Tea bar plan hits space hurdle
The state tea industry’s plan to open a joint to enjoy all the flavours of a perfect cup of Assam tea is caught in a “space” crunch.
In May 2011, the state government had committed itself to set up a tea bar on the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre premises “within 45 days” with the aim of promoting the beverage.
“Almost a year has passed after signing of agreement between the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre and Cha Bar Society for opening of a chai bar. However, till date, the space has not been handed over to us by the GTAC,” North Eastern Tea Association chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty told The Telegraph.
The tea bar will be run by Assam Cha Bar, a society comprising Golaghat-based North Eastern Tea Association, Jorhat-based Assam Tea Planters’ Association and Dibrugarh-based Bharatiya Cha Parishad, registered under the Societies Registration Act with its headquarters in Guwahati.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between Assam Cha Bar and the GTAC on May 9 through which it would provide space for setting up the bar.
The general body meeting of the GTAC had also approved of the project.
Barkakoty said the project would help promote Assam tea, bring revenue to the centre and generate direct and indirect employment.
The total area required for the tea bar is 1,700 square feet, which can house a window retail counter, a speciality tea counter, a lounge, merchandising, toilets, small storage, a kitchen and a small office.
Former Assam Tea Planters’ Association chairman A.R. Kasera had said at the 75th annual general meeting-cum-platinum jubilee last month that the GTAC was yet to hand over the allotted space. “We are ready to start the interior work immediately on handing over of the site,” he said.
The meeting was attended by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi and other senior officials.
To set up the chai bar, the GTAC will have to move the ATM, card room of Guwahati Gymkhana Club and statistics room.
GTAC secretary Jayanta Kakati said the matter was being resolved.
The centre had to write to the authorities of the Oriental Bank of Commerce, which has an ATM on its premises to vacate the room as the lease agreement had expired.
Sources in the tea industry said the government should provide all necessary help to set up the bar.
The promoters are hoping to provide 5 per cent of the turnover in the first year to the centre.
Another location was shown to the promoters but they did not find it feasible.
“Guwahati has the potential to have a number of tea bars as there are in cities like Darjeeling, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur,” Barkakoty said.
Deepak Purohit of Tea Centre, a tea bar in Mumbai, said tea bars were a paying proposition.
“India is a tea-drinking nation and tea is popular thanks to its health aspect,” Purohit toldThe Telegraph.
On the viability of a tea bar, Purohit said it all depended on the logistics and infrastructure.
“If the location and other attributes are perfect, it should work,” he added.
Pineapple trade in for a boost
The North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (Neramac), which has been doing its bit to boost the low-volume pineapple business in the region for some time now, has initiated a big plan to help growers while looking forward to closing a crucial deal with Bangladesh.
“We have initiated dialogue with a Bangladesh group to export 400 metric tonnes of pineapples this year. Negotiations are on, and it is likely to happen soon,” Neramac managing director S. Bhattacharjee told The Telegraph.
If the deal materialises, this could be the first ever export of pineapples from Tripura to Bangladesh. The two months’ supply of pineapples will be exported through the Akhaura border.
The problem with pineapples in the Northeast is that the fruit is available for not more than three months a year, whereas it is available throughout the year around the world. In India, coastal Karnataka produces the fruit for more than 10 months a year.
“High density cultivation is yet to be tried in the states in a bigger way. This will bring a great scope for fruit processing industries to run the plants on a commercial footing,” Bhattacharjee said.
He said the pineapple business in the region, including production and processing, amounted to just a few crores. In India, the yield per hectare is 25-30 metric tonnes against 60-90 metric tonnes in Thailand, where a fruit weighs 1.5kg - 2kg compared to the 0.7-1.5kg average in India.
To support the farmers, the corporation has signed a memorandum this year to buy approximately 500 metric tonnes of fresh pineapples from Tripura Pineapple Growers Society at Rs 3.50 per kg. “Procurement will start from the middle of June,” Bhattacharjee said.
The official said a proposal had been drawn up to restructure the corporation’s Tripura juice concentrate plant under the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources to a multi-fruit processing plant to make it viable. The plan is to operate the plant for at least 10 months a year instead of the current two months.
Tripura is the fifth largest producer of pineapples in India and accounts for 9.6 per cent of the country’s total production. Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, pineapple production in Tripura increased from 1.06 lakh metric tonnes to 1.17 lakh metric tonnes, though the productivity decreased from 20.5 metric tonnes per hectare to 17.3 metric tonnes per hectare.
The state produces two varieties of the fruit — kew and queen. While the former is used by food processing industries, the latter is usually used for fresh consumption.
Bhattacharjee said staggered cultivation and hormone treatment had only been tried in a few pineapple-growing areas. “It is high time that the horticulture department concentrates on commercial cultivation so that pineapple growers get good and optimum price all the year round,” he said.
