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Organic tea sector set for study boost

Tocklai Experimental Station
Jorhat, July 29: Tocklai Experimental Station, the oldest tea research institute in the world, has come out with a package for the organic tea sector which will help it get higher returns.
The practices, which have been published in a book, is the outcome of a project on organic tea in South India, Darjeeling and Assam, sponsored by the Common Fund for Commodities and the Tea Board of India. Tocklai Experimental Station was the Northeast’s research agency for the project submitted by the Inter-Governmental Group of Food and Agriculture Organisation to find out the standard practices for the growing and certification of organic tea.
N. Muraleedharan, director, Tea Research Association, said given the increasing concern on the harmful effects of pesticide residue and inorganic fertilizers on human health, soil fertility and environment, organic cultivation is the path to maximising the health benefits of tea.
Deputy director of Tocklai Experimental Station, R.M. Bhagat, who is part of the project, said the project had begun in October 2008 and would be completed in September this year.
Bhagat and other scientists of TES, including B.K. Barthakur, I. Phukan and B.P. Baruah, have compiled the package of practices.
Bhagat said certified organic teas sell at a premium and there is already a speciality market abroad for this kind of tea.
“The organic package of practices will help in realising higher returns from unit quantity of tea exported to European and Western markets, which give importance to quality,” he said.
“On a micro scale, there were some studies which obliquely point out that organically grown crops were more resilient to climate change than conventionally grown crops. However, studies need to be conducted in tea production systems to verify such results,” he said, hinting that though the project would be over, more research would continue in this field and that feedback from the industry would also call for further research.
A parliamentary panel on commerce has asked the commerce department to come up with a comprehensive package of organic practices, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization. It had recommended that the department should take necessary steps to promote organic tea cultivation among small tea growers and include them in the training programmes on organic tea cultivation.
In a meet held at the research institute a few months ago, the tea industry had voiced apprehensions over the sustainability of going organic due to large scale availability of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides. The small tea growers, on the other hand, had placed their grievance of not being able acquire a certificate due to the long process and heavy cost, especially as there were no certifying agencies in the Northeast.
G. Boriah, director, tea development, and spokesperson for Tea Board of India, told The Telegraph that the Tea Board provides a 70 per cent subsidy on the cost for acquiring a certificate up to a ceiling of Rs 1 lakh.
“The cost may come to about Rs 1.5 lakh and we pay up to Rs 1 lakh. A few gardens in Darjeeling have availed of the subsidy,” he said.
A small tea grower here, Someswar Phukan, said his garden, Yashraj Farms, was completely organic and he would apply for certification soon.