• Students Triumph in Tech Brew Challenge

    India’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Jorhat announced the winners of the 2024 Tech Brew Hackathon competition, held on International Tea Day. The winning students received 50,000 rupees for tackling their choice of five industry challenges. Teams from 20 universities participated, submitting projects addressing tea waste, marketing and promotion, and climate change. A panel of nine tea industry experts judged the projects.

    The top three teams are Team Orthodox, representing the Assam Science & Technology University with a novel non-chemical pest control solution; the second prize goes to Team Neuro Linga at the PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in Coimbatore for designing an integrated weather and crop health monitoring system. Team Doodle, also from PSG, proposed a network of sensors that monitor plant conditions for growers, signaling areas of concern. A resource website with a chatbot informed by a machine-learning AI model will assess their concerns and suggest remedies.

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    Pranjit Barman
    Pranjit Barman demonstrates the Spectro Smoke Drone

    Hackathon Focuses Youthful Attention on Pressing Problems.

    By Dan Bolton

    Tea Research Institute Secretary Joydeep Phukan said the “hackathon marks a significant milestone in bringing technological innovation to one of India’s most vital industries. I’m proud to announce the successful conclusion of the first-ever tea Tech Brew National Hackathon, a groundbreaking event aimed at addressing the challenges faced by the Indian Tea Industry.”

    Phukan said the event was organized “under the esteemed leadership of Chairperson Nayantara Palchoudhuri, Tocklai staff, and industry professionals who judged the competition.”

    Team Orthodox

    The winning students, Team Leader Pragyan Sen Deka, 23, and Pranjit Barman, 22, designed a drone-mounted hyperspectral imaging eye that roams tea gardens, searching for indications of pest infestations. Suspended below the drone is a smoke chamber that delivers natural fumigants that pests avoid.

    Pragyan Sen Deka
    Pragyan Sen Deka

    Fumigating crops with low-hanging smoke is an ancient, effective, and non-chemical method of driving pests away. Winning team leader Pragyan Sen Deka describes how a modern “Spectro Smoke” generator heats ferns and grass with electrically controlled nichrome wire, producing a downward-driven column of smoke that rises to the underside of leaves and drives away pests like the tea mosquito, one of several insects that reduces tea yields in India by an estimated 147 million kilos a year.

    “This innovation promises to transform how we approach pest control, ensuring healthier crops and a more sustainable future for tea plantations,” writes Phukan.

    Spectro Smoke Drone
    The Spectro Smoke Drone has 1000kv 10-inch propellers producing around 3500g peak thrust. Its max payload capacity is around 2kg. The drone is powered by a 4000mah lipo battery, which gives it a flight duration of 15-18 minutes with no payload. The transmitter is the 2.4GHz FS i6, with a range of 1.5 km.

    Team Neuro Linga (second place)

    The second prize goes to Team Neuro Linga at the PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in Coimbatore for designing an integrated weather and crop health monitoring system.

    “Their innovative solution impressively combines AI and IoT to tackle pest control and crop health. Using sensors, cameras, and smart technologies, they’ve developed a comprehensive system that not only repels pests but also monitors and predicts pest outbreaks, ensuring healthier crops and a more sustainable future for the tea industry,” writes Phukan.

    Team Doodle (third place)

    Their innovative solution features a specialized RAG (retrieval augmented generation) model for tea pest detection, designed to minimize computational resources while delivering precise, domain-specific results. Utilizing a Phi2 model with 2 million parameters and an image classification model (ResNet), Team Doodle leverages research papers, and articles scraped via Jina AI to ensure accuracy and relevance. Additionally, minimal hardware is used to collect environmental data such as temperature and moisture, helping to prevent pest outbreaks with accurate and timely detection.

    “Team Doodle’s approach represents a significant advancement in sustainable pest management for the tea industry. It combines cutting-edge AI with practical environmental monitoring,” writes Phukan.

