Research Report

Tea Production in India: Challenges and Opportunities  

Sarvesh Kumar Shah1 , Vipal A. Pate2
1 Castor Mustard Research Station, S.D. Agricultural University, Sardarkrushinagar (Gujarat), 385 506, India
2 Department of Agril Chemistry and Soil Science, College of Agriculture, S.D. Agricultural University, Sardarkrushinagar (Gujarat), 385 506, India
Author    Correspondence author
Journal of Tea Science Research, 2016, Vol. 6, No. 5   doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2016.06.0005
Received: 20 Nov., 2015    Accepted: 13 Jan., 2016    Published: 28 Jan., 2016
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This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

S.K. Shah and Vipal A. Patel, 2016, Tea Production in India: Challenges and Opportunities, Journal of Tea Science Research, 6(5), 1-6 (doi: 10.5376/jtsr.2016.06.0005)


Tea being the most consumed of beverages next to the water on the earth. The commercial tea production was started since 1835. Tea production in India has seen a great jump of 304 percent, while the tea cultivated area increased by only 160 percent in the last five decades. The Estate owner, management, government and the laborers have equally contributed in increasing the production of Tea in India. Even though there are certain challenges for tea production in India like Low laborer productivity, High Cost of Production, Climate change, Seasonal effect, Injudicious nutrient management, Pest and disease, and consistent quality aspects of tea. Besides challenges India earned over Rs. 4000 crores foreign exchange in year 2014. Big domestic market, Scientific Soil and water management, Mechanization of plucking, Co-operative brought leaf tea factories, Reducing the cost of production by using renewable energy, Organic and Value added Tea, Tea tourism and above all the better support of the Government are some key opportunities to enhance further Indian Tea Industry.

Indian tea; Value added tea; Tea standard; Challenges; Opportunity

1 Introduction
According to historical evidence, about 4700 years ago, few Chinese people were aware of benefit of tea where, it was drunk to honor guest or celebrating significant achievements of life. The knowledge of the use of tea spread outside China, but still confined to the people of South Asian and South East Asian countries for many centuries. However, with colonization and the industrial revolution, the popularity of tea has increased worldwide. The tea is considered one of the most widely consumed, but cheapest beverage accepted by almost all age groups in the society. Globally, more than three billion cups of tea are drunk daily. Tea is a natural beverage obtained from upper two younger leaves and a leaf bud of an evergreen plant Camellia sinensis. The tea crop has particular agro-climatic requirements found in tropical and subtropical climates. Tea is commercially cultivated in more than 65 countries. Globally, total tea production is over 5 billion kg per year, where, India, one of the leaders in world tea production, contributes about 1.2 billion kg of tea (Table 1). The commercial tea production is skewed to the top five countries which contribute almost in about 75 per cent tea production and almost 80 per cent global export of tea.


Table 1 Major tea producers and share in world tea production (Year 2013)


Commercial cultivation of tea in India was started in Assam from the year 1835. The estimated area under tea in India in 2010 was 0.58 mha, of which 28 percent was owned by about 1.6 lakh small growers were responsible for producing 26 percent of the total output of the country. The remaining 72 percent of the tea area was under the organized sector with 1 686 garden (FAO, 2010). In India, suitable climatic condition as well as socioeconomic condition suitable for tea production found in North-East states which accounts for 3/4th of total Indian tea production. It is not only growing in northeastern states, but the commercial cultivation of tea in India is spread in more than 15 states, of which, Assam (52.0%), West Bengal (25.8%), Tamil Nadu (14.5 %) and Kerala (5.3%) are producing more than 97% of total tea production. Other states where the tea is produced in small extents are Tripura, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Orissa and Bihar (Table 2). Tea production in India has seen a great jump of 304 percent, while the tea cultivated area increased by only 160 percent in the last five decades. India produces world’s finest tea due to certain geographic uniqueness. For instance, Assam tea is famous for their strong and brisk liquor; Nilgiri tea is well known for their delicate flavor and brightness; and the Darjeeling tea is famous for its unique color and aroma. The tea is liked by different class of people for their distinct characteristics.


Table 2 State-wise area, production and productivity under tea cultivation for 2013-14


2 Indian Standards for Quality Tea
The Government of India has made several standards to isolate substandard products from the market, by making the standard parameter for tea. The main aim of formulating the Indian Standard for tea is to get a uniformity of quality to the consumers.
Based on the oxidization and fermentation of tea leaves several forms of tea are sold in the market. But, two major forms, Orthodox tea and CTC tea are most popular among the traditional tea lovers. Both forms are different from each other in physical appearance and chemical compositions (Table 4). Nowadays green tea is also liked in some segment of society (Table 3).


