Cultivation prospects seem to be very bright in the country


Jan 31 - Feb 06, 2005



The literatures reveal that the commercial tea belts in the world are largely confined to mountains around or near the equator, ranging quantity of rainfall required to grow tea commercially varies from place to place, depending upon temperature, altitude, wind velocities and other local environmental conditions. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is very much of Asian origin and India, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya and Indonesia remain amongst the world's biggest producers. Tea is a crop of wide adaptability, which grows in a varying range of climates and soils in various parts of the world. The three basic factors necessary for tea cultivation are annual rainfall above 1000 mm, air temperature 10oC, soil pH value ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 and cheap and adequate labour availability. The land selected for cultivation in Mansehra, NWFP area ensured all the basic needs and commercial tea production is possible when tea plants are grown for three to four years. The tea plants once starting production remain productive for well over several decades.

The tea plant does best under high and uniformly distributed rainfall, with a minimal dry season and a mean annual temperature of 18-20oC, within a range of 12-30oC. Its best location is tropical hills and the country's fall in these regions stated above. It can grow successfully in varied zones and specially in the monsoon climate of the tropics, from sea level to about 6,000 feet.

The production of fine tea is the result of a long and closely controlled period of processing, including fermentation, to yield the characteristic orange/brown coloured infusion in the tea cup. However, before embarking on the processing and manufacture of black tea, the growers must carefully organize plucking so that only shoots with leaves at particular stages of growth and development are taken. That is the newly grown vegetative shoots comprising the terminal bud, two to three leaves immediately below it and the intervening stalk. It is this part of the vegetative growth that contains the highest concentration of tea caffeine and polyphenols, which produce the best quality tea. Tea leaves contain three distinct chemicals i.e. essential oils, alkaloids and polyphenols. More specially the aroma and flavour is imparted by theol, the etheral oil found in tea, the bitterness and astringency is due to the oxidation products of polyphenols, while theine (tea caffeine), an alkaloid with the same chemical structure as caffeine is responsible for the stimulating and refreshing qualities of the capped infusion.

The polyphenols in tea, commonly called tannins, are derivatives of gallic acid and catechin, which are oxidized by the enzyme polyphenol oxidase during fermentation to produce orthoquinones. These oxidation products subsequently polymerize to form thea-flavins which are responsible for the bright colour of the infusion and thearubigins, which give tea its body and strength. The bud and too youngest leaves on the shoot have the highest concentrations of polyphenols and caffeine and therefore produce the best quality tea. So close is the correlation between stage of growth and development of the bud/leaf and its chemical composition and potential for quality black tea, that a whole range of tea designation have been invented which relate to the types of leaf they contain. Thus, terminal buds, appropriately called 'golden tips' and highly prized in the trade, are superrich in polyphenols and high in caffeine, orange is in the smallest (youngest) leaf (28% polyphenols) and also containing many 'golden tips', based on the second leaf (21% polyphenols).

The tea management group directs the pickers to select for quality, but against this they must keep an eye on the market trends and receive sufficient weight of leaf to satisfy factory capacity and customer demands. By selecting the very youngest, and therefore the smallest and least heavy parts of the shoot, they may well gain the right quality, but jeopardize yield. By the same token, going all out for yield by taking the maximum number of leaves on each shoot, or may compromise quality. Whether the plucking is light, standard or hard will not only determine both yield and quality, but also the capacity of the bush to regenerate with new growth with implications for maintenance of regular harvesting for a long-term yields.

Skillful and well practiced hand picking of tea ensures that only those parts of the shoot at the right stage of development are harvested. This means that the picker takes the maximum amount of good quality leaf which is compatible with the continued health and well being of the bush by ensuring that sufficient leaves are left intact to allow continued normal growth and vigour. In general, this means that picking should be repeated every 7-10 days on lowland estates and every 14 days on tea grown higher up, where cooler temperatures mean that growth rates are slower. Plucking is carried out with a basket suspended from the waist or the back and into which are transferred the young plucked shoots.

Experience pickers can harvest around 35-kg tea per day with a mature tea bush yielding about 1 kg of fresh green shoots per year. With water content of up to 80%, these fresh pickings are processed into black tea to give a ratio of 4:1 plucked fresh shoots to processed black tea. Scrupulous hygiene, which is practiced throughout the process to prevent contamination and the acquisition of taints or off flavours, starts at picking and is maintained as the freshly picked shoots arrive at the factory. Here, they are inspected to ensure at least 75% 'good' shoot per basket, no pre-fermentation and a weight loss, through water evaporation after picking, of no more than 0.5%. Once the inspectors are satisfied with fresh-leaf quality, the leaves begin a 48-hour process involving withering, rolling fermentation and drying to achieve the twin aims of carefully controlled water loss through evaporation and the development of flavour through fermentation.

We are the world's second largest importer of tea after Britain and may become number one due to our fast population growth rate and unabating increase in tea consumption. Most of land suitable for tea plantation is located in Mansehra's hilly terrain. Some parts of Swat and Azad Kashmir have also been declared suitable for production. The social transformation involving consumption basis, offers a premium on efforts to boost production through research on this commodity in the country. Pakistan spent about US$223 million annually on import of tea.



The government has started the cultivation of tea plants in Shinkiari, NWFP in 1980. In 1986, it acquired 50 acres of land in the area to set up a Tea Research Station, where tea was cultivated on around 35 acres. The Pakistan Tea Research Institute, Mansehra has also decided to enhance the area under cultivation to about 3,000 acres to achieve self-sufficiency in the commodity. One local company started tea cultivation project in Mansehra district formally in 1988 and locals started cultivation in their fields in 1999. The project aims at bringing 1,500 acres of land under tea cultivation by 2005. On maturation of bushes in about 5 years, the crop becomes available for many years without the usual annual investment of cost and proper care essential for other crops. Tea cultivation is labour-intensive, creates employment opportunities and helps in the economic development of the region.

If government spends only one per cent of its amount of import on the development of tea, it would give a good start for research and development.

In conclusion, it may be suggested that the prospects of tea cultivation in the country seem to be very bright due to presence of suitable soil and climatic conditions in the northern areas of the country, where it is possible to introduce tea cultivation on a garden scale as it has being practiced in other countries. The efforts in local cultivation of tea would hopefully reduce the need to import tea and save valuable foreign exchange. The crop offers immense scope for long-term cash return to growers with small land holdings as it is relatively disease-free and easy to crop.