The testing is being done to check whether the teas conform to the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India norms, sources said.
Demand for import variety surges
Amid reports of rising imports of teas from Nepal, the Tea Board of India has unveiled an exercise to test the teas.
Samples of these teas are being tested at the regulator’s Quality Control Laboratory in Siliguri in North Bengal, itself a major tea-trading centre. The testing is being done to check whether the teas conform to the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India norms, sources said.
This facility was created mainly to cater to the needs of the Darjeeling teaindustry, almost 80% of which is exported. The laboratory has facilities for testing for the presence of pesticide residue, of heavy metals and to analyse microflora and other toxins. The presence of these elements not only compromises the quality of tea, but also impacts consumer acceptance of the beverage in domestic and global markets.
For the past few years, rising imports of Nepal teas have been a source of concern to the Darjeeling tea industry.
Import of teas from Nepal to India stood at 11.4 million kg in 2015, rising to 12.2 million kg in 2016. Between January to July of 2017, about 4.3 million kg was imported according to official statistics. India imports these teas under the India Nepal Free-Trade agreement and the teas are substantially cheaper than the Darjeeling brew.
There are now fears that the recent Gorkha Janmukti agitation, which led to a prolonged shutdown of the Darjeeling tea industry, has paved the way for increased imports of tea from Nepal, which is similar to Darjeeling teas.
This development comes at a time when the Darjeeling tea industry is limping back to normalcy after the 104-day strike.
A meeting of the Area Scientific Committee of the Tea Research Association took place in Kurseong, where planters and scientists got together to hammer out a strategy to overcome the crisis situation, discussing the practices to be adopted for plucking.
“The need to ready the gardens for the first flush plucking beginning in March, and the possibility of salvaging some leaves for now was discussed,” according to official sources.
Participants discussed issues such as clearing and weeding the gardens and managing the overgrown tea bushes and pests.