Assam tea in Nobel brew

From Sonari to Stockholm

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


White tea from the land of strong tea- Assam

Assam white tea goes global

Guwahati, Aug. 26: The planters of Assam are making a silent but strong entry into the world of white tea — considered to be a monopoly of the Chinese — after having bowled tea drinkers over with the flavours of their strong-bodied brew.
When Raj Barooah, a tea planter of Assam, took white tea from his garden in Jorhat for the first time to be exhibited at the Hong Kong International Food Fair, he knew there would be some resistance, but once people there tasted it, their impression would change.
White tea is the most expensive of all teas and its price ranges from Rs 8,000 to 12,000 per kg. It is produced mainly for export. Made only from the unopened buds and young leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, its brew is light and delicate with a slightly sweet flavour.
It is finely plucked at an opportune moment, either at the start or at the end of the season and is the least processed of all teas.
“Initially, I had to cajole them to taste it. But once they tasted it, their impression changed,” said Barooah, the director of Aideobari Tea Estates (Pvt) Ltd, told The Telegraph.
The garden has just launched white tea under the brand name Rujani.
Barooah was part of an Assam government delegation under the directorate of tea, industries and commerce department, which participated in the Hong Kong International Food Fair from August 14-16.
“Assam white tea has its own place and I would like to take it forward,” he said, adding that the response has been good and is looking forward for some of the inquiries to bear fruit.
The production of white tea in the Northeast is nominal and is based on demand.
On the foothills of Bhutan, white tea produced at Doomni tea garden in Baksa district has made a name for itself.
“We have received a very encouraging response within the country and overseas. White tea production volume in the country shall always be limited. This is a speciality, within a speciality. Something like truffles, or a particularly great wine, or even saffron,” Gaurav Jalan, a senior official of Sublime Agro Ltd, which owns Doomni garden, said.
The garden makes 80kg of white tea.
On any plan of increasing production, he said such specialised manufactured product cannot be increased greatly without compromising quality. “We intend to increase nominally, but not like 200kg in three years,” he said.
Tara tea estate in Meghalaya, which sells white tea under the La Kyrsiew brand, has received an “overwhelming” response from its customers.
Of its total production of 2,200kg, it makes only 20-30kg of white tea.
“Some people regard our white teas as the best in the world,” an official of the garden said.
For Pijush Roy of Kamakhya Tea Trading, the only teashop in Guwahati, which sells white tea, it has been a happy affair till now.
“I started selling white tea from last year and have sold almost all what I have bought. There are some tea lovers locally who buy white tea, never mind the price,” he said.
The chairman and managing director of J. Thomas, Krishan Katyal, one of the country’s topmost tea tasters told The Telegraph, “White tea comes from the bud of the leaf. It is plucked before the scheduled opening of the bud.”
The liquor is clear and pale and the taste is fresh and light.
“There is a delicate sweetness with a lingering finish on the palate,” he said.


Assam looks for South African rhino DNA tool

Assam forest department will have a peek into a South African rhino conservation management tool, which will help in successful prosecution of poachers.
The DNA tool christened as RhODIS (Rhino DNA indexing system) helps in providing irrefutable evidence in courts of law and linking crime scenes to suspected criminals leading to successful prosecution.
A three-day workshop organised by the WWF India in collaboration with Assam forest department on Saving Unicorns: International Co-operation for Rhino Conservation is starting here tomorrow and the tool will be demonstrated in the field at Kaziranga.
The tool was first used in a rhino poaching case in 2010 in which a Vietnamese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having rhinoceros horns from poached rhinos in his baggage when he was apprehended at OR Thambo International Airport in South Africa.
Apart from resource persons from South Africa, who will be demonstrating the tool, it will be attended by participants from Nepal, Uttar Pradesh forest and West Bengal forest department as well in addition to forest and police officials from Assam.
Officials said the DNA system has established DNA database for rhino profiles allowing rhino range states privileged access to share the data and information.
Till date, it has over 5,000 rhino samples on its DNA database and has contributed towards over 400 rhino investigative cases in the east and southern African region and has set the pace for new global forensic initiatives and standards that enhance conservation efforts in the fight against global wildlife crimes.
The tool has the potential to link with other databases allowing for greater global information sharing where necessary.
“There has not been much work done in Assam on wildlife forensics and stress is now being given on improving crime investigations,” chief wildlife warden R.P. Agarwalla toldThe Telegraph.
The department has been on the back foot as it has not been able to put a stop to poaching despite its best efforts and civil society organisations have been raising voices in the form of protests. Altogether 16 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga alone this year.
He said rhino convictions were very low in Assam, which could be improved if efforts were made in the right way. “Plans are on to set up a wildlife forensics laboratory on the lines of Gujarat forensic laboratory in Assam too,” he said. An intelligence cell to collect more information about poachers is already operational.
The problem in Assam is that many offenders in rhino cases are out on bail and indulging in poaching again.
“Without conviction, we cannot show our supremacy over poachers. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create some more poachers,” Bibhab Talukdar, chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.
He said to find out the key sponsors or abettors involved in rhino poaching, Kaziranga authorities should immediately collect information from Golaghat, Kaliabor and Biswanath Chariali with regard to persons taking bail for the arrested poachers and start investigation from there.


