As per figures available till November, the south recorded a substantial increase to 100.4 million kg from 85.3 million kg during the same period the previous year. In comparison, in the north there was a fall in exports to 70.5 million kg from 82.9 million kg during the same period. The rise in exports was in the backdrop of marginally lower production as per provisional estimates, which put the figure for the whole of 2006 at 2.25 lakh tonne when it was 2.27 lakh tonne during 2005.
Organised by Upasi, with the support of the Tea Board, the contest had come to be an annual event and the proposal was to hold it alternately at foreign destinations. The last edition was held at Dubai.
With the process for the third edition of 'The Golden Leaf India Awards' set in motion its convener Dharmaraj felt that contests where estates and gardens from across the South participated had succeeded in improving quality. There was a penchant for quality among the growers and this desire for excellence helped the South Indian tea industry in a big way.
As global recognition, he said that international buyers had acknowledged this and leading buyer Edward Foster of London-based Thomson Loyold had recently said, "South India had made strides to improve its quality in recent years. And anything that is done to showcase that is to be applauded and supported.
This was the view shared by several international buyers which whom Upasi had been in contact, Dharmaraj added.
The contest with separate awards for the different agro-climatic regions in the South - Anamallais, High Ranges, Nilgiris, Travancore, Wayanad and Karnataka - had introduced the global tea market to different tastes with unique attributes. Till the contest, Nilgiris was synonymous with South Indian tea. That myth was now broken and it was accepted that South had a diversity of teas.
Beyond contests, he admitted that much had to be done on the marketing front. A five-year proposal for quality and marketing initiative was submitted to the Centre. And this was likely to find a place in the Tea Board's X1 Plan. With this there would be marketing support to this contest.
Already exporters were using the golden leaf award to leverage their shipments. And this was clearly noticeable in the rise in exports during 2006. Even in the retail market, award-winning estates were using their success in the contest to market their produce domestically and have the logo on their packets.
He said the international tasters for the contest this time had been identified and they were acclaimed buyers from the US, the UK, Iran, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Russia, the main tea markets. This time, on the advice of Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, there would be a reverse buyer meeting where the jury members would be taken to the estates.