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Tea growers target high quality, new markets

Update: April, 19/2010 - 11:03

Farmers cultivate tea in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai. The nation's tea industry has targeted exports of US$700 million annually by 2020. — VNA/VNS Photo Sy Huynh

Farmers cultivate tea in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai. The nation's tea industry has targeted exports of US$700 million annually by 2020. — VNA/VNS Photo Sy Huynh

HA NOI — The nation's tea industry has targeted exports of US$700 million by 2020, a goal that the Viet Nam Tea Association considers well within reach of current exports of $500 million per year.

To be able to achieve the goal, the sector must acquire new markets by producing products of high quality at reasonable prices, said association chairman Nguyen Kim Phong.

"To enhance the stature of the tea industry on domestic and international markets, it is compulsory that all products carrying the Vietnamese tea trademark meet national standards," said Phong.

The association had a sustainable strategy which included modernising the processing industry, increasing capacity, improving quality and increasing training for farmers on tea cultivation techniques, he added.

Viet Nam is one of the world's eight leading tea-growing nations, with favourable geology and climatic conditions, according to the association. It ranks fifth internationally and first among ASEAN countries in production and exports, with Russia its leading export market.

Vietnamese tea can now be found in 110 countries and territories around the world, and the "Che Viet" (Vietnamese tea) trademark has been registered and protected in 73 regional and national markets.

Tea exports totalled 24,000 tonnes in the first quarter of this year, earning $33 million – an increase of 6.3 per cent in quantity and 14.6 per cent in value over the same period last year. Average prices rose during the quarter by $93 per tonne to about $1,200.

Tea, like most Vietnamese agricultural products, needs to develop a trademark before being exported to international markets, said Viet Nam Farmers Association vice president Le Hoang Minh.

"A lot of products renowned domestically, such as Thai Nguyen tea, haven't even been upgraded to national trademarks, let alone recognised by international markets," Minh said. "That's why the price of Vietnamese tea is only half the world average."

To build a trademark for the tea industry, enterprises needed to invest in processing technologies and improve labelling, as well as product quality, efforts which the State needed to support with funding, Minh added.

Tea exports in 2009 reached 133,000 tonnes, worth a total of $178 million, an increase of $30 million over the previous year – making tea the only major export product to see rises in both quantity and value last year during the economic crisis, said Phong.

"The trend worldwide is that a lot of people are switching from coffee and soft drinks, helping the tea industry stand firm during the global recession," he explained.

The industry has also strived for better quality and more hygienic processing technologies, he said, with research to create new varieties of tea adaptable to specific climate and soil conditions of different areas. Tea growing and harvesting techniques have been improved so that no toxic chemicals were left in green tea.

But the general director of Phu Tho-based Phu Bien Tea Co Ltd. Ranjit Dasgupta, said the nation's tea industry needed to be restructured, calling for the establishment of a national committee with full legal status to set policies and regulations for the industry.

Associations of small-scale farmers at communal levels, whose tea could be then directly sold to major processors, would also be helpful, he said.

"Brokers would be excluded and farmers would be able to benefit from a fair price for their products."

Lain Lang, head of a research group studying the feasibility of setting up a national tea trading floor, said the lack of a commodities exchange made it difficult for processors to assess market value and was forcing them to sell products at unnecessarily low prices to international buyers.

Tea is cultivated on more than 128,000ha in 35 provinces around the country, with an average yield of 6,500kg/ha, providing tea to about 700 processing plants, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development

Up to 6 million people now live on tea farming and processing, Phong added, with the industry playing a key role in reducing poverty in the nation's remote, mountainous areas. — VNS

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