By~ Rukmini Barua Deka
The presence of tea in Assam is dated to pre-British days. The British people were highly credited for initiating and building the tea industry of India. As Assam tea found appreciation in London in 1839 men from Britain set sail for Assam, sailing across the oceans and then up the Brahmaputra. But now, being confronted with the challenges of climate change and global warming, the tea industry is suffering due to adverse weather conditions.The million dollar tea industry of North east India has witnessed the involvement of four to five generations of people.But it has been facing the problem of decrease in productivity. Millions of workers in the gardens are suffering due to callousness and inadequate wages given to them, adding to the woes of the industry.
In the backdrop of this scenario,the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in association with the Tea Board of India and the Directorate of Tea, Government of Assam organised the North East Tea Conclave and Expo 2016(NETCE) on 26th August 2016 at Hotel Taj Vivanta. The daylong programme commenced from 9 AM lasting till 5 PM. “The main focus of NETCE is to give an exposure to all varieties of tea like green tea,white tea, hand made tea, organic tea, holding a contest for speciality tea and declaring the King and the Queen. NETCE is a unique platform seeking to embrace together all the stakeholders within its ambit in a unique forum,”said Ravi Agarwal,Chairman of the First Session which was on Challenges and Opportunities of Indian Tea Industry and Trade.NETCE saw a huge gathering of manufacturers, growers,traders from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh,Nagaland,Tripura,Sikkim,Manipur,Mizoram and Meghalaya besides participants from the rest of the country.
Involving more than 10 million workers,the tea industry needs to be strengthened. Adequate attention needs to be paid to the stakeholders that include regulators,producers,consumers and workers,studying the situations. At present the cheaper varieties of tea are gaining market and the varieties high quality tea are taking back seats. Small tea growers must get their due,all those that are working passionately , uplifting the industry. “Attention should be paid to protecting the quality of tea. The wages of the labourers need to be duly given ,protecting their rights.Consumer need to be well connected and tea research institutes need to expand their studies”,said MVGK Bhanu,Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Assam, giving a special address.
Piyush Desai,Chairman and Managing Director,Wagh Bakri Tea, discussed in detail,profoundly throwing light on problems and prospects of the tea gardens of West Bengal and Assam. He has willingly donated Rs. 25 lakhs to Tea Research Association. The audience gave a standing ovation to him , hearing the announcement.
“Globally we have expanded our footprints as 300 million brands of our tea are consumed by people everyday, around the world. TATA being one of the pioneers in making package tea in the industry, we have branded ourproducts,increasing the number of consumers. The intrinsic value of our tea lies here.Even we have enhanced consumer connect programmes”.said Joon Gohain, Deputy General Manager,Tata Global Beverages Limited.
Assam’s varieties of tea have very unique and superior quality and nothing can replicate that. The unique blend of tea should be preserved. Here the small tea growers,the bought leaf sector and the plantation sector face challenges that go hand in hand with the packeteers problems in finding markets and consumers. “We are lagging far behind as tea prices are not keeping pace with the cost. The decline in consumption of tea in UK has affected us”,said Azam Monem, Wholetime Director, McLeod Russel India Limited.
Bharat Arya,Chairman,Federation of All India Tea Traders Association(FAITTA) extended a warm welcome to all the participants. He said that there was a need to work seemlessly for reducing frictions in the industry.Seasonal fluctuations was the indelible feature, confronting the producers. Though prices of tea depend on demand and supply, new age formats were required to be devised.The provision for online sale should be introduced to enhanceby far, the sale of tea. Assam should be given a priority area for being the largest tea producing state.
“Challenges confront the traders though there are abundant opportunities in the tea industry.In the market there are numerous competing beverages against tea. But government of India and the Tea Board must help provide fuel for growth”,said Paras Desai,Executive Director, Wagh Bakri Tea Group.
Prabhat Kr. Bezbaruah, Vice Chairman,Tea Research Association participated in the panel discussion. He said, “We are facing multiple challenges due to environmental reasons,deforestation,garden pests. Though Assam is the largesr tea producing state, the workers’ individual productivity is the lowest in Assam. This paradox needs to be studied. The small tea growers have come to play a major role in uplifting the tea industry in Assam, where there should be a quantum jump in productivity like Kerala. Protocols need to be observed for achieving that.
R.C.Agarwal,Managing Director, Mohani Tea Leaves Pvt.Ltd. participated in the panel discussion. “We have come to notice positive trends and presentation of what needs to be made.Though the cost of doing business is increasing, the consumers of tea should not be allowed to go over to other beverages “,said Viren Shah, Chairman and Managing Director, Jivraj Tea Limited.
Amuleek Singh Bijral, an inspiring entrepreneur doing amazing tea business also turned out to be a participant in the panel discussion. Working with dedication, he is the proprietor of Mountain Trail Foods Pvt. Ltd and Chai Point and has already opened 93 outlets, selling more than one lakh cups of tea everyday.He is passionate about technology and committed to impact his business a lot through it.
