An association of tea planters and factory owners has advised a gradual shift from the production of CTC (crush, tear, curl) or granular tea to orthodox teas for upgrading quality and improving the image of the industry.

The North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), whose members account for an annual production of 102 million kg of processed tea, admitted that the time has come for the industry to get out of the subsidy regime. But it said the Government should continue with the incentive of ₹3 per kg on the production of orthodox teas while addressing issues such as the impact of climate change and labour shortage on the industry.

“This will help in a better product mix with an increase in the production of orthodox and green teas and a reduction in the production of CTC teas. This will help increase export of orthodox teas and increase the price of CTC teas at the farm gate level,” the NETA said in a letter to Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.

Appreciate the Government for steps against the import of poor quality teas and amending rules and regulations, the NETA said it should frame appropriate schemes for the big and small tea growers for at least three years to address a few issues.

“Climate change is one of the top five challenges for the tea industry in Assam. Without irrigation facilities, it has become almost impossible for the tea bushes to survive. A scheme on irrigation, both sprinkler and drip, rainwater harvesting and digging of ponds is of utmost necessity,” NETA adviser Bidyananda Borkakoty said.

Tea gardens have also been facing a shortage of workers, requiring a scheme for the purchase of plucking and pruning machines and all kinds of field mechanisations, the NETA said.

The association also sought a replantation incentive as the tea industry is not in a position to invest in fields owing to several years of recession barring 2020. Yield and quality will be affected if replantation suffers, it said.

“The need of the hour is to provide sufficient funds for generic promotion of tea in the domestic market. If we can increase the per capita consumption of tea in India by another 70 grams, then 50% of the challenges faced by the Indian tea industry will be over,” Mr Borkotoky said.

According to a study commissioned by the Tea Board in 2018, the annual per capita consumption of tea in India stands at 0.78 kg per person, lower than in Pakistan (0.81 kg) and China (1.31 kg) in the neighbourhood. Turkey (3.2 kg), Morocco (1.86 kg) and the UK (1.58 kg) are the top three consumers.

“Rather than a health beverage, tea should be promoted as a healthy lifestyle beverage, and a scheme may be devised to encourage tea producers to go for value-addition and for tea producers’ associations to set up tea lounges and retail tea outlets across the country,” the NETA said.

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