Upasi For Policy Change In Plantation Sector

Coonoor, Sept 28: | Updated: Sep 29 2003, 05:30am hrs
The plantation sector in South, which has been reeling under crisis for quite sometime, wants the government to have a fresh look at its Five-year Plan approach whose target has been quantity rather than focus on consumer which gives emphasis to marketing and promotion.

In a plea to Union commerce minister Arun Jaitely here in connection with the 110th annual conference of Upasi, PS Wallia, president, Upasi, pointed to the case of Sri Lanka whose thrust on marketing had emboldened its producers to identify India as a potential growth area for its premium and speciality teas. Sri Lanka overtook India in marketing and promoting its plantation commodities and continued to hold on to markets despite adverse conditions.

Our five-year plans based on Russian type needs to be dumped as they do not mesh with a free-market economy, which calls for higher productivity and efficient marketing. Marketing and promotion strategies and remunerative prices for growers should be the main stay of the 10th and 11th Plans, as producing large quantities without adequate marketing and consumer reach will be counter-productive, he said.

Under the changed market scenario, the stress needs to be on adding value to products. We had enough of the green revolution. We have to move forward to quality revolution, marketing and brand management, he said.

Upasi has sought the intervention of the commerce ministry for reducing the cost of finance to the entire plantation sector on the lines of the financial package granted to the coffee sector last year with special term loan and debt restructuring. Mr Wallia also took a dig at the policy of letting in commodities from abroad flow into the country duty-free, though for re-exporting without stipulating any value-addition norm. He pointed to the case of tea whose imports were now at 22,000 tonne from just 1,000 tonne a decade ago.

The lifting of quantitative restrictions now had allowed freer and greater flow of commodities which had led to creating a surplus and also a competition for the domestic market. With regard to tea, Upasi expressed its strong reservations to the Tea Boards mandate to route tea sales only through auctions. It was curtailing the freedom of producers who were now at the mercy of the buyers. Auction prices were between Rs 30 and Rs 40 a kg, when the production costs were still over Rs 60.

On the labour front, Mr Wallia sought productivity-linked wages and felt State Governments did not have to interfere in bilateral wage settlements. Costs were much higher in India on account of multiple factors compared to competing countries. As a result Indian growers were outpriced and there was the need to have a level-playing field with other producing and exporting countries on wages and other taxes and levies.

UPASI sought plan funds and additional excise duty fund for generic promotion of tea. Taking a cue from the coffee-shop culture which had made green bean a multi-billion industry globally, there was the need for similar marketing strategies and brand management for the tea sector which would help increase per capita consumption, he felt.