In the first session the panel discussed the various challenges including protecting quality of tea, giving right wages to workers, global warming , highj GST,and consumers opting for other beverages. Overall the image of tea needs improvement through quick service restaurants as per the panellists. They said there are several opportunities as India is the main hub of value added tea expert market due to its favourable location.. In their opinion, aggressive tea marketing campaign and brand building is the need of the hour.
Soon after the first session, a session on Speciality Tea Manufacturing and Marketing was held where the introductory remarks were offered by Sanjio Kumar,IFS, Executive Director, Tea Board, NE Zonal Office. Mr. S.Soundarajan, Director, Tea Development, Tea Board gave a powerpoint presentation on various gardens and factories of small tea growers in the northeast. He gave an overview of tea factory machines for micro sector and shared several success stories. There are 708 tea factories in Assam and 121 in Arunachal Pradesh, he said.
In this session Raj Barooah, Director , Aideobarie Tea Estates said that he had enriched his experience,for working in the industry by visiting China.The Chinese have developed broadbased marketing strategies, being socially accustomed to the tea industry, he said.
Rajen Baruah, Managing Director, Heritage Tea Assam,M.Lyngdoh Suiam, Assistant Director,Agriculture,Government of Meghalaya, B.M.Borgohain, Secretary, Organic Tea Manufacturing Association, Assam, Ashok Batra,Consultant,Rainforest, Dr.A.K.Barooah,Director,Tea Research Association and M.Jallan,Director,Chota Tingrai Tea Estate participated in the discussion.
The inauguration of the conclave and lighting of the lamp was done by Chandra Mohan Patowary, Minister of Industries and Commerce, Government of Assam in the presence of a large gathering of esteemed dignitaries.Giving respect to Goddess Kamakhya and the God gifted land Assam he started his address. “The tea industry plays a vital role in the development of the country’s economy.The government will aggressively address the problems of the tea industry and Tea Research Association.The Act East Policy will create more waterways to connect the South East Asian countries through the river Brahmaputra to have access to their markets. The proposed Tea Park will be set up near Borjhar Airport with cargo facilities which will be of great help to the industry.The small tea growers should form Self Help Groups to set up their own factories. In the Airport more run ways will be made to facilitate movement of cargoes and passengers from Guwahati”.
Addressing the Conclave, Abhijit Barooah, Co-Chairman, CII, North East Council, considered it to be historic event,comprising people from all sectors of the tea industry. He praised Patwary for working relentlessly for the growth of the tea industry.”All the segments of tea industry must work together to prosper and flourish and to take it forward. By bringing all the stakeholders together to the tea conclave platform to discuss how to sustain the industry by making it stronger, CII looks forward to work hand in hand with Tea Board of India and Directorate of Tea, Government of Assam,” he said.
The goal of the Conclave was to identify the best global models and practices , strengthen market linkages and prepare strategies for a robust tea industry in the north east in terms of productivity, marketability and sustainability.
For Bidyananda Borkakoty, Vice Chairman, Tea Board of India it was sad to see the plight of the tea industry for having organized the conclave after a gap of 9 years. “We should have it more frequently. It is our responsibility to take the industry forward along the other tea growing states of India. Around 40 small tea growers have come to participate here though we invited all, giving them market linkages.Assam produces around 50% of the total tea output of the country which is not a good sign “,he said.
“The goal of the Conclave is to pave the way for smart and quality production and marketability. It also seeks to forge stronger synergies between bought leaf factories and small tea growers”, said Dinesh Bihani, Coordinator of the Conclave and Secretary, Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association.
In the Conclave , a tea contest was held among the different varieties of Speciality tea. Iqbal Singh Sukarchakia, Head of Marketing, Amalgamated Plantations, Ravi Suchanti and a few other tea tasters selected the two winnersand named them the King and the Queen.
A Tea Expo was also held, setting up stalls inside the conference hall. Stalls of ADEPT-IMPE, Ahinsha Chemicals, Green Harvest India, Directorate of Horticulture, Meghalaya, Tata Global Beverages Limited, Tea Board of India, Specialized Tea and Orange Sorting Machines (India) pvt.ltd were seen doing brisk business.
S.K.Barua, Chairman ,CII, Assam State Council and Director, Finance , Numaligarh Refinery, Assam gave concluding remarks and vote of thanks soon after the inaugural session concluded.
There was a synergy between Growers and Manufacturers. Introductory remarks were made by Niranjan Barua, Director, Directorate of Tea, Assam. The other participants were Rohit Borgohain, Manoj Jallan, Arun Thekedath, Nalin Khemani and Chand Gohain.
Bidyananda Borkakoty, Convenor of the Conclave summed up giving the valedictory speech, expecting to find ways to improve quality of tea, adding value in terms of production, packaging, price realization and innovations, organizing the Conclave every alternate year in the country.