Palampur (Himachal Pradesh), April 10 (IANS) Commerce Minister Anand Sharma Tuesday announced a multi-pronged project to boost production and export of tea produced in the Kangra valley that is known for its flavour and quality.
'The central and the state governments will jointly work to revive the Kangra tea industry by rejuvenating and expanding tea gardens,' Sharma said, laying the foundation stone of a regional office of the Tea Board of India.
Sharma said a collection centre would be opened here to procure tea directly from the growers.
'At present, less than 900,000 kg of tea is being produced every year. We are aiming to take its annual production up to 20 lakh kg,' Sharma said.
Kangra tea is an orthodox variety, close to Darjeeling tea, and it has been registered under the Geographical Indications (GI) of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.
The minister said to get international buyers for Kangra tea, a separate e-auction window would be set up.
The auctioning of tea in India is being supervised by the Tea Board of India.
Sharma also directed the board official to prepare within two weeks a plan on mechanisation of the tea industry as the tea gardens in the state are facing closure due to high input costs.
He asked the state government to help growers reviving tea estates by rejuvenating the old tea estates and identify abandoned estates.
Sharma said the government of India had set up a special purpose tea fund to revive tea estates in the country. 'This fund would continue in the 12th five-year plan too. So far 49 of the 53 indentified tea gardens have been rejuvenated.'
He also announced setting up of a tea museum in the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology here.
Tea cultivation was introduced in and around the Palampur foothills in the Kangra valley in the mid-19th century. The Camellia tea, planted by the British in 1849, grew so popular that tea from Kangra won a gold medal at an exhibition in London in 1886 for its superb flavour and quality.
However, a major earthquake that hit the area in 1905 destroyed a large number of tea gardens and tea factories. Thereafter, most of the European planters left, handing over their tea estates to the Indians.
A severe drought in 1999 and lifting of trade barriers, which allowed other countries to push their supplies at a much lower cost, adversely affected the local tea industry.
Horticulture experts say tea production in Kangra has seen a drastic fall in the past 15 years with only small producers, with an average holding of around 0.6 acres, engaging in tea plantation.
As per the estimation carried out in 1997 by the state, 2,312 hectares come under the tea cultivation.
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