Revival Plan

Tocklai Tea Research Institute
File photo


Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI), the world’s oldest such institute, is fighting back with a revival plan. Back in 1911 when it was set up as Tocklai Experimental Station, it carried much promise but gradually fell into a rut. While the tea industry has been forking out its share, the government has been cutting funds in the past few years, forcing the authority to cut research spend and plan to downsize. The salary burden has grown unmanageable while its sole tea garden is a constant drain, reportedly to the tune of Rs 2 crore a year. While countries like Sri Lanka and Kenya have been aggressively funding their tea industries to grab ever-larger chunks of the world tea market, Assam accounting for more than half the production of Indian tea remains neglected. Meanwhile, unpaid dues have continued to mount for TTRI. With pure research getting harder to carry out due to the fund squeeze, TTRI needs to earn revenue by devising better tea processing technologies, develop improved germplasm, hone techniques for pest control and sort out climate-related expertise. It is now planning to go organic in a big way, to produce and sell organic fertiliser and pesticide. This ought to pay dividends, considering how Indian tea has been pushed back internationally because of continuing reliance on chemical pesticides. Not only can TTRI prosper by selling improved tea seeds, clones and saplings, there is also scope to earn revenue by training small tea growers who already have much riding on organic handmade orthodox and green teas. If TTRI gets a renewed lease on its tea garden and develop its institute campus as a tea tourism centre, things could look up. The onus is on TTRI authority to adapt to changing times and seek to leverage itself in the market. But the onus is also on the government to get it into shape and back it fully. TTRI should be allowed to continue playing its nodal role as a tea research, training and knowledge centre for the tea industry. The sacrifices that went into its making should not be allowed to go in vain.