Uddhab Chandra Sarmah
9. The producers at present have to comply with the requirements of the various buyers according to the choice of the consumers’ taste. The markets, being dominated mostly by the giant buyers for facilitating their packaging purposes, give direction to the producers to conform to certain parameters, which eventually baffles the producers to conform to the most vital quality parameters (leaf appearance, infusion, or liquor) for the final products.
UNORGANISED SEGMENT (STGs AND BLFs):
As already mentioned about the emergence of the present growth of the small growers segment and their contribution towards the overall productions of the Indian tea industry as a whole, it can be predicted that the quality of the teas produced by the small growers will be a determining factor for both the survivability and the sustainability of this age-old tea industry. Looking at the present crisis, the future of the industry lies very much in the quality-related matters of the teas produced by this unorganised segment.
Some of the critical areas that I came across while doing an in-depth study of this most unorganised segment of the Tea industry have been jotted down for all to think about as the key challenges during the last 30 to 35 years of time.
Most of the small growers have areas of cultivation on a piecemeal basis, ranging from half a bigha to 10.12 (as per the TBOI definition) hectares under their possession.
This unorganised segment revolutionised the entire tea industry for the last 25 to 30 years and has turned out to be the main backbone of the tea industry, contributing over 52% of the total production at the national level. Therefore, the entire image of the ‘Assam Teas’ with age-old reputations solely depends on this segment for quality tea productions.
Most of the STGs are noticed to have adopted more quantity-oriented clones (TV 22, TV 25, TV 26, TV 29,29 Teen Ali, and some unknown seed stocks) rather than a mixture of good and standard “quality clones” and bi-clonal stocks of TRA owing to their growing habits, irrespective of the nature of soil conditions. Also, these planting materials helped them have a quick gestation period for harvesting within a short span of time.
Presently, the tea bushes in all these planted areas have reached a peak age of productivity, and in another 10 to 15 years, the expected productions from this segment are going to reach a height of over 400 million kg of tea in Assam to be consumed in both domestic and international markets. Packers prefer these teas mostly for blending purposes since the prices of 70 to 80% of the total productions from this segment fall in the range of common and medium teas.
Key challenges that are noticed at Bought Leaf Factories:
STGs and agents supply green leaves to different factories as per the agreements made with them; only a very few dedicated growers supplying directly to factories are noticeable. Agents try to fulfil the contracted quantities by collecting green leaves from different sources, which may be located at long distances, thereby paying little concern about the damages occurring on route to factories.
BLF owners do not show much responsibility towards greenleaf suppliers, according to sources. Since they depend on agents mainly, they are not connected to the growers at source basically. “Traceability”, especially detecting the MRL factor of using hard chemicals, is one of the biggest challenges for the industry at present.
The introspections that have been undertaken to understand the underlying problems of the tea industry at present for both organised and unorganised sources of tea manufacture make it abundantly clear that there has to be a sincere effort required by the producers as well as the tea growers to prevent the ongoing degradation of tea quality so as to bring back the pride of this age-old tea industry.
When we talk about ‘Quality’, it means that the cup of tea we drink needs to have summations of some attributes in the liquor, like flavour, liveliness to the palate, strength, colour, etc., and all these attributes can be made available only from the leaf that is plucked from the bushes in undamagedonditions. Scientists have proved that the condensation of phytochemicals attributing to the quality is mostly confined to the bud and to a maximum soft 3 and a bud beyond which plucking of long leaves at longer rounds cannot make the best kind of tea under the normal process of manufacture.