Is Manas national park slipping into "danger"?

WHC sounds Manas danger alarm

 Manas National Park “seems” to be slipping back into “danger”, three years after it got back the coveted heritage tag.
The warning bells have been sounded by World Heritage Committee, which in a recent report said the park could slip into the danger list if the security and encroachment situation worsened.
“A further deterioration of the security situation, associated with the reported surge in poaching, and concerns regarding encroachment could create the conditions to re-inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the committee said in its draft decision report after going through the state of conservation report of Manas sent by the Centre.
The report will be discussed in the committee’s 38th session to be held at Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25. Officials from the Centre and other agencies will be present in the meeting to put forward their viewpoints.
The main issues afflicting the park are poaching and increasing encroachment. Seven of the rhinos translocated to Manas since 2011, when it had got rid of the danger tag, have fallen prey to poachers.
The committee noted with serious concern the reported poaching of nearly one-third of the rhino population of the park — a reminder of the fragility of its recovering outstanding universal value — and urged the Centre to ensure that forest guards are adequately equipped and trained to protect the property against poachers, that they maintain effective patrolling to secure the recovering population of rhinos and other wildlife and to ensure that the anticipated translocation of eastern swamp deer is carried out effectively.
The committee said Manas had about 100 rhinos at the time of its inscription on the World Heritage List. In 1992, the committee put the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the damage caused to it by militants. By 1997, the number of rhinos was reduced to 39 and by 2001 rhinos had been extirpated from the property. The committee had noted in 2012 that the recovering outstanding universal value of the property was still fragile, given the increase in poaching.
The state government in its state of conservation report sent to the Centre in January this year had spoken of the steps taken by it to control poaching.
The committee has also received reports from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of new encroachment in the Bhuyanpara range, recalling the situation at the time of the property’s inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. It had asked for a reply from the Centre but there has been none yet. Sources said the encroachment at Bhuyanpara has now increased manifold and more than 7 square km is said to be under encroachment.
There is also rampant encroachment in the park’s other range, Panbari, which has an area of 16.3 square km. About 912 people are occupying the area and they refuse to leave despite financial incentives. Besides, there is a potential source of conflict between the Assam forest department and the BTC on power over Manas and its wildlife. Under the memorandum of settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests have been transferred to the BTC but not the wildlife.
Given the multiple conservation issues affecting the property, the committee has requested the Centre to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission to assess the property’s state of conservation, particularly in relation to security, poaching and encroachment, and to assess whether it faces potential danger as defined in the operational guidelines.
It has requested the Centre to submit a detailed report, including an executive summary, to the World Heritage Centre by February 1 next year on the state of conservation of the property, the steps taken to improve the situation and updates of its financial situation for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session next year.
“A lot of efforts have been made to revive Manas since 2005. But poaching of seven rhinos since 2011 is a worrying factor, with five killed last year alone. The primary aim of Manas authorities should be to check further poaching and strengthening of patrol and intelligence gathering along with proper training to frontline staff,” Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak and Asia coordinator of International Rhino Foundation, told The Telegraph.


Kaziranga thinks the "smart" way to shield rhinos

"Smart guards" for Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park is thinking the “smart” way to take on poachers.

The proposal of having “smart guards and smart communication” has been developed by director of Kaziranga National Park in view of Gauhati High Court’s order to improve protection of rhinos in the World Heritage Site.
The proposal is now under discussion.

