Low quality drags down Vietnam's tea exports

By Bach Duong   August 19, 2016 | 12:06 am PT
Low quality drags down Vietnam's tea exports
Women work on a tea field at Suoi Giang village, in northern Yen Bai province, Vietnam June 5, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Kham
Excessive use of pesticides has got the world’s fifth largest tea exporter in hot water.

Despite supplying a large volume of tea to the global market, Vietnam's products are considered inferior to its competitors as they fail to reach food safety standards.

Over the first seven months of this year, the country shipped more than 69,000 tons of tea abroad, recording an on-year increase of five percent in volume but a two percent decrease in value, according to the Vietnam Industry and Trade Information Center (VITIC).

The average price of Vietnamese tea was $1,160 per ton, down 6.6 percent against a year ago.

The center said that Vietnam is the fifth largest tea exporter in the world (behind Kenya, Sri Lanka, China and India) and provides a wide of varieties like black tea, green tea, oolong tea and jasmine tea.

However, Vietnam's tea exports are traded for about 60-70 percent less than its competitors.

The reason for this is a decline in quality due to extensive use of pesticides.

A survey by the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that 49 percent of Vietnamese farmers sprayed pesticides onto their plantations at higher levels than recommended.  64 percent mixed two types of pesticides together while 14 percent said they had blended three types as they didn’t know this would increase the chemical concentration.

In addition to pesticide abuse, many farmers even use products that are banned by the ministry.

Each year, the ministry updates a list of products that are banned in Vietnam. However, many farmers still manage to get their hands on these products hoping to boost output, but they also leave a high content of residue on the leaves.

 In July last year, Taiwan returned 80 tons of tea grown in the Central Highland province of Lam Dong due to excessive pesticide residue. Other 2,000 tons of tea were kept in stock rather than reaching the Taiwanese market as scheduled for the same reason.

Farmers, however, shouldn’t be the only ones taking the responsibility for low-quality tea products.

The VITIC said that many tea manufacturers have no control over the quality of their input materials, and as the prices these companies offer are low, farmers lack the motivation to improve on quality.

To develop a sustainable tea industry, the VITIC said that tea processors should set up long-term plantations where the use of pesticides is tightly controlled.

Last year, Vietnam exported some 125,000 tons of tea to other countries, a dip of 5.8 percent from the previous year. Pakistan was the largest recipient of Vietnamese tea, accounting for 39 percent of the total volume, followed by Taiwan at 13 percent.

90 percent of exports were raw products with low export value.

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