indian government for more information and clarification on this worrying situation.


CITES calls for national rhino policy for India

India urged to frame rhino policy

 An international wildlife conservation group wants India to frame a national rhino policy.
The country, which boasts of the biggest population of the one-horned rhino, still doesn’t have a national strategy to look after conservation efforts in its rhino habitats.
But this is something India needs to do, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has said.
The suggestion comes at a time when the rhino population in Assam faces an unprecedented crisis given the success rate of poachers, who have killed 24 rhinos in the state in the past 13 months.
“Countries such as Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia have already developed their national rhino conservation strategies,” Bibhab Talukdar, who chairs the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, told this correspondent today. The Group is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). A national rhino policy, Talukdar said, could make a difference to rhino population not just in habitats such as Kaziranga National Park, but to smaller populations as the one in Gorumara National Park in West Bengal and Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, both of which now require scientific intervention to balance out their skewed gender ratios. “It is time to build a common bank of the experiences of all the parties involved in the conservation of rhinos across the country,” Talukdar said.
The idea is to be able to handle any population of rhinos, whether big or small, Talukdar said. “Since the Indian population of greater one-horned rhino is found in only three states of the country — Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, the need for a national strategy was not felt earlier as each state practises its own conservation initiative which have, more or less, improved the state of rhinos in their respective states,” he said.
“There is no denying that the efforts so far have resulted in the rhino population in the country touching almost 2,730. But look at it this way — Kaziranga managed well till its population grew to the current 2,000, which is about 65 per cent of the total rhino population in the country. However, now, the overpopulation in KNP given its growing space constraints, makes it easier for poachers to kill rhinos. But what happens if the population reaches 10,000? It is because of this that we need a nationally coordinated policy for rhinos,” he added.
A document prepared by CITES Secretariat calling for a national rhino policy for India is being placed for discussion at the 16th meeting of the Conference of CITES which will be held in March this year at Bangkok. The purpose of a national policy on rhinos would, broadly, according to the CITES document, involve pooling together knowledge regarding the biology, ecology, and threats to the species, and identify management strategies that will prioritize through consultations with stake holders, the need in terms of research and protection to ensure long-term species viability. The paper, however, points out capturing rhino poachers and traders, and collecting sufficient evidence to convict them, has proved to be “very challenging”.


Wildlife impact study of Sino-Indian border projects

Panel asks govt for wildlife impact study

 The forest advisory committee under the ministry of environment and forests has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to study the wildlife impact of two upcoming defence projects close to the Sino-Indian border and have also advised them for a site change.
The two defence infrastructure projects in West Kameng district involve the diversion of 455 hectares of forestland.
Both the projects are located close to the border.
A source said the committee, after discussing the projects recently, has asked the state government to make a presentation on the impact of the projects on wildlife and forest vegetation of the area and the possibility of change of project site in the meeting.
“They were advised for a site change and hope that they can find an alternative,” the source said.
The decision was taken after the committee took note of the issues raised in the site inspection report submitted by regional office of ministry of environment and forests, particularly those related to wildlife.
Altogether 953.96 hectares of forest area in West Kameng district has been diverted for various projects since 1980.
The site inspection report said the area is home to a lot of wild animals and birds and has been declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.
The area is also an ideal habitat for the endangered red panda.
Major wildlife species found in the area include red panda, wild boar, barking deer, monal pheasant, yellow-throated marten, wild dog and Arunachal macaque. Altogether 82,051 trees will be affected on both the project sites.
Sources said though there has been no scientific study of population of the red panda in Arunachal Pradesh.
However, it is estimated that more than 90 per cent of its population in the country is in Arunachal Pradesh.
A survey conducted by WWF at Pangchen Valley in the Zemithang area of Tawang district in December found five red pandas, of which three were found together.
“The abundance of sightings during this trip, especially of the younger ones, shows a healthy breeding meta-population, which is a very positive sign. More surveys and sampling will give a clear picture of the red panda distribution in the area and the conservation strategies required,” says Rajarshi Chakraborty, senior project officer (species), WWF-India, Western Arunachal Landscape Office.
While recommending the project, the regional office of the ministry of environment and forests in its site inspection report has called for least disturbances to the habitat and a minimum cutting of trees/clearing of ground vegetation.
Altogether 454.59 hectares of area has been identified for compensatory afforestation.
It has asked the army to engage the services of trained and reported wildlife experts to suggest measures for safeguarding the fauna in the areas before starting the work.
Plantation of suitable species and other measures may be taken in consultation with the experts.
Another condition is that army authorities should take strict provision for restraining the workers engaged in the project indulged in the hunting and illegal timber trade.


GTAC back on top in indian tea auctions

Guwahati tea auction centre pips Calcutta in sales

Golden days are back at the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) as it has nudged Calcutta Tea Auction Centre to the second spot.
The GTAC notched up sales of 158.08 million kg tea in 2012, pipping the Calcutta centre, which sold 148.3 million kg.
The 2012 sales, which fetched Rs 2,100 crore, was very close to the highest quantity of tea ever auctioned in Guwahati, which was 159 million kg in 1999-2000.
Sources said the record sales took place primarily because of the reduction in VAT for auction sales announced in last year’s budget. The VAT on tea auction sale has been reduced to 0.5 per cent from one per cent and that on sale of tea through private arrangement has been slashed from two per cent to one per cent. The VAT in Calcutta is one per cent on auction sales and four per cent through the private route.
Last year, GTAC sold 136.31 million kg with an average price of Rs 109.99, while the average price this year was Rs 133.76.
“This is certainly good news but will have to work harder to bring more buyers to sell teas through this centre,” secretary of GTAC, Jayanta Kakati, told The Telegraph.
The centre was set up in 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.
Kalyan Sundaram, secretary of Calcutta Tea Traders Association, said that 85 per cent of teas being offered at Calcutta is Assam tea. “The only advantage in Calcutta is that of a large local market.”
There has been tough competition between both the auction centres for the top slot, with both trying their best to attract buyers. While the GTAC sells CTC teas primarily, the Calcutta centre, on the other hand, sells Darjeeling and other variety of teas.
The Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, has already been engaged by the GTAC to go into the issues connected with its performance. Sources said the situation could improve further by adopting proper marketing strategies to attract both buyers and sellers with tax benefits for teas sold through the centre. Ideally, 50 per cent of tea produced in Assam should be sold through GTAC and for this the government can pressure the companies to offer their teas at the Guwahati centre.
Kakati said that for the centre to improve, auction sales will have to be more competitive, better teas have to be offered coupled with better storage facilities and quality packaging.
Dinesh Bihani, secretary, Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association, stressed the quality of packing as it contributes in a big way to retaining the quality of the product.
“We all know that teas in general are consumed after a period of two to four months from the date of manufacturing. But unfortunately, the packing of teas in Guwahati has left much to be desired. In most cases, the inner linings are of poor quality. They are not heat-sealed properly, which results in contamination of teas during transit and also increases the moisture content. The quality of materials used in the bags is also matter of great concern,” he said.
“There is also concern about the storage system at warehouses in Guwahati. The quality of teas is affected owing to poor infrastructure in the warehouses. The warehouses of GTAC still follow the same 30-40 year old system for storing teas,” Bihani said.
A source said of the 158 million kg sold, 122.09 million kg was through auction sales and 35.1 million kg through private sales.