Brewing up a recipe for success in tea production

Myanmar’s tea industry, which once suffered a serious blow to its reputation when harmful dyes were found to be used in production in 2009, is slowly making its way back through efforts such as organic growing and better processing methods, tea-producing businesses have told The Myanmar Times.

Tea plantations in the country are mostly found in northern Shan state, southern Shan state, Kachin state and Chin state.

“We have been sharing knowledge on proper manufacturing processes all along the supply chain with the help of the development agency GIZ Germany. The planters are now also better organised and forming groupings such as the Ywa Ngan tea cluster.

“On the production side of things, foreign consultants have been brought in to share knowledge on how to establish proper tea factories,” Yatharwathi Co Ltd Managing Director Ko Myo Win Aung told The Myanmar Times.

U Tun Oo, secretary for the Palaung Tea Association in Kyauk Mae Township told the Myanmar Times that the organisation has been trying to move towards organic-style manufacturing since 2013.

While progress has been made, there have been bumps along the way.

Though there have been many efforts aimed at producing organic tea, northern Shan state tea growers have been less inclined than southern Shan state farmers to adopt organic growing practices.

“The reluctance is likely due to an unwillingness to adopt new methods among growers who are used to doing things the old way. Another factor is the local market itself. People in Myanmar do not value good tea as much as they should.

Every tea shop serves yay nwe gyan(green tea) so it makes it difficult to charge higher prices for organic tea,” U Tun Oo said.

Yet another factor affecting the industry is the competition from tea imported from China.

“We understand that competition can be good for the industry, but we would also like to see the government doing more to support us,” U Tun Oo said.

However, he added, one good thing that is coming out of China, besides the competition, is good machinery. Machinery used in the tea industry coming from China is generally better than what is made locally.

In 2010, 116 out of 128 green tea manufacturing factories closed due to a drop in demand following the dye scandal. With a limited local market and changes in tea culture, fewer farmers are interested in moving towards organic growing, which in turn hampers production.

As part of efforts to stimulate demand and consumption, tea industry players have been trying to introduce new uses such as tea rolled in sushi, tea in steamed gluten rice and tea juice (besides the traditional tea leaf salad).

However, Ko Kyaw Thiha, a grower of organic green tea told The Myanmar Times that most people in the country don’t even know what organic truly means and the benefits of organic products. His product, Nora Green tea, won local organic certification in 2001.

“Understanding of the concept of ‘organic’ depends on a country’s level of development. Our country is still less developed. Wealthier countries have gained an awareness about the importance of organic produce for years now,” Ko Kyaw Thiha told The Myanmar Times.

In Myanmar, most tea produced is either classified as fermented tea, green tea, black tea or red tea.

Local producers are now trying to grow the local market and enter international markets. Local producers are now exporting tea with local or international organic certification for the European and other western markets.

There are total of six tea producing companies which have obtained such international certificates including Shwe Pan Law and Shwe Parami.

While gaining local certification for organic produce is possible, obtaining an equivalent European certificate is difficult due to the expense.

Ko Myo Win Aung, creator of the first organic fermented tea brand in the country, Paline, says his products are certified by the European Union and the United States Department of Agriculture and it can cost as much as US$10,000 (K14 million) to obtain the certification. Paline products are aimed at the premium market and can be found in limited locations.

Another challenge faced by producers is the fact that the area which has most tea plantation is conflict-ridden. There are some 800,000 acres of tea plantations in the country, and increasing this is difficult due to security issues.

“While we are on the path to organic growing, one thing we need to be concerned about is the rise in the minimum wage. Some manufactures may use fertilisers in order to reduce costs,”said U Zaw Nyunt of the Palung Tea Association, which exports its tea to the United States.

Myanmar tea has been exported to Germany since 2017 and sales have expanded into the US, Singapore and China.

“A Myanmar Tea showroom will be opened in Nanning city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. This is our next step to penetrate the international market. China’s middle class is growing, they are diversifying their food tastes and we hope that Myanmar tea will meet their tastes,” Ko Ye Win Aung told The Myanmar Times.

Teais slowly becoming a strategic export item under the fruit, vegetables, and flowers drawn up by the government in 2017, and more attention is being paid to strategising ways to improve the industry.

“Increasing exports will not be an easy task because our competitors are China and Japan, which have a big tea cultures and better techniques. We still lack the technology they have. Nonetheless, our country is making a significant effort to take the organic path and will continue to produce high quality products,” U Myo Thu, director of the Myanmar Trade Promotion under the Ministry of commerce told The Myanmar Times.

Source: Myanmar Times

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