    Problems to Solve

    Here is a list of problems students were asked to address:

    • Problem Statement 1: The tea industry faces significant challenges due to climate change, including water scarcity, temperature fluctuations, and soil degradation. Develop a technology-driven solution to help tea farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions, optimize water usage, and maintain soil health to ensure sustainable tea cultivation.
    • Problem Statement 2:  Tea crops are vulnerable to various pests and diseases, which can devastate tea crops within a short period. Develop a predictive model using data analytics and machine learning to forecast outbreaks of pests and diseases, enabling pre-emptive action to protect crops and reduce the reliance on chemical pesticides.
    • Problem Statement 3: With climate change and changing weather patterns, the incidence of pest management has increased, with certain pests such as the Tea Mosquito Bug, Looper Caterpillar, and Green Thrips causing havoc in tea plantations. Develop technologies based on airwaves, sound waves, or biocontrol to control the outbreak of the Tea Mosquito Bug, Looper Caterpillar, and Green Thrips to showcase how it works in tea plantations.
    • Problem Statement 4: The tea plant Camellia sinensis is a wonder plant. Tea leaves are harvested to make various types of tea. The tea plant also produces tea seeds and flowers. Tea is high in various properties, such as antioxidants and flavonoids. Propose methods and technologies to convert tea into diversified products using tea leaves and waste using innovative technology.
    • Problem Statement 5:  Tea is the second most consumed beverage after water globally. However, there is intense competition for tea as a beverage over other products. Some of the products sold as tea are not from the plant Camellia Sinensis. Develop technology-based solutions to promote tea amongst people from age 10 to 35 years, highlighting its many health benefits, which should be innovative and scalable to make tea the most sought-after drink. One may add non-technology-based suggestions to justify their technologies.

    Hackathon Judges

    • Ms N Palchoudhuri, Chairperson TRA
    • Mr Dan Bolton, Tea Journalist, Canada
    • Mr S K Saria, Chairman, NBC TRA
    • Mr Kailyanjeet Borah, Vice Chairman Agriculture Committee TRA
    • Mr Abhijeet Hazarika, Tsigma Consultancy
    • Mr Jai Kejriwal, Council Member TRA
    • Dr Anoop Barooah, former Director TRA
    • Dr A Babu, Director TRA
    • Joydeep Phukan, Secretary TRA

    Tea Research Association – Tocklai Institute

    To delve into the science and processes behind a good cuppa, visit the Tocklai Institute, the world’s largest and oldest tea research center (founded in 1911). The labs there research microorganisms that inhibit plant disease and promote growth. There is also a tea museum and model tea factory exhibiting the machines that turn leaves into teapot-ready tea.

    Tea Research Association Tocklai

    History

    The establishment of the Scientific Department of the Indian Tea Association (ITA) in 1900 marked the beginning of a new era of tea research in India. This was consolidated with the creation of the Tocklai Experimental Station in 1911.

    The formation of the Tea Research Association (TRA) in 1964, with Tocklai at the center of all activities, further expanded the horizon of tea research to cover the entire Northeast India. Research on all aspects of tea cultivation and processing is carried out at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat, the world’s oldest and largest research station. Transfer of technology to its member estates is carried out through its advisory network covering 1,076 tea estates occupying 341,049 hectares (1,317 sq mi) of land spread over The South Bank, North Bank, Upper Assam, Cachar, Tripura, Dooars, Darjeeling and Terai. Tocklai has its regional R & D Centre at Nagrakata, West Bengal.

    The organization undertakes basic and applied research on tea cultivation and processing in northeast India. A large chunk of the research work is done at Tocklai, while area-specific research for Dooars is carried out at NBRRDC, Nagrakata. Research on the pharmacological properties of black tea is carried out in collaboration with Kolkata and other institutes across India. The technologies developed through R&D activities are disseminated to the member gardens through a wide network of advisory personnel who conduct regular hands-on demonstrations and workshops.

