Spread across 2,000 acres, Belgachi Tea Estate in Siliguri was on the verge of closure a couple of years back.
Spread across 2,000 acres, Belgachi Tea Estate in Siliguri was on the verge of closure a couple of years back. However, its fortune has revived since then. Vivek Agarwal, director of the estate, spoke to FE’s Sandip Das on a range of issues impacting the tea industry.
What are the key issues impacting the tea industry?
The tea industry is labour intensive and so, providing better working conditions and salary is always challenging. However, unskilled labor also has been a key issue that has hit the industry. Maintaining quality tea production is a challenge too, as often, the overuse of pesticides and chemicals have impacted quality. Besides, the infrastructural constraints, the dependence on climatic conditions makes tea farming very vulnerable. There are many schemes run by the Tea Board, like the Special Purpose Tea Fund scheme which provides financial support to tea estates for undertaking replanting, replacement planting and rejuvenation of old aged tea bushes. Under the scheme, 50% of the required fund is given as term loan, while the remaining 25% is under subsidy and balance is contributed by the unit registered with the Tea Board. Besides, there are a tea plantation development scheme, quality up gradation and product diversification scheme, etc. These schemes can only be availed by estates that are registered with the Tea Board.
What is the current state of the Indian tea industry?
The total turnover of the tea industry is estimated around R33,000 crore at present, which was around R19,500 crore in 2010. With nearly 6 lakh hectare under tea cultivation, the domestic tea industry is growing at 15% annually. India is the world’s largest consumer, second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea. The country accounts for nearly 30% of global output. Nearly 25% of tea produced globally is consumed in the country. The major tea producing parts of the country include the northeast region (includes Assam) and the eastern and the southern parts.
Which are the countries compete with India on global tea industry?
India is one of the biggest tea producers (around 1200 million kg annually) in the world, although over 70% of it is consumed within the country. India is also among the top five per-capita consumers of tea. The Indian tea industry has grown very fast and has evolved into one of the most technologically-equipped tea industries in the world. However, it competes with Russia, the US, the UK, the UAE, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Germany, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, China and Sri Lanka.
How is Belgachi Tea Estate doing?
The tea estate was a sick unit when we took over in 2010. The first challenge was to convert the estate into a profit-making unit. The challenge was to create favourable working conditions for the labour. In the tea industry, labour plays an important role and we put all our energy in creating an environment where the labourers feel that they are secured. Subsequently, we invested in upgradation of machinery and implemented effective supply chain management. We also utilised funds from various schemes for the promotion of tea industry. At present, the company manufactures 12 lakh kg of tea annually and provides employment to more than 1,500 people. Our focus is more into producing quality tea, which can fetch us a better price in the market. For this, we have shortened plucking days, imparted proper training to our people and also in spraying activities. We have a plan to manufacture 20 lakh kg of quality tea in the next few years.