Tea was first planted in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh by the British, and vast tea gardens (as the plantations are known) cover the gentle hills in and around Dharamshala and Palampur today. Some are privately owned, some are so-called “demonstration plots,” and some are research areas owned by the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University or the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Tea has been cultivated and manufactured in the valley since the middle of the 19th century. In 1849, Dr. Jameson conducted a feasibility survey of the valley of Kangra in HP and found it suitable for tea cultivation. He brought China tea plants from the nurseries at Almora and Dehradun and planted them in Government gardens at Kangra, Nagrota and Bhawarna.
Dr. Jameson the Superintendent of Botanical Garden set up ‘Delhi Tea Estate’ in 1852.
Despite having suffered a good deal during transit the plants performed excellently in growth. This encouraged the government to go-ahead for the establishment of the tea industry in the valley.
Kangra tea industry occupied a prime position with respect to its quality from the last quarter of the 19th century to the third quarter of the 20th century.
Both black and green teas are manufactured in the Kangra valley.
Kangra renowned as “The valley of Gods” is famous for its distinct flavoured tea.
Tea in Himachal Pradesh is grown at an elevation ranging from 700- 1500 meters above sea level, having a temperature range of 13-35 degree Celsius during March through October, the cropping season, and yearly precipitation around 2300 – 2500 mm of well-distributed rains
Disaster struck in 1905 when the Kangra Valley was devastated by a great earthquake, from which the tea region, in a sense, has never fully recovered. Tea factories lay in ruins, tea growing areas were destroyed, forcing European pioneer planters to make distress sales and leave the valley now perceived as unsafe, handing over the estates to either their workers or local traders.
In the past 25 years, the area under Kangra tea in Palampur and Dharamshala has fallen drastically with several marginal cultivators selling off their lands due to the sky-rocketing rates of real estate in this tourist destination.
The administration too has been apathetic towards this 160-year-old heritage.
For the last 25 years, the area under Kangra tea, which retails at prices 40%-50% higher than even the Darjeeling tea, has reduced significantly.
As per the data obtained from Tea Board of India, though the area under cultivation is 2,300 acres on papers, only 1,150 acres of tea gardens are being properly maintained on the ground.
300 to 400 acres of gardens were lying abandoned, while more than 600 acres were being neglected by the owners. “This neglect decreases production.
At present, five factories in Dharamshala, Palampur, Bhwarna, Baijnath and Bir produce 10 to 11 lakh kg of tea every year.
Kangra tea was given the Geographical Indication status in 2005.
Present-Day Problems with tea industry:
1. Lack of quality planting material and technical know-how: The Kangra valley growers are unable to find good quality planting material and they are not knowledgeable about the performance of the crop and nursery plants they are planting. The government apathy and policy blunders resulted in the absence of any formal channel of imparting latest knowhow to the planters.
2. Labour problem: Non-availability of labour during plucking period adversely affects the productivity and quality of gardens. Then, the workers have no knowhow of correct plucking operation.
3. Lack of Mechanization: Most of the planters undertake hand plucking. Tea mechanization and farm mechanization process have not occurred in these gardens.
4. Urbanization: The faster pace of urbanization in Kangra district is luring the planters to sell their land for handsome cash.
5. Competition and other reasons: Kangra’s tea industry is struggling to compete with Sikkim and Assam varieties in the market. The steep rise in the cost of inputs and falling margins are other reasons. Further, the Kangra region is also witnessing a slow invasion of apple trees in the tea plantations. The tea planters are now banking on apple to change their fortunes.
What should be done?
- Kangra tea needs better government policy, adoption of technology in production and brand promotion. A roadmap should be prepared for only Brand Promotion of Kangra tea.
- Kangra tea is unique in its quality and has the potential to compete in the international market on account of its special flavour. But the growing area is very small. Governments need to encourage farmers to grow the tea in Kangra as well as nearby areas of Kullu, Mandi etc. The state government had formulated such scheme but so far this scheme is not in operation.
- The state agricultural university and Tea Board of India should come forward to enlighten the farmers in terms of productivity and quality. This can be done by organizing camps in selected areas for the latest knowledge dissemination.
- Labour problem can be corrected by the creation of a labour bank and a centralized facility with skilled manpower and machines.
- The Self Help Groups and Cluster approach and reviving the Kangra Tea Planters Association.
Scientists at the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh claimed that Chemicals in Kangra tea could be effective in boosting immunity as they can block coronavirus activity better than anti-HIV drugs. (Read the full article here)