Table 3 Indian standards for different aspects of tea


Table 4 Average chemical composition of Orthodox and CTC tea from Assam


2.1 Tea export
The Indian tea industry has contributed to the country’s national income earning since almost last 175 years. Indian tea is liked in almost every tea drinking country. India is one of the world's largest exporters of tea (Asopa, 2007). The majority of tea are exported to Russia, UAE, United Kingdom, Iraq and Poland. India earned Rs. 4054.02 crore by exporting 207.44 million kg of tea in 2014 (Tea Board, 2015). The Tea industry generates great revenue as well as an ample social employment opportunity for families who live in very remote areas. Indian Tea export has reached to the stagnation. Indian tea has to compete with cheaper and at par in quality Kenyan and Sri Lankan tea.
2.2 Challenges before the tea industry
India, the world's second largest tea producer, is facing challenges to sustain tea production. These challenges are discussed below under different heads.
2.3 Low labor productivity
Almost 65 years back, in 1950, tea industry provided employment to about 0.95 million people while at present more than 1.2 million people are directly engaged in the tea industry and about 10 million people are getting indirect benefit from tea industry. During the peak plucking season, temporary workers are also engaged. Even then, in North as well as South India, the labor shortage is a common challenge. The variation in plucking efficiency among the laborers is a common issue. Tea is plucked mostly be hands, therefore, dependency on labor is more and nowadays in tea garden operation, labor cost is quite high. The current situation in this sector has given ample reasons for a rethink (Hazarika, 2011)
2.4 High cost of production
The wage component constitutes over 60% of the total cost of production. Escalating input costs of electricity, fuel, pesticides and agro-chemicals and irrigation, etc. make Indian tea noncompetitive in international market. Almost 80% of the total cost of tea production have little scope for reduction. To reduce cost, sometimes, longer picking cycles (15-18 days) are adopted resulting poor quality tea production which fetch low price and loss to the industry. Some planters cut costs by postponing the uprooting, replanting and modernization of garden, risking long-term viability. Inconsistent investment is not ideal for Tea industry. Most of the laborers come from socially and economically weaker sections of the society and from far away from their native place. Therefore, tea estates have to provide facilities like house, water, social-welfare, etc. which incur costs.
2.5 Climatic change and Seasonal effect
Tea is very sensitive to climate change. Tea cultivation has its specific temperature and precipitation requirement, therefore, change in climate is a great threat to the tea production. Untimely rainfall, low or no rainfall in crop season, prolonged dry spell, sometime flood like situations, increasing temperature, etc. are major challenges in almost all tea gardens. Therefore, the annual operation cycle is reduced from 9-10 months to 8-9 months or lower. The climate change affects the quality as well as quantity of tea production, untimely, high or low intensity of insect and disease attack, improper growth of new buds, Loss of soil fertility, etc. The tea production is not constant round the year (Fig. 1). Change in climatic condition is a major cause of the variation in tea production. In south India, tea productivity is better because of the almost uniform climatic condition. In North India, winter is cold, therefore, the tea bushes go in dormant stage, therefore, productivity goes down in winter months. Climate affects both production and quality of leaf harvest. On the basis of the plucking month (flush), the tea prices are decided during the auction.


Figure 1 Month-wise production of tea (average of 4 years data)


