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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.