    Photos courtesy Team Orthodox | Tocklai Tea Research Center

    Tea Research Association

    113, Park Street, Kolkata-700016
    +91-033-22291815, 22293813
    [email protected] / [email protected]


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    India’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Jorhat announced the winners of the 2024 Tech Brew Hackathon competition, held on International Tea Day. The winning students received 50,000 rupees for tackling their choice of five industry challenges. Teams from 20 universities participated. | Episode 171 | 7 June 2024

  • Iran Halts Tea Imports From India | NETA Asks for Ban on Six Pesticides | Kangra Tea Seeks Interventions From State Government

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending June 7, 2024

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    Iran halts India tea imports
    Iran halts Indian tea imports, forcing growers and traders to find new markets.

    Iran Halts Tea Imports From India

    Iran, one of India’s big tea markets, has suddenly halted imports of tea and rice from India. No reason was given, although government officials have been quoted as saying this could be a retaliatory response as India stopped imports of kiwi and peaches from Iran. Another point raised was that Iran wanted India to restart buying oil. The Mint reported that Iran’s rice imports for April- September 2023 stood at $641.66 million, while tea imports for January- September 2023 stood at $66.39 million, valued second to the UAE. The tea bodies are waiting for Iran’s responses on the reasons for stopping imports.


    NETA Asks For Ban On Six Pesticides

    Representatives from the North Eastern Tea Association have submitted a memorandum to the state agriculture minister with an appeal to prohibit the stock, sale, and distribution of six pesticides – Cypermethrin, Acephate, Imidacloprid, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran, and Fipronil. These pesticides are banned for tea, and the association said that testing of teas showed MRL ( maximum residue levels) residues indicating the use of these chemicals. The association said that these six pesticides contributed to much of the problems attached to the lack of food safety compliance.


    Kangra Tea Seeks Government Intervention

    The Kangra tea industry is awaiting some interventions from the state government to revive and promote their tea industry. The land under tea cultivation and crop have dropped significantly in recent years as it has been losing its viability. Three of the four government factories also remain closed. The tea association here has asked for greater support, especially in increasing the state’s tea tourism opportunities.

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  • India’s First Flush is Finished | Workers Protest Decision to Close Bought Leaf Factories in Assam | North Bengal Producers Want Tea Named India’s National Drink

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending May 24, 2024

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    India first flush finishes with low yield
    India’s first flush finishes with lower than average yield

    First Flush 2024

    The first harvest or flush has ended, and we are looking at how India fared this year. Across the country, a long, dry winter and late rains that fluctuate between too little and too much have affected crops. Overall, it appears that North India saw a decrease in yield by as much as 35-50% compared to the same period last year. Prices have not been commensurate.

    Darjeeling experienced a long dry spell. The much-needed January rain did not show up this year. The problem of cheap tea imports from Nepal continues unchecked. Planters have been calling for checks on Nepal imports, better import testing, and protection of the Darjeeling heritage. This year saw more garden closures, which is expected to impact production, which saw one of its recent lows at 6.18 mn kilos last year.

    In Sikkim, the first flush was delayed by 3-4 weeks due to late rains, which caused a late harvest. The second flush began earlier—by about two weeks—because of rising temperatures. Crop volume has also dropped here.

    In Assam, production has dropped, as compared with last year, by close to 35%. March crop was down by 14mn kilos. Lack of rain has brought crop loss. The order to route 100% dust via auctions, while still not seen as beneficial by the planters, continues. However, prices are going up compared to last year. In the most recent Sale 21, two teas from Deckiajuli fetched upwards of Rs 600/ kilo – the BP grade sold for Rs 605 while PF grade sold for Rs 651.

    Kangra experienced dry weather, and the crop was down. Production of the green tea, which is a highlight here, was delayed. Demand and prices are low.

    South India has seen some better crops despite late rains and a hot summer. In March, the Nilgiris saw an increase of nearly 3 million kilos over 2023. Its traditional export markets of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and CIS countries have been active, and Orthodox offerings have been doing well. However, currently, the region is seeing a long dry spell, which will impact crop production in the coming weeks.


    Assam BLFs to close June 1st

    The pesticide issue continues to plague Assam, and the Assam Bought Leaf Manufacturers Association, representing 110 factories, has said it will stop production on June 1st. The association states that buyers have refused their teas because of pesticide concerns. The Bought Leaf Factories say they have no control over pesticide use by small tea growers. Meanwhile, the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangh has rallied the workers and held several protests. In Moran, workers gathered at the Bamunbari and Khowang gardens owned by Andrew Yule to protest against nonpayment of wages for several months. In Dibrugarh, protests were seen at the Basmatia Tea Estate.