“Since Kaziranga National Park is home to the largest number of greater Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the species is constantly under threat from poachers. Owing to vigorous patrolling by the field staff as well as proactive role by the park authorities, poaching is contained to certain extent. However, it is high time that modernisation of the strike force, forest guards and other frontline staff is carried out by upscaling the anti-poaching infrastructure. The home of the rhinoceros can be protected from poachers and the species, along with other endangered wildlife, will continue to thrive and multiply,” the park director, M.K. Yadava, said in an approach paper on Issues and Possible Solutions to protection of one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park, which has now been thrown up for discussion.

He said the pressure on Kaziranga National Park is tremendous as the rhinoceros population is very high and the entire boundary porous. The northern side is surrounded by the Brahmaputra and its numerous islands. There is a very large population of traditional fishing communities all along the river, some of whom may be potential field men for the gangs of poachers. The southern side of the park is also full of human habitation, making patrolling very difficult, he said.
Yadava said under the smart guard system in the context of prevailing situation in Kaziranga National Park “S” stands for sustained stamina 24x7x365. “M” means motivated, “A” action-oriented, “R” ready to act. “T” stands for trained and tactically superior, “G” means ‘get down’ to the poachers, “U” undeterred by adverse conditions, “A” always armed (weapon, equipment and kits) “R” right thinking at the right time and “D” implies develop yourself. The smart guard will be well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated.

“The pilot proposal here would create an elite force of about 50-75 smart guards to begin with. Though there is a large number of equipment (in the thought process), initially it is proposed to start with day-vision binoculars, hand-held GPS sets, range finders, night-vision goggles, hand-held thermal scanners, powerful searchlights including illumination systems, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. To this is added portable battery packs (as the equipment would need power supplies during long hours of ambush and patrolling)” Yadava says.

The director says the introduction of smart guard system would change patrol, ambush and surveillance strategies which would require training and motivation of front line staff. “Six months’ intensive training has been proposed to make the field staff adapt to the new technologies and systems for better performance.”

On the other hand, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) today moved the state forest department demanding that the state government lobby with international agencies to create pressure on those procuring rhino horns supplied by poaching rackets in order to prevent poaching.

The peasants’ body, which has been spearheading a movement against the government on different issues of public interests, today launched a protest against poaching of one-horned rhinos in the state’s forests including Kaziranga National Park.

Nearly 500 members of the KMSS, led by its president and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, staged a demonstration here alleging that the state government had failed to prevent poaching as 168 rhinos have been killed during the past 12 years of Congress government in the state.

According to the latest census (March 2013), there are 2,329 rhinos in Assam, up from 2,290 the previous year.
The KMSS supporters shouted slogans against forest minister Rakibul Hussain, alleging that the department had failed to identify rackets involved in continuous poaching of rhinos.

They alleged that steps taken to improve security arrangements in the forests were not enough.


" Fast and fresh" Assam teas now worldwide

Fast and fresh Assam teas now worldwide

Assam teas will be delivered “fast and fresh” worldwide with Siliguri-based online brand Teabox all set to launch its operations from Guwahati.
Founded in 2012, Teabox delivers tea direct from its place of origin to customers and ships the world’s freshest teas chosen by tea experts all over the world within 24-48 hours of production. It is delivered within three to five working days to its customers worldwide.
“The market for Assam teas is bigger than Darjeeling in terms of volume. A majority of consumers prefer strong teas and Assam, especially second flush, does an excellent job in terms of matching the customers’ preference. Hence going forward, we would be procuring large quantities of teas from Assam and Guwahati would be the largest of our centres by way of business,” Teabox founder and CEO Kaushal Dugar told The Telegraph.
Characteristics like rich malty flavour, fuller body, bright colour, briskness and sweet aroma have made Assam tea a hot favourite among tea enthusiasts all over the world. The company is planning to start the Guwahati centre in the last quarter of this year. At present, it operates from Siliguri.
“We are looking to procure from around 30-40 best plantations in Assam. We sell only orthodox tea,” Dugar said.
As of now, 30 per cent of teas being sold are from Assam. This will increase and there will be more variety when it launches its Guwahati centre. With a range of over 150 varieties of fresh tea from over 75 different plantations in Darjeeling, Nepal, Assam, Kangra and the Nilgiris, the company claims to provide the largest selection of single estate and premium fresh teas of the country online.
“Tea has a huge market globally but most of the consumption/buying happens offline. We are really trying to shift the pattern of buying from offline to online, which is very challenging, as tea is a product that people look/feel/smell and then buy. But wine and coffee have done that successfully, so we believe tea should not be that different,” he said.
The company has already delivered over five million cups of tea to connoisseurs in over 65 countries. Seventy per cent of its customers are repeat ones. On why people should buy from Teabox, Dugar said it is because of the extremely high quality of teas, backed by superior customer experience and service.
“We buy the best teas and make them better through our extensive in-house quality control systems. Our shipping team ensures that they reach most destinations in three to five working days,” he said.
“We believe that a majority of the offline market in tea can be converted into online. The size of the online market is $5 billion to $6 billion whereas that of offline market is $40 billion. There is space for other firms to join in the online tea market sphere,” Dugar said.
On the other hand, tea shipped from Inland Container Depot from Amingaon on the outskirts of Guwahati takes about 30 days to reach the UK and about 20 days to get to Dubai.


