Friday, 1 March, 2024

Nepali Tea Struggle To Stay Afloat


Suravi Regmi

The tea industry in Nepal has been struggling to find a niche market at regional and global levels. Even though the cultivating of tea in the country reached 150 years, Nepal has not been able to reap handsome benefits from the total amount of tea produced and sold. Evenl today, numerous problems regarding standardisation continue to exist. The lack of ethical certification, high cost of labelling and branding and hiring labourers, and even high cost of farming, failure to gain export potential owing to a lack of production expertise via the use of improved technology.

When it comes to tea cultivation in Nepal, Illam Tea Estate is regarded as the pioneer estate in our country. But unfortunately, Nepal has not been able to push its potential to grow organic and orthodox tea leaves which are shadowed by countable factors. The dearth of learned manpower, failure to get market access, international intervention, unwillingness to adopt modern technologies are some of the difficulties that many of our tea estates are confronting.

Tea farmers face hardships while dealing with inputs like seeds and manure to grow organic tea despite their picking demand and the possibility to earn higher prices. An educational interview held in Illam, Barabote is about a talk session between a researcher and tea investors that questions the organic quality of cow dung. There was a debate between the persons in an interview about the uncertain state of compost manure and they were doubtful about the nutrients ultimately useful to nourish the soil while growing organic tea leaves.

Appropriate rules concerning the total amount of green leaves which need to grow out of a tea plant to be considered an outcome of a healthy tea harvest have been lacking. Tea cultivators and investors rarely get proper aid from the existing tea cultivating committees which would enble them to stablise tea price.
There is a substantial line that is creating space between the paying capacity of consumers and the final price paid to the farmers in marketplaces. Farmers who are found in tea gardens are specifically smallholder ones, unaware of large scale cost advantages reaping out of production.

The issue with the scarcity of fair certification is the major reason which is making tea entrepreneurs and farmers underestimate the importance of organic tea leaves and they are failing to export them to international markets at fair prices. One of the attempts that involved certification was a third-party certification that only helped middlemen earn commissions at higher market rates. They also obstruct local tea investors and farmers from designing standard meeting certifications to bid for premium prices in international markets.

Research conducted to understand the value chain analysis suggests that the income status of people involved in the tea business in Nepal shows that non-certified tea growers are offering much greater prices than certified tea growers.Licensed tea growers are settling their tea businesses by entering into a contract through organic certification. They were also obliged to sell products arriving from low-scale commercialised producers who could not charge higher prices in the local market. Since the cost of organic certification is also high along with the cost of buying organic fertilisers and pesticides. The challenge is obstructing the Nepalese tea business from growing.

The incapacity to ensure an awarding price is the most depressing issue for farmers, pressurising them to shift to other productive crops such as lentils and maize. With the unavailability of reasonable certification and failure to get direct access to international markets, tea farmers face compulsion to export orthodox tea to a neighbouring country, India at very cheap prices. They are generally incapable of claiming international and private subsidies and have scarce financial resources to expand businesses. There is also confusion about the provision cooperative model of operating tea estates.

Some commendable efforts have been made and financial and technical support has been extended by national and international development partners such as the Inclusive Growth Programme, Netherlands Development Organisation. They are found to be aiding the tea industry in facilitating the coordination of value chain elements like irrigation channels in tea gardens, storage centres, distribution channels, and many more. These partners help tea producers in marketing and product promotion. However, there are doubts in terms of maintaining the sustainability of development initiatives.

A lack of sufficient, routine training and assistance has always acted as demotivating factors for the tea farmers. Earlier, in the case of the absence of independent home brand names for Nepalese tea products, they were sold under Indian brand names in India. Lately, Nepal has taken initiative in producing, Special Patta Chiya, however on a low scale, but bidding high prices in the international market. The shortages of skilled human experts in tea commercialization are obstructing tea producers. Farmers and producers with special skills in growing leaf-based organic tea are not able to be recognised at the regional and state levels due to turmoil of opinions among regulating bodies.

Way forward
Active initiation needs to be taken by news media, government as well as private representatives to help conduct research and let producers realise about niche market in specific places of Nepal like Kathmandu and also help them in brand modification and re- modification. Producers should identify new target markets and segments and reduce wastage of money on investments in unproductive areas for tea cultivation.

Other aspects would be to take urgent steps in reducing the cost of organic product validation and setting genuine guidelines for collecting, rolling, fermenting, roasting, or maybe grinding tea leaves, and finally packaging every variety of teas. There is also an urgency to train state and private bodies to adopt a cooperative model of tea gardening.

(Regmi is a BBA graduate in marketing from Kathmandu College of Management)