Green Prakriya : A Green Label for Indian Tea

Posted on 24. Jan, 2012 in: Uncategorized

Two years ago Manogaran, the tea maker and supervisor of the Kaikatty Tea Industrial Cooperative Society, in the Nilgiri hills in South India was a worried man. Employed at the cooperative for over 30 years, he had known no other job and was worried about rumours that the cooperative would shut down amid rising losses. He was not alone in his worries – spread over 2,000 acres, the cooperative is a lifeline for its 1,500 members. More than 60 percent of the local economy in these parts relies on revenue from the sector which employs more than 3, 00,000 people.

South India where the Nilgiris is located contributes over 45 percent to India’s tea exports. Much of the region’s tea comes from 60,000 small tea growers that own one hectare of land and sell tea leaf to 100 small scale factories nearby that process the leaf into tea. On average, these bought-leaf factories consume nine million kilograms of firewood annually much of which is transported to the Nilgiris from over 400 kms away. Roughly 30 percent of production costs can be attributed to energy requirements.

As the Cooperative explored ways to reduce production costs and improve the quality of its tea, it undertook a detailed energy audit which highlighted many opportunities where greater energy efficiency could reduce production costs. The results have been remarkable. In a short span of two years, the cooperative has been able to turn around by saving on its energy bill by 30 percent.

In 2008, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Tea Board of the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India with support from the Global Environment Facility initiated a four year project aimed at introducing energy conservation measures in small tea processing factories that could help units realise between 15 to 30 percent savings in energy costs.

According to V. Arunachalam, the head of Kaikatty, “Before we began investing in energy conservation measures, we viewed it as an exercise that meant choosing between profitability and the climate.” Today his view is different. “Energy efficiency in the tea sector has meant we can do justice both to the hill and the local community which thrives on tea.”

R. Ambalavanan, the Executive Director of the Tea Board of India adds, “The growing shortage of fuel and climate change have created a sustainability challenge for the tea sector. Translating findings from energy audits into actual concrete measures is the key to the adoption of energy conservation practices as part of business strategy.”

As a result of project efforts, more than USD 2.5 million, much of it as private equity, has been channeled into a range of energy saving measures – both in thermal and electric energy – this includes installing more efficient motors, investing in wood chippers to enhance efficiency in burning firewood, modifying blades in the drying process and using renewables such as biomass and hydro power. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions have reduced by around 35,000 tonnes. The experiences of small tea processers have resonated with the larger, export-oriented tea estates. According to Shailajit Roy, Manager at one of the region’s largest tea exporters, “This year, we budgeted over USD 40,000 in energy saving measures, last year we had no budget for these activities.”

For India, where 400 million people still live without electricity and energy needs are rising to drive a rapidly growing economy, efforts such as those by the tea sector in the Nilgiris represent a powerful win-win strategy in addressing the challenge of climate change and profitability of businesses.

Source: UNDP

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