GUWAHATI, Assam – Wagh Bakri Group, India’s third largest supplier of packet tea, has answered a government call for tea industry support by pledging financial assistance for a quality control laboratory for small Assam growers.
Smallholders that produce 30% of India’s tea do not have ready access to facilities to test samples of processed teas before bringing it to market. As a result, tea grown by small holders is more likely to contain unacceptable levels of chemical residue. Sampling prior to harvest alleviates uncertainty, makes the tea traceable and reduces contamination of good tea with bad. Production by small growers is expected to double in the next five years.
Two weeks ago the Commerce Ministry called for the construction of at least three more regional testing laboratories and asked large tea companies to help finance the expansion.
Last week at a meeting with tea industry stakeholders Piyush Desai, the chairman and managing director of Wagh Bakri, offered to help pay for a $655,000 lab in Assam to be operated by the Tea Research Centre. Small growers and the state of Assam are expected to contribute as well. The meeting was called by Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union minister of commerce and industry.
Desai told The (Calcutta) Telegraph “If we succeed in establishing the laboratory, it will be a step in the right direction to maintain the quality standards of tea produced by the small tea growers in the state, who are a big force and cannot be ignored.” In Assam Wagh Bakri buys about 30 million kilos of the 35 million kilos it markets annually with another 4 million kilos from the nearby Dooars gardens in West Bengal.
There are 80,293 small tea growers in Assam, according to Bidyanand Barkakoty, the chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association. The Tea Board has established a Small Growers’ Development Directorate (SGDD) to advocate on their behalf but the effort is in its early stages. The Confederation of Indian Small Growers Association (CISTA) supports a model similar to Kenya and Sri Lanka where the directorate helps monitor and promote quality production. The goal is to assist small growers in processing their own tea on mini and micro factories instead of selling it at a low price to bought-leaf factories.
The Tea Board of India is seeking to curb the use of pesticides and herbicides with adoption of a Plant Protection Code originally scheduled for enforcement in October.
Implementation was delayed until the New Year after industry leaders predicted the large volume of tea from small holders would not meet the standard, according to the Telegraph.
Also attending the meeting were representatives of the Indian Tea Association. “We are keen to partner the state government and Tea Board of India to develop this sector through training of small growers on controlled use of pesticides,” said Bobby Bhargava, ITA chairman who said that he supports a separate project to train tea producers in sustainable practices and educate them on purity standards.
Source: The (Calcutta) Telegraph