Tea project delayed or Tea prospects in KP

Tea prospects in Pakistan

Or Tea project delayed

 

By Tahir Ali Khan

 

http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/15/agriculture-and-technology-tea-project-delayed.html

 

AFTER a long delay following a series of negotiations among stakeholders, an important tea plantation project is likely to be launched in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shortly.

 

The project—a public-private partnership with an outlay of Rs490 million and conceived by the federal government a few years back— has been devolved to the province under the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

 

The project was designed to bring around 70 per cent of 3,000 acres in KP and Fata under tea plantation with a capacity to produce around 23 tons of tea per annum. The forest departments in KP and Azad Kashmir had to lease out 1,000 acres each to three private companies for tea cultivation. These companies had to provide job, health care and education to local people in their respective areas.

 

But differences among stakeholders on some issues, reservations of the forest department and the devolution delayed the

project.

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is ideal for tea plantation. According to project director Ijaz Malik, the project has been devolved to the province and a sum of Rs25mn earmarked for it this year.

 

“In Azad Jammu and Kashmir the project is going on in full swing. In KP, however, some snags like leasing of land to private companies has delayed its launching. It is expected that the issue will be resolved soon as stake holders have agreed on the lease agreement. The land has been identified and will be handed over to companies after the signing of MoU between a private company and the KP forest department shortly. Things are expected to be sorted out fast as the province will directly deal with the companies,” he said.

 

The National Tea Research Institute (NTRI) in Mansehra through its tea research and advisory unit in Swat, had completed tea plantation over 268 acres before Taliban captured the area. Heavy shelling destroyed the plantation area.

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal belt needs about 35million kg tea for its population of 35 million (around one kg per person per year) including Afghans living in the province and Fata.

 

According to the NTRI estimates, tea can be grown on around 64,000 hectares in Mansehra, Battagram, Swat and some other areas of KP apart from the tribal belt and Azad Kashmir.

 

Even if half of the potential area is brought under tea cultivation, it can produce around 80 million kg of tea enough to meet half of the country’s demand.

 

But, despite enormous opportunities, land under tea cultivation has been dismally low in KP and the country — less than 1000 acres — as the crop has remained ignored both by farmers and the government. There is no specific programme for tea cultivation in the provincial ADP.

 

The tea project was being looked after by the NTRI, a subsidiary of the federal government’s Pakistan Agricultural Research Centre, both retained by the centre even after devolution.

 

According to Husnain, an ex-worker of the NTRI,: “It is the absence of an intensive campaign by both the public and private sectors that had led to low tea acreage and low per acre yield — around 3,500kg per acre per year in NTRI fields but only 1,000-1,500kg at farm level,” he said.

 

“Moreover, the problems of irregular rains and delayed returns from the crop (tea starts production after six years while majority of farmers cannot wait that long as they need money for their daily needs) and lack of official support to lease out land for tea cultivation in the province, have hindered the expansion of the plantation,” added Husnain.

 

The NTRI trains farmers in nursery development, provides tea plants and guidance for cultivation and evolves technology packages for them. It also gives inputs to farmers and purchases their produce. It aims at self-sufficiency in tea. But due to shortage of personnel and absence of extension system, it has limited outreach to farmers.

 

The provincial agriculture department with its large staff, plentiful resources and outreach capacity could play active role in tea plantation that could help earn billions for the cash-strapped province and alleviate poverty in the militancy-hit areas in Malakand division and the tribal belt.

 

The NTRI has three tea research and advisory/marketing units at Swat and Battagram in KP and Abbaspur in AJK.

 

Tea can boost farm income 4-6 times and employ over three million people as labour force and improve their lives, saving billions of dollars by reducing tea imports.

 

This is the original version of the article as it was sent to the paper

 

Delayed Tea plantation project

By Tahir Ali Khan

 

After a long delay and series of negotiations between the stakeholders, a vital tea project is likely to be started in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the near future.

 

The commercialisation of tea production project through public-private partnership worth Rs490 million was originally conceived by the federal government a few years ago but it has been devolved to the province under the 18th amendment. The project will bring around 70 per cent of 3000 acres under tea plantation in KP and in Fata which will yield around 23 tons of tea.

 

Under the project, the forest departments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir of had to lease out 1000 acres of land each to three private companies for growing tea and the companies had to provide employment, health and education services to the locals in the respective areas. But some difference between the stakeholders, reservations of the forest department and the issue of devolution delayed the project.

