KOLKATA: Quality Indian tea will no more be limited to the likes of Assam and Darjeeling as IIT is helping new areas in Kharagpur and Purulia to produce scientifically- grown and processed tea.
At a small tea garden inside the campus, IIT-Kharagpur researchers have demonstrated how organic tea could be grown scientifically even in the plains and then the leaves processed in a cheaper way with their newly patented energy-saving machine.
In the vicinity of the campus, the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park (STEP) at the IIT, has identified 17 villages where commercial tea cultivation would soon begin.
"Tea cultivation will begin in non-traditional areas of south Bengal using new scientific methods. We are targeting small farmers with 5-10 cottah of fallow land. This will uplift the rural economy as well," STEP's Managing Director and Biotechnologist Satyahari Dey told PTI.
Under a project funded by the Tea Board, a team of scientists led by Professor Bijoy Chandra Ghosh of the Agricultural and Food Engineering Department has developed new CTC (crush, tear and curl) machines, which occupy less space and consume less energy.
"The existing technology used everywhere in India and even outside, is a century old. Our technology is very innovative and patented. It will reduce the cost of tea processing by about 20-30 per cent," Ghosh said.
They have already demonstrated the technology to small tea growers who were welcoming it.
"We are confident that this machine will change the tea industry forever due to cost savings," Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers' Association (CISTA) President Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty said.
At a tea plantation in Jalpaiguri, CISTA members were installing the first such machine from IIT this month.
"You will soon find small tea growers queueing at IIT to get the machine. This will become a game changer," Chakraborty said.
IIT-Kharagpur officials said they would provide all required technological and agricultural inputs for new croppers.
Traditionally tea has been grown along the slopes of hills and not in plain lands.
Researchers say tea could be grown in plain lands like Kharagpur in West Midnapore district if the agricultural plot is turned into a slope so that the crop doesn't get damaged due to standing water.
"The soil here is laterite and porous. Shade management using an alternate tree crop will ensure that the temperature in the field never crosses 35-36 degrees centigrade. Irrigation can be done through sprinklers," Ghosh, who started the tea project, said.
Purulia's district administration has also shown interest in starting tea cultivation using the IIT methodology, he said.
Ayodhya Hills in the district have a moderately hot and humid climate, fertile acidic soil and slope land -- key requirements for tea cultivation.
Produce from the IIT tea garden in Gopali area spread over 15 acres, is now being sent out for sampling in the local market.
"Our tea quality is very good and people are liking it. This is probably the most scientific tea in the world," STEP's Professor Dey said.
The present model of their machine can produce 500 kg of tea per day, but it can be scaled down for small tea plantations.
He said they wanted the miniature machines to cost less than Rs 10,000 in the market for marginal farmers who could produce only 100 kg of tea in a month.
To operate the machines, young and unemployed science graduates would be trained by the institute, Dey added.