Shillong:Enjoying the natural advantage of abundant rainfall and fertile soil, Meghalaya is not only slowly catching up with Assam and Darjeeling in tea output, but has also started production of high quality organic tea.
Though tea planters had identified the favourable condition in the region almost two centuries ago, tea cultivation was never taken up seriously by successive administrations.
A prospecting party sent by the British East India Company to the region in the first half of the 19th century had called for vigorous tea cultivation, but sadly the advice was not acted upon.
A visit to Meghalaya by the Tea Board of India in 1974 changed the situation.
During the visit, the Tea Board delegation reported that the potential for tea cultivation was "immense" and suggested transplantation of tea varieties from Assam and Darjeeling in the state.
Accordingly, the varieties brought from the two areas were transplanted in experimental gardens at Umsning in Ri-Bhoi district, Tebronggre in West Garo Hills district and at Riangdo in West Khasi Hills district.
The quality and yields of tea in these experimental gardens prompted the state government to incentivize commercial cultivation of tea in private farmers? farmlands, tea experts in the state said.
Now Meghalaya tea has earned a name for itself in the national and international markets for possessing superior quality, rich fragrance and good liquor.
State horticulture officer M Lyngdoh said the government had prioritised production of organic tea in an effort to aggressively penetrate that segment in markets, national and international.
Tea plantation area of 100 ha has been certified for
production and processing of about 20 MT of oraganic black tea, 50 MT of organic CTC tea, 20 MT of organic green tea besides 20 MT of organic hand-rolled tea.
The organic certified tea commands a very good price at the market both domestic and international including those at the US, Europe and the UK.
An entrepreneur, John, set up his tea estate at Sohryngkham in East Khasi Hills district in 1993. His tea, the Sharawn brand, black tea is sold at a premium price of Rs 500, while the green tea fetches around Rs 580 in the local market.
"My father first started with 600 plants of T-378 variety and then he got the first stripping in 1995, which he then sent for tasting.
When he got a good report, he plunged into fulltime tea planting," Shariti Syiem, John?s daughter and a proud owner of Sharawn Tea Estate, said.
Sharawn tea is also exported to Australia.
Organic tea grown by a private farm The Lakyrsiew Premium Organic Tea near the scenic Umiam lake, 12 km north of here, commands premium price in international markets in the UK and US.
Following the successes of local entrepreneurs, Mawlyngngot village in East Khasi Hills district too started growing tea in 2003 and is available in the market under the brand `Urlong tea`.
The organic tea of Meghalaya under the brand name `MEG` tea is expected to roll out in the market in the second half of 2012.
At present, Meghalaya produces approximately about 600 MT of orthodox tea and about FIVE MT of high value green tea and the government has also applied for organic certification of another 50 ha of tea plantation in both high and low land land areas.