“Poor infrastructure in the region that leads to poor supply chain management and logistics, are some of the issues that create stumbling blocks for taking up the pineapple business in a bigger way,” he added.
Tripura industry minister Jitendra Chowdhury has called upon the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural scientists to develop ways to increase the production of pineapples, while strongly advocating the adoption of scientific techniques to ensure better returns in terms of revenue.
The minister said there was no dearth of land for extension of pineapple cultivation, as large areas of hilly terrain were vacant.
About 1.8 lakh hectares of land have been distributed among the forest dwellers in the state under the Forest Dwellers Act. This land could well be used for pineapple cultivation.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which had held a meet on the pineapple trade in Agartala last year, has plans to hold a road show to promote the fruit in New Delhi this year.
Bhattacharjee said Horticulture Mission for Northeast and Himalayan states, which has been active in the region for the past couple of years, has not addressed any product-specific protocol for cash crops like pineapple.
Guwahati: Scientists at the National Research Centre on Mithun, in Nagaland, have successfully produced a calf from a cryopreserved embryo for the first time through embryo transfer technology.
Chandan Rajkhowa, director of the research centre, said till now, successful results based on pregnancy rates have been obtained with cryopreserved cow, sheep, goat, and horse embryos, but no work has been done on mithun.
The calf has been named Mohan and was born on May 12 at the institute.
“As the population of mithun is not high, the embryo transfer technology will definitely help to propagate quality germplasm of this magnificent species of animal,” he said.
The embryo was preserved in liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees Celsius) for 100 days.
This is the third successive birth of a mithun calf through embryo-transfer technology.
The first calf named Bharat was born in March 27 and is in good health. However, the second calf, Prihivi, which was born on May 11, survived only for two days because of premature delivery.
“Cryopreservation of embryo is a means of a long-term storage of valuable strains. This technique can be used to safeguard different valuable strains and also reduces animal housing costs,” Rajkhowa said.
The department of biotechnology has funded the project.
“Additionally, the standardised protocol for cryopreservation of mithun embryo will be of great help in the conservation and propagation of mithun in the field level,” he said.
Mithun (Bos frontalis), a domesticated form of wild gaur, is mainly confined to four states — Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram — in the Northeast.
According to the 2007 census, the mithun population in Arunachal Pradesh is 2,18,931 and 33,385 in Nagaland.
Currently, mithun is considered a meat animal and is sacrificed occasionally at religious and social ceremonies.
Scientists of animal physiology laboratory of the institute, K.K. Baruah, principal scientist and M. Mondal, senior scientist, under the leadership of Rajkhowa, had initiated the embryo transfer technology programme around five years back, and this is the third success in the similar field related to mithun.
Embryo transfer technology can be used successfully for improving the mithun population. By using this technology one can get several offsprings from a single female.
Normally, a female mithun gives birth to eight to 10 calves throughout its life span, but by using this technology one can get up to 100 calves.
The working group on animal husbandry and dairy constituted by Planning Commission said though primarily used for meat, mithun has great potential for quality meat, milk and leather production and there is a great scope to promote this animal as an organic meat and milk producer.
There is an urgent need of scientific intervention for proper management as well as conservation of this beautiful hill animal through implementing an effective conservation and improvement programme because of denudation of free range along with the various stresses,” the report said.
Guwahati: The Rs 4-crore coffee sector in the Northeast is trying to carve out its own identity, despite constraints.
Good price at auctions in Banglaore and an increased awareness among growers about quality and market support by the Coffee Board raise hope for the future of the sector. “The problem with coffee is that it is location specific. Wherever coffee is grown in the Northeast we will continue to provide all support to the growers,” a Coffee Board source in Guwahati said.
The production has been rising from 80 tonnes in 2008-09 and is expected to touch 220 tonnes in 2012-13. The allocation for the Northeast in the eleventh plan was Rs 20 crore and authorities have requested for a substantial increase in the twelfth plan. There is a plan to modernise coffee-curing work at Lokhra in Guwahati.
Coffee in the region is grown mainly in Mizoram, Jampui hills in Tripura, Dima Hasao in Assam and Garo hills in Meghalaya.
The total planted area of coffee in the Northeast is 5,545.63 hectares while the bearing area is 739.02 hectares.
The number of holdings is 7,083.
The objective behind starting coffee cultivation in the region — apart from promoting the beverage — is to introduce suitable commercial and eco-friendly activities among the indigenous community; it is expected to wean away the local inhabitants from the hazardous practice of jhum/shifting cultivation and settle them in an economic activity to improve their socio-economic status.
The Northeast-specific market support scheme of the Coffee Board has helped it substantially.
“Had it not been for the market support scheme, the sector would not have existed in the region. The scheme has helped the coffee growers to get the returns for their produce without any hardship,” the source said.
The scheme comprises procurement of coffee, transportation of coffee to collection centre, release of initial payment, curing, packing and storage, despatch to Bangalore, auction and release of funds payment.
