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Pakistani tea Unique in taste & quality

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Oct 22 - 28, 2001

Pakistan, a major tea importing country, is becoming a producer of tea having a taste and quality, which may outclass other producers in the region. The romantic geo-climatic conditions of the Northern areas of Pakistan have blended a unique taste to the lush green tea gardens are the relentless efforts of the private and public sectors of the country. The nature has given an edge to the locally produced tea in terms of the taste, now the ball is in the court of the growers that in what quantity they can yield which is relatively insufficient to cater to the local requirements so far. If this newly developed agriculture sector succeeded to meet the local demand, the national economy will be relieved from a burden of $200m to $250m being spent on its import every year.

Three unique innovations to Tea Growing in Pakistan:

Expertise acquired in soil acidification
Introduction of the best known tried and tested clones

Correct Plant Husbandry Techniques including a complete regime for land preparation, water management, fertiliser application and bush training required for harvesting.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an agency of the United Nations, and by foreign tea experts, have endorsed the value of Pakistan's pioneering tea husbandry work.

Lever Brothers Pakistan Limited (LBPL) recently inaugurated the first state-of-the-art Tea Processing Plant in Pakistan. Research on the possibility of Tea growing and its economic and commercial feasibility was conducted by the Government of Pakistan in the 1970's and also by Lever Brothers in the 1980's. Lever's efforts have borne fruit following the import of quality cloned planting material, mobilising the expertise of Unilever from experiences in Kenya and Europe. Lever's Tea Growing Project was formally established in 1988.

Since the beginning of the research on a 9-acre Shinkiari (Mansehra) station in 1989, Lever has moved on to growing tea on farmers' fields using its tested clones. The total area now under cultivation is around 160 acres, and is expected to rise to 360 acres by the end of this year. Lever plans to increase tea cultivation to some 1500 acres in the next five years.

A mutually beneficial agreement is made with farmers who will sell their green leaves to Lever at agreed prices. Lever has also pledged free training to farmers besides providing free clones of the highest quality, chemicals and fertilisers for the first three years. The Bank of Khyber will also grant farmers associated with Lever interest-free loans during the first three years. A black CTC Tea Processing Plant is already in operation at Dhodial (Mansehra) while aggregate research and development including those for the next five years is estimated to cost Lever Brothers an estimated Rs.260 million.

People engaged in tea production in Pakistan are trying to learn from the experiences of tea producing countries such as Kenya and Turkey. Turkey had little knowledge and output of Tea 50 years ago. It currently produces over 150,000 tonnes and Kenya presently has over 300,000 small growers contributing to their national economies, as compared to a mere 4000 small farmers 35 years ago.

It is interesting to note that the quality of tea varies immensely depending on the climatic conditions, soil, and location of the planting field, elevation of the farm, quality of the bush, the season and numerous other factors. This necessitates blending as consumers expect uniformity in their favourite brand. Sometimes 20 or more different specimens are required to blend the quality standards of a certain brand.

The new Lever Black Tea Processing Plant has been set up at Dhodial, 12 km north of Mansehra on the main Karakoram Highway on 2.5 acres of land with the Processing Plant built-in area of 11,800 sq.ft. The plant is expected to process 50 kg per hour or approximately a ton of made tea a day. Machinery and equipment of the highest quality are benchmarks for the Lever Tea Plant. The tea produced is based on CTC (Cut-Tear-Curl) technique, which is the preferred form of tea consumed in Pakistan.

Lever Brothers Pakistan has been in Pakistan since 1948 when they installed their first unit in Rahim Yar Khan. The company has introduced new and innovative technologies to the country and raised local standards of quality, safety, hygiene, marketing, distribution, labour relations and environment protection.

There is a general misconception about tea in the country. Tea is not even among the ten most imported commodities in the country, although we do consume a large amount of tea each year. Lever is currently one of the largest marketers of tea in the country and is therefore searching for a cost-effective alternative and is in pursuit to assist the government's effort to reduce the import bills if provided the right kind of ambience.

Scientific research has proven that tea is an essential part of a healthy diet. It has refreshing qualities, which all other beverages lack. Japanese and Chinese consider tea a vital part of their tradition, with green tea taking centre stage as the tea that naturally carries health benefits. Tea also contains Flavonoids, which medically prove to reduce the risk of numerous ailments including heart conditions.