 

KP is ideal for tea cultivation and the delay in leasing out the land to tea companies is beyond comprehension.

 

According to Ijaz Malik, the project director, the project has been devolved to the province and Rs25mn has been earmarked to the project for the year.

 

“In the AJK the project is going on with full swing. In KP, however, some problems like lease of land to the private companies had delayed the launch of the project.  However, now the problems will soon be sorted out as the stake holders have agreed on the lease agreements. The land has been identified and will be handed over to the companies as MOUs between a private company and the KP forest department will be shortly signed. Things will be quickly decided now as provinces will directly deal with the companies,” he said.

 

The delay had prompted the former federal agriculture minister Nazar Gondal in April last year to warn exclusion of KP from the project if the lands were not provided. The threat, luckily, didn’t materialise.

 

The national tea research institute (NTRI) in Mansehra through its tea research and advisory unit in Swat, had completed tea plantation over 268 acres before the Taliban captured the area but then heavy shelling destroyed the planted tea and the local tea processing plant before tea leaves could be collected there.

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal belt needs about 35mn kg tea for consumption (One kg per person per year for a population of around 35mn, including Afghans living in KP and Fata).

 

The NTRI estimates tea can be grown on around 64000 hectares in Mansehra, Battagram, Swat and some other areas of KP alone apart from the tribal belt and Azad Kashmir.

 

If even half (32,000 hectares or 80,000 acres) of the potential area is brought under tea cultivation, it can produce around 80mn kg of tea (average per acre yield of about 1000kg per year) worth Rs24bn (at the modest rate of Rs300 per kg though tea currently is over Rs500 per kg in the market). That is enough to meet half of the national demand.

 

But, despite enormous opportunities, the land under tea cultivation has been dismally low in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the country –less than 1000 acres at the maximum- as the crop has been traditionally ignored both by farmers and the government. There was/is no specific programme for tea cultivation in provincial ADP thus far. The reasons thereof have been numerous.

 

Tea plantation was/is looked after by NTRI, a subsidiary of the federal government’s Pakistan agricultural research centre, both retained by the federal government even under the 18th constitutional amendment.

 

According to Husnain, an ex-worker at NTRI, at individual level, many farmers have grown the crop but even if small farmers here and there cultivate tea on their small landholdings, it can bring little difference on the ground.

 

“It is the absence of an intensive campaign by both the public and private sector that had led to low tea acreage and low per acre yield –around 3500kg per acre per year in NTRI but only 1000-1500kg at farm level,” he said.

 

“Moreover, the problems of irregular rains and delayed returns from the crop –tea starts production after 6 years while majority farmers could not wait that long as they need money for their livelihood needs– and lack of official support to lease out land for tea cultivation in the province have hindered the expansion of the crop,” added Husnain.

 

The NTRI trains the farmers in nursery development, provides tea plants and guidance for tea cultivation and evolve technology packages for tea farmers. It also gives inputs to farmers and purchases their produces. It aims at self sufficiency in tea but due to shortage of personnel and absence of extension system, it has limited outreach to farmers. This explains why farmers in the province have been lukewarm to grow tea despite its huge benefits.

 

The provincial agriculture department with its huge staff, plentiful resources and outreach capacity could play more active role for tea plantation that could help earn billions for the cash strapped province and alleviate poverty in the militancy hit high altitude areas in Malakand division and the tribal belt.

 

The NTRI has three tea research and advisory/marketing units at Swat and Battagram in KP and Abbasspur in AJK but such meagre presence is obviously short of needs and reflect non-committal attitude of the authorities towards the crop.

 

Tea can boost farm income 4 to 6 times and could employ over three million individuals as labour force thus improving their lives and saving billions of rupees by reducing the imports of tea –Pakistan imported 95mn kg in 2009 worth over Rs22bn. The rest was catered to by tea smugglings.

 

Production of organic tea (with use of natural fertiliser) needs to be started. It’s vital in the present scenario when fertiliser prices have almost doubled recently.

 

More incentives (interest free loans or grants in the no-production period of tea crop and the like) need to be given to local farmers.

 

Foreign investment can be ensured atleast in Muree and Mansehra where there is no problem of law and order, the main cited hurdle in local and foreign direct investment.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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