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Darjeeling poised for specialty tea market.

Darjeeling poised for specialty tea market

At the annual meeting of the Darjeeling Tea Planters' Association, held recently in Darjeeling, its president D. Atal urged that the Darjeeling tea symbol, instituted by the Tea Board, should be promoted to various other markets not yet covered by the Board. Promotion of the symbol seems to have worked, although in a limited field. The image of Darjeeling tea in the internatinal markets must have been enhanced as Rs. 5,000 - for 1 kg was paid for a small lot of Castleton tea.

Castleton, a garden of Tiru Tea Co., an associate of Goodricke Group, broke its own record of obtaining highest price of Rs. 3,920/-for a kg. last year. [Rs. 5,000/- = $279 approx.] These are, of course, very specially plucked and made teas, which cannot be produced in bulk and does not indicate average quality standard.

Although Darjeelings fetch a high average price, the cost of making Darleejing teas increases in proportion compared to other regions due to a low average of 575 kg. per hectare which is about one third of average Indian yield. The Association is pressing the Government for allotment of more land in the area for replanting. Most of the plants in the Darjeeling area are 100 years old and they say its time to start replacing them. The brokers however do not appear to be worried, as the quality is good and there is no sign of its deterioration. There are however peculiar problems involved in uprooting and replanting.

The deep roots of old plants are holding the slopes of hills in many places. Uprooting may thus cause landslides, say some experts, eventually reducing the planting area. There is, therefore, need for caution in this respect.

As a part of 'Visit India' campaign, the Ministry of Tourism of India, has planned to hold a Darjeeling Tea Festival on March 9-10, 1991. This occasion, if properly utilized, is likely to give a boost to the promotion of Darjeeling tea. The Tourism department is working with the Darjeeling Tea Planters' Association (DTPA) in this event. Visits to selected gardens, and tea tasting are some of the highlights of the program to display the special character of Darjeeling teas. The concept of presenting specialty tea blends to connoisseurs through gourmet stores is likely to attract notice of affluent markets. The Himalayan Tourism Advisory Board's acceptance of the plan ensures additional visits to highly attractive spots to help highlight the event.

Weather conditions being satisfactory, the estimated production of 720M kg appears feasible in the current year as against 60M kg last year. Assam which contributes 50 to 60% of the tea crop is having good and timely rains. Moreover modern technology is also being increasingly used in the tea manufacturing especially by progressive companies. A microprocessor system has been instituted by a company in Assam, near Jorhat which monitors withering and drying--two critical stages in the process of manufacture. The system is said to be working satisfactorily and results are encouraging.

There are, however, some extraneous conditions which are creating difficulty. A serious transport breakdown occured due to blow up of a bridge by a militant ethnic group, which held up the movement of tea to warehouses. In another event, a strong militant group of Assam wants all tea companies to shift their head offices to the producing region of Assam even though most of them have been in Calcutta for years. Their objective seems to be that tea earnings from Assam should be spent for welfare of the state. The boss of 'Apeejay', owning Assam Frontier Tea Co., was recently killed on this count, which has cast a shadow of horror.

One can never be sure in which direction these movements will take turn. But any undesirable turn may seriously affect the tea industry. Export of tea, for which there is constant pressure, has been estimated at 220M kg as against 206M kg last year. In order to earn larger value from export, the planning commission has stressed export of value-added items, such as packet tea and tea bag. The target of 220M kg for export as against 206M kg last year appears achievable. U.S.S.R. is buying heavily and it is reported that they will be permitted to increase up to 135M kg as last year. In the consideration that heavy buying in the beginning of the season might push up price unduly for the domestic market, it has been decided to stagger Russian buying during the year. While the Government is anxious to raise foreign exchange earnings through export, it is at the same time, concerned about the domestic consumer. Producers have been asked to allot more common teas packed in polythene bags for distribution at cheaper rate in the domestic market.

Coffee Production Down

In the export field, if the U.S.S.R. imports 135M kg, it would leave only 71M kg for the estimated export. Even this appears to be a tough task considering high going prices compared to other producing countries.

Unlike tea, coffee continues to present a dismal picture. The production estimate was revised from 150,000 tons to 125,000 tons due to inadequate blossom shower. Low international prices combined with delay in revision of minimum release price has landed the coffee producers in a crisis. Increase in the coffee exports from 87,000 in 1986-87, to 98,000 tons in 1988-89 does not reflect any economic benefit to the producers. Now that Tata Tea has purchased the largest coffee producing company in India, Consolidated Coffee, one looks forward to the policies adopted by them. As industry leaders, one expects positive steps by Tatas to pull up the coffee industry from the present ill health.
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Title Annotation:Darjeeling Tea Planters' Association annual meeting promotes entry into other markets
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:959
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