In 10 years, no Assam forest minister has set foot on Manas national park, a World Heritage Site....

 A conservation road less travelled
ROOPAK GOSWAMI T he road to Manas National Park — one of the country's richest wildlife areas in Assam — does not seem to be on the itinerary for Assam's politicians.
No forest minister of the state has gone to Manas — a World Heritage Site in almost a decade — to get a first- hand account of the problems it faces.
There is a lurking danger that if the situation does not improve, it may well lose its hard fought heritage site tag, which it got back in 2011.
The national park that is noted for its spectacular scenery, with a variety of habitat that support a diverse fauna, falls under Kokrajhar parliamentary constituency, which goes to polls on April 24.
Well- known wildlife conservationist Bittu Sahgal says, " Manas is a tragedy foretold.
One of the world's most exquisite forests, it lies neglected and victim to both politics and social unrest. The forest minister of Assam should visit the park and speak to locals about protecting it." " The Bodo people themselves should recognise this heritage site as vital to their identity. It is a tragedy that they have allowed outside influences to destabilise the ecology of this forest, which actually belongs to their own children and should have been protected forever," Sahgal told The Telegraph . After the elections were announced, a rally was addressed by party president and BTC chief Hagrama Mohilary on April 18, along with party MP ( Rajya Sabha) Biswajit Daimary, to campaign for its candidate, Chandan Brahma, at Rupahi, 4km south of Manas, but there was no mention of Manas.
Six candidates — Chandan Brahma ( BPF), Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary ( Trinamul), Urkhao Gwra Brahma ( Independent), Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary ( Independent), Sabda Ram Rabha ( Independent), Hira Sarania ( Independent) are fighting for the Kokrajhar parliamentary seat ( ST).
" There has been no mention of Manas till now by political leaders in the rally today," Ajay Kherkatary, the president of the Manas Bhuyanpara Conservation and Ecotourism Society, told The Telegraph . " We have been telling the political leaders of the need to provide importance to Manas through action. For us, Manas is important and we have to save it," he said.
Rhino conservationist Bibhab Talukdar, who is the chair of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, says that Manas has been ignored by politicians. " I feel that Manas, being a World Heritage Site and also a tiger reserve, has been ignored by all politicians. Manas has been witnessing many challenges like Kaziranga, but for conservation and protection purposes, Kaziranga always gets more priority and publicity and support. After the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council, Manas seems to be hanging between the two power centres — the state and the council. Both lack the strong willingness to assist each other to promote Manas," he told The Telegraph . The national park takes its name from the Manas river, a trans- boundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India.
It is named after Manasa, the serpent god in Hindu mythology.
Forest officials concede the fact that Kaziranga has always got more from the state than Manas despite the latter being more rich in wildlife diversity.
The park has six national and international designations — World Heritage Site, national park, tiger reserve, biosphere reserve, elephant reserve and important bird area — which probably no other protected park in the country has. A total of 55 mammals, 36 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded in Manas which harbours by far the greatest number of Schedule I mammals of any protected area in the country.
Eighteen rhinos were translocated to Manas, of which poachers killed seven after it got back its heritage tag in 2011. " This is indeed a great setback towards restrengthening Manas to gain its lost glory back. BTC should take it as a challenge to manage Manas as best as possible and compete positively with Kaziranga," Talukdar said.
Though the BTC runs the park on a day- to- day basis, it is governed by the Wildlife ( Protection) Act, 1972 ( as amended in 2006). " Permission for doing research in Manas has to be taken from the chief wildlife warden," a wildlife researcher said.
" Manas should be on the political agenda of Assam if we are to save it," Rathin Barman, another wildlife conservationist who has been involved in the rhino rehabilitation in Manas, said.
According to a IUCN report on Terrestrial Biodiversity and the World Heritage Site List, the importance of Manas is much more than Kaziranga by the criteria of " irreplaceability". Manas is 417th in rank in terms of irreplaceability whereas Kaziranga is 2,236.
This apart, there is a potential source of conflict between Assam forest department and the BTC on the power.
Under the Memorandum of Settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests has been transferred to BTC but not wildlife.
The problems Manas faces are enormous — from militants, rising encroachment, poaching, delay in getting funds, vacant posts which have dealt a blow to it.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority says the incidents of rhino poaching in Manas have definitely been a cause for concern and evidence collected from the scene of the crime confirms the use of sophisticated weapons, bullets for which have been recovered.
Both sides have been accusing each other for not doing enough for conservation of Manas with the result that the park is losing out.
 Kokrajhar votes on April 24


