by To Nhu &Mai Linh
HA NOI — If the tea sector is to meet its target of an annual export value of US$440 million by 2015 – double this year's figure – it must improve the quality of its product, according to industry experts.
|A female worker gathers tea at a local tea farm in the central province of Nghe An. — VNA/VNS Photo Ngo My
Despite the fact that Viet Nam is the sixth biggest tea exporter in the world, the country's exports typically sell for 40 per cent lower than the global market price.
"It is because the tea sector has focused on quantity rather than quality," said Nguyen Thanh Do, deputy director of the Department of Processing and Trade for the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production sector.
He added that the problem lay with not only tea cultivation but also the processing and trading stages.
At the moment, about 65 per cent of the country's tea cultivation area was under the control of small holders, which was inefficient, due in part to the fact that local farmers had failed to invest in new technology, Do said.
He also said tea enterprises and farmers should work more closely together to boost quality.
Phan Huy Binh, director of Trung Nguyen Export-Import Company, said that foreign buyers were put off by the poor quality of Vietnamese tea.
Meanwhile, Doan Anh Tuan, president of the Viet Nam Tea Association, said standards were inconsistent and that Vietnamese producers needed to better enhance their trademarks.
He also said 50 per cent of the tea exported was unprocessed and sold in bulk. Just a small quantity of tea was exported in its finished form and packaged in a recognisable form, such as Oolong, Pho Nhi and Tan Cuong, he said.
As well as boosting quality and trademark recognition, he said more tea varieties needed to be grown in Viet Nam if the country wanted to achieve its tea-export target.
The focus should be on developing traditional specialty tea varieties, Tuan said.
Deputy General Director of the Viet Nam National Tea Corporation (Vinatea) Nguyen Huu Tai said his firm's products had made successful inroads into six major overseas markets – Russia, Iraq, Germany, Pakistan, Japan and Afghanistan.
He added that his firm was aiming to sell 30 per cent of its tea in its finished form under the company's logo domestically and abroad by 2015.
Industry experts said the expansion of tea-growing areas had to go hand in hand with the development of tea-processing factories.
Tuan, from the Viet Nam Tea Association, said that in some communes there were a dozen of tea-processing factories, but not enough raw materials, "which is wasted investment."
Meanwhile, most of the tea-processing factories could only handle about 10 tonnes of tea leaves a day because they lacked up-to-date technology, he said.
Tuan added that just 15 per cent of processing factories had invested in the latest technology capable of producing quality tea hygienically.
He also said that each processor should be allocated tea from a particular area so that firms would not compete among themselves for raw materials.
In 2011, tea production increased 6.5 per cent over the previous year to 888,600 tonnes, despite a decrease in the cultivation area by 2 per cent to 130,000ha.
Currently, there are 450 tea-processing factories capable of handling more than a tonne of leaves a day in the country.
Vietnamese tea is exported to 110 countries and territories in the world. Last year's export turnover was worth about $200 million. — VNS