    Make Tea A National Drink

    On May 21st, the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Welfare Association (NBTPWA) called for declaring tea India’s “national drink.” During the Tea Day celebrations in Siliguri, the association distributed 5,000 cups of tea. They seek to make tea attractive to youth and increase tea consumption.

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  • India Orders Testing of Every Batch of Imported Nepal Tea | Tata Reports Greater Shift to Premiumization | India Halts Exports to West Asia

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending April 26, 2024
    India Tea News | Aravinda Anantharaman
    Nepal Truck enroute to India
    Nepal truck en route to India

    Tea from Nepal Stopped for Testing

    After repeated urging from Darjeeling’s tea planters, the Centre has issued a circular stating that every batch of tea entering India from Nepal must be tested for pesticide residues. Until now, Customs has tested a small percentage of the samples randomly. With the new amendment, every batch comes under scrutiny. The testing is done at the National Food Laboratory, Kolkata, and takes 15 days. This means the trucks carrying the tea will remain at the roadside awaiting results. Nepal depends on India as over 90% of its tea is exported here. However, Darjeeling’s tea planters have insisted that the Centre stop Nepal tea imports as it has affected both the quality of tea sold as Darjeeling tea (blended with Nepal tea) and prices. Further, India pays a 40% import duty on Nepal tea, while Nepal is not obliged to pay any for imports from India following a trade agreement. Non-compliance to food safety standards is a pressing concern in the Indian tea industry. – Kathmandu Post


    Tata Reports Revenue from Premium and Sub-Premium Brands

    Money Control has reported that premium and sub-premium brands brought over two-thirds of Tata Consumer Products’ revenue for the financial year that just ended. Tata Tea Gold, Tata Tea Premium, and Tetley Green Tea performed well, with e-commerce driving sales. It is a sign that consumers seek better quality tea via recognized brands. Informist Media has reported that in the financial year ending March 2023, TCPL bought 20.7 mn kilos of tea from North Indian auction centers, averaging Rs 170 per kilo. The market leader, Hindustan Unilever, bought 51.3 mn kilos at an average price of Rs 179.6 per kilo. Lower prices at auctions indicate that both companies stand to earn higher margins.


    India Halts Tea Exports to West Asia

    As tensions increase between Iran and Israel, Indian tea sellers have halted exports to Iran and the Middle East. Shipping companies are also expected to stay away from these ports. This will be a setback for Indian tea as Iran—once a major buyer—is also a gateway to West Asian countries.

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  • Amalgamated Plantations (APPL) Head Resigns | First Flush in North India Sees Low Crop But High Quality

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending April 19, 2024
    Amalgamated Plantations operates gardens in Assam and Dooars

    Amalgamated Plantations (APPL) Head Resigns

    Vikram Singh Gulia, MD and CEO of the Amalgamated Plantations Pvt. Ltd. will leave on 30th June 2024. He is the second head of one of the top five tea corporations to resign this year after Atul Asthana’s exit from the Goodricke Group. The APPL Board has appointed Sukhjeet Singh Malhotra, Vice-President – PSO, Tata Consumer Products, as Wholetime Director and CEO Designate, effective April 9th, 2024. The Amalgamated Plantations include 25 estates in Assam and the Dooars, producing 40 million kilos of tea annually, making them India’s second largest tea producer.

    Vikram Singh Gulia

    High Grown First Flush Sees Lower Yield but Better Quality

    The prolonged drought from October to March in north India has impacted tea crops in north India. The first flush picking began in late March; although rains have started, the crop is still in low quantity. This is seen in Darjeeling and Kangra. Vivek Lochan of Doke Tea says quality has been good and better than in recent years, thanks to the drought-induced slow growth. In Kangra, volume has also been impacted, although tea quality is up. The first flush verdict is low crop but good quality, sweet teas, better than in recent years. How the market responds is to be seen.


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