ITC first joint venture for NE in packaged food.

ITC eyes NE biscuit market with joint venture

 Packaged food from a top brand of the ITC will now be made in Assam with the conglomerate joining hands with a local food major — Sunanda Ram Deka (SRD) Group — to set up a joint venture.
The SRD Group is known for its Repose brand of bakery. The joint venture called North East Nutrients Private Ltd has already been registered and the National Stock Exchange informed. This is ITC’s first joint venture in the Northeast and the registered office of the company will be at Calcutta.
The project cost is Rs 146 crore which will be financed by a consortium of banks. The plant would be set up on a 10-acre plot at Ramhari in Mangaldoi of Darrang district, with a production capacity of 100 tonnes daily. “The products manufactured would be biscuits and other items under the Sunfeast brand of the ITC,” a source said.
Confirming the development, a senior ITC official said the joint venture would manufacture packaged food to cater to the region. A source said the ITC would have 76 percent equity in the new venture with the rest owned by the SRD Group. The products would be out in a year’s time and a memorandum of understanding has been signed. Discussions between the ITC and the Assam group were ongoing for quite some time before the project fructified.
The biscuit market in the Northeast is growing at 15 to 20 per cent and the Indian Biscuits Manufacturers’ Association says the consumption in the east and the Northeast is around 28 per cent.
The Mangaldoi-based SRD Group have been in the food business for decades and manage a Horlicks factory and a Britannia cake factory in collaboration with Britannia Industries Ltd and an ORS factory in collaboration with Jagdale Industries, along with its own units.
“This is a significant development in the entrepreneurship sector of Assam and will encourage others to start similar venture. The ventureis starting in Mangaldoi and not at Guwahati which shows everything need not happen in the capital city,” R.S. Joshi, chairman of the Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Eastern Region (Finer) said.
An official in the industries department said since it was a mega project (more than Rs 100 crore), Dispur will provide whatever help is required under the 2014 Industrial and Investment Policy of Assam if the company makes a request. The policy states a project with large fixed capital investment of a minimum of Rs 100 crore or generating regular employment for at least 1,000 people is given mega project status.
A high-powered committee to be notified by the government will consider additional incentives to be provided to such projects on a case-to-case basis. The committee shall consider the mega project status in a single integrated unit.
In July 2003, ITC made a foray into the biscuits market by launching the Sunfeast range of biscuits and it is also a key player in the pasta and instant noodles segments.


MK Shah Exports Limited first Indian tea company to set foot in Congo

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.


After best ever sales, Guwahati Tea Auction Centre sets new price record

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.


Guwahati tea auction centre's new record

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.


Assam's legendary singer Bhupen Hazarika's new connection-- a textile one

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.


Assam tea buyers ire over poor tea packaging

Buyers warn GTAC of not taking  delivery

Guwahati Tea Auction Centre
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.