2.6 Injudicious nutrient management
In many tea estates, fertilizers are applied without knowing the soil nutrient supplying capacity, age and species of tea bushes. Therefore, fertilizer use efficiency, reduced and profitability of tea gardens eroded. For better tea production, the soil pH should be below 5.5 and efforts should be made to maintain soil pH in the acidic range. The soil of the areas where tea is grown are low in soil fertility, hence fertilizer application is one of the key management practices. The unbalanced fertilizers application cause deterioration in soil health in physical, chemical as well as biological aspect. Use of no or less organic manures further intensify soil deterioration. Since tea soils are acidic in nature, application of rock phosphate along with microorganisms like PSB (phosphorus solubilizing bacteria) is the better option.
2.7 Pest and disease
There is a loss of 10-15 per cent in tea production due to pest and disease. The practices of integrated pest management (IPM) are not followed in most of the gardens. Mostly chemical pesticides are being used to control pest and disease of tea. But, sometimes, overdose of pesticides applied knowingly or unknowingly, pose a risk of higher pesticide residues as well as environmental contamination, disturbance of ecological balance. There is poor monitoring over the pesticide dose and the interval between the spray and the plucking.
2.8 Government support
The tea industry has seen many ups and down. Tea industry has a turnover of over Rs. 10,000 crores. The tea producers of India are facing many critical issues. Post WTO, the government supports the flourish the industry is required. This also help them to struggle with the tea industries of other countries in the international market. The cost of inputs, including energy, is becoming higher year after year. The escalating financial burden laid the foundation for the closure of the tea garden in the long run.
2.9 Quality
Perceived fall in quality of tea can be attributed to poor quality of green leaf. In Assam, more than 33% of teas is produced from purchased green leaf. Small tea growers are many times ignored the quality of life they pluck. Some growers harvest tea leaves by using sickles due to shortage of workers. One of the reasons for the poor quality of the green leaf is harvested of tea leaves with sickles. But shears may be a better option than sickles.
3 Opportunities to Indian Tea Industry
3.1 Huge domestic market
The Indian tea is almost out of the competition in international market because the Kenyan tea is of at par quality, but cheaper. In India, tea is widely consumed by all sections of people – rich and poor, young and old, men and women – across all religions and communities and in all the states. India is the biggest consumer of the tea, but has more potential, as per capita consumption of tea is still lower than other tea consuming countries (Wal, 2008). The tea industry should exploit a huge domestic market that annually consumes 1,000 million kg or 80% of tea produced in India, the largest producer of black tea in the world. Tea consumption in India is expanded by 2.4 percent in 2009 and 6.6 percent in 2013 to reach 1 million tonnes. The FAO projected that Indian domestic market for black tea will grow by 2.2 % per annum and will attain 1.03 million tonnes tea consumption annually by year 2021.
3.2 Scientific tea production
The micro and macro climate affect the quality and quantity of tea production. The micro climate can be corrected by maintaining the required shades, maintaining proper drainage and keeping the soil pH in the acidic range with suggested scientific methods. This will minimize the risk of severe diseases and pest. Preventive measures should also be adopted to avoid the severe attack of pest and disease. Small tea growers are ill-equipped with the scientific management practices. It is, therefore, important to train small tea growers for scientific tea management practices. In-house composting, green manuring, mulching, biofertilizers, etc. some ways to reduce dependency on chemical fertilizers. The resistance to different pest and disease varies differently among the varieties of tea; therefore, it is recommended to grow 4-5 varieties for planting. Neem based formulations, predators, pheromone traps, etc. some better ways to control pest and disease under Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The plucking and spraying must have a gap of 4-5 days to allow proper disease and pest control and to avoid pesticide residues in tea. Simultaneously, the tea should be tested and monitored periodically for pesticide level.
3.3 Climate smart tea production
To counteract with the climate change, the industry has to react smartly by adopting Irrigation and drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, drought and flood-resistant planting materials. Efforts should be done restore the environment by better resource management.
3.4 Mechanization of plucking
Mechanical plucking machines are a better alternative in the areas where an acute shortage of laborers. It is estimated that mechanical plucking can reduce 1/3rd dependency on laborers. Besides, due to uncontrolled oxidation in plucked tea leaves, the speedy weighing and transportation to factory is required to minimize the weathering and loss in the tea quality.
3.5 Co-operative brought leaf tea factories
The Indian tea industry witnessed many structural changes over a period. The small tea growers and Bought Leaf Factories are new model in tea industry, which can lower down the cost of production. The government should promote brought leaf tea factories in the cooperative sector. This will help in increasing the toe area, especially in non-traditional area.
3.6 Reducing cost of production by using renewable energy
To reduce overall cost of production of tea, renewable energy should be adopted by the industry on a large scale. In India frequent power cut is common. In general, tea gardens have plenty of biomass in the vicinity, which can be use in bio gas gasifier to obtain energy. This is in addition to the existing technology. This is much suitable for small and medium sized tea gardens. The energy can be use in the generation of electricity for factory, gardens, charging pumps and sprayers, mechanical plucking machines, social welfare, etc.
4 Organic and Value added Tea
With the increasing awareness about the health consciousness among consumers, it becomes essential to produce pesticides free tea which has pesticides residue within permissible limits. In market organic tea normally fetch higher prices. Tea is both a health and lifestyle drink served with variety, but value addition in tea is almost a new area in tea industry which has great scope. Promoting tea flavored health drinks. Green tea is becoming popular among all age groups while youngsters are liking iced tea. Tea blended with flavors like fruits, herbal tea into tea like ginger, lemon, Chewable tea added with folic acid, calcium and other vitamins is a new area to think of.
4.1 Use of ICT
Now a day, ICT tools becomes quick medium to share information, market intelligence, government schemes, weather updates, latest development in world, etc. Adequate technical support can be made available to the small and medium size producers by using ICT tools. Thus, it is required that the research institutes to set up a dedicated extension service focusing on small and medium tea producers. This will help in reducing cost of production be implemented better resource management.
4.2 Alternative incomes
The beneficial effects of Tea quotations on the human body are well studied recognized. To obtain Catachines whole bush can be harvested. This is somewhat has large application potential area waiting to be exploited commercially. Tea oil, extracted from tea seeds, is the other area to generate income.
4.3 Tea tourism
Certain part of India is famous as tea producing areas like Darjeeling, Upper Assam, Cachar, Nilgiri, etc. These areas have a number of tea gardens which could be promoted for tea tourism. The inflow of tourist, will generate revenue and will be able to sell value added tea at a premium price. The brand of tea gardens will be more established directly to the consumers.
4.4 Government support
It becomes essential that suitable packages for enhancing the productivity with cost effectiveness be provided to under/less developed gardens. Due to the inconsistent inflow of money in garden management, aging and senile bushes have become a major cause of low productivity in the Indian Tea Industry. The government should give incentive to closed gardens and provide long-term, low interest loans to revamp them. The tea plantation in non traditional area should be emphasized. The cooperative sector should promote to come in the tea industry.
5 Conclusion
The Indian tea industry is giving employment opportunity directly and indirectly employment to the nearly one percent of the population and about 10 per cent people, respectively. The industry has good of potential in domestic market. The industry should explore the international market for value added products. But, some inherent problems are linked with the industry, therefore, due attention is required to remove hurdles of the tea industry to grow like tea.
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