The board provided Rs 12 per kg as transportation subsidy to growers, which is likely to increase in the next plan, as the costs have gone up.
The subsidy helps in transporting the coffee from the farms to the nearest office and then to the curing work factory where it is processed and then to the auctions in Bangalore. Money is disbursed to the accounts of the growers online.
The working group on the plantations sector, constituted by the Planning Commission for the twelfth plan has stated that support will also be extended towards the activities like quality improvement, marketing, capacity building among the tribal growers in the region.
A report on Quality Awareness programme conducted in Lunglei Zone published in the February issue of the Indian Coffee magazine said the quality upgrade programme for infrastructure development has been a success as there has been a considerable increase in the percentage of growers pooling parchment coffee.
It said, “In the past, coffee processed by growers of the region suffered greatly from poor quality due to improper processing, drying and handling. As a result, the coffees fetched low prices in the auctions.”
Coffee from the Northeast has fetched good prices at the Bangalore auctions conducted by the Indian Coffee Trade Association.
The Arabica cherry coffee fetched a price of Rs 162 per kg while the Arabica parchment fetched a price of Rs 200 per kg.
“We have received good feedback from the Bangalore auctions and they have told us that the quality is good and are receiving good prices,” the source said.
On the scope to sell Northeast coffee in the markets and brand it like tea, sources say the production base is too small to do it.
There could be a board meeting of Coffee Board in the Northeast, which is an indication of the region being taken seriously.
Sources said private traders had come to the region but it would not be of any great help as purchases would be selective.
Lack of concrete assurances for buying, prices being half of what was being realised through auctions and demand for transport subsidy were factors that would harm the cause, the sources added.
Tea hits coffee wall
Guwahati, May 16: Assam tea industry’s hopes of the beverage being accorded “national drink” status today took a beating with minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia pointing out that similar demands in 2006 were shelved on the ground that it could hurt the interests of coffee.
The minister of state for commerce and industry today in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha also said that there was no fixed criterion for according “national” status to any particular product/commodity.
He said representations have been received from the joint forum of the Assam Tea Planters Association, the North Eastern Tea Association and the Bharatiya Cha Parishad for declaring tea as the national drink of India as it is consumed by a large section of people and it would also contribute to its brand-building exercise.
The minister said a proposal to declare tea as the national drink of India was earlier examined in 2006 in consultation with the central ministries/departments concerned and the states/Union territories.
“The matter was not pursued further as objections were raised by some of the state governments and it was felt that coffee is a competing beverage and both have respective market shares and declaring one particular beverage as a ‘national drink’ will likely be at the cost of the other,” the minister said in his reply.
Chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association Bidyananda Barkakoty, who has been at the forefront of this campaign, told The Telegraph: “Declaration of tea as the national drink cannot be ‘at the cost of coffee’. Was the declaration of mango as the national fruit at the cost of apple or other fruits?” he asked.
He said the industry is optimistic that the Centre will soon declare tea as the national drink.
“Tea is not just a product or commodity, it’s a part of our culture. Across all religions, caste and creed, people in the country drink tea. In 2006, there might have been some discussions, but the memorandum by the joint forum for the first time elaborates the justification in detail why tea should be declared as the national drink.”
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was in Jorhat recently to attend celebrations marking 75 years of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association, said he would take up tea’s cause.
The Assam government has already sounded Manmohan Singh on the issue.
According to the ORG lndia tea consumption study 2008, 83 per cent of households in lndia consume tea.
According to the Coffee Consumption in India-2005 published by the Coffee Board, the per capita consumption of coffee in India is 75gm. The per capita consumption of tea is 730gm, according to the Tea Board of India.
“There are many other logical reasons why tea stands much ahead of other beverages in its claim as the national drink of India. Many countries in the world have their own national drink. National drink is an integral part of a nation’s identity and self-image, history, ecology and culture,” Barkakoty said.
Robin Borthakur, former additional chairman of Bharatiya Cha Parishad, also said every country has a national drink. “There is no reason for the government not to declare tea as a national drink as it is popular and cheap and is drunk by one and all”.
Tea is generally more easily available in most parts of the country than coffee. Cost-wise, in a place such as Guwahati, a cup of tea would be available for as little as Rs 3 while a coffee would not be available for less than Rs 15.
Coffee Board sources in Guwahati, too, said coffee drinking is limited to Tamil Nadu mainly, and followed by other states in the south. Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the main coffee-growing areas in India.
“The annual production of coffee in the Northeast is 2,00,000kg and the figure is slowly increasing,” sources said. Tea production in Assam, on the other hand, stands at around 500 million kg.
The annual coffee production is 302 million kg in the country, whereas that of tea is 988 million kg.
Again, the annual coffee consumption in India 108 million kg while that of tea is 815 million kg.