Safe-tea growers struggle amid mushrooming low-quality processing facilities

By Vuong Duc Anh   June 12, 2016 | 01:58 am GMT+7
Safe-tea growers struggle amid mushrooming low-quality processing facilities
Harvesting tea. Photo by Vuong Duong Nguyen

Poor planning and fragmented production cycle with mushrooming impromptu processing plants are jeopardizing the quality of Vietnamese tea products while making it hard for responsible growers to strive.

Solutions for safe tea production and increasing value added of Vietnamese tea were discussed at an agricultural extension forum held on June 10 in the country’s “tea province” of Thai Nguyen.

Dr. Phan Huy Thong, director of the National Agriculture Extension Center (NAEC), said as spontaneous tea farms are no longer yielding high profits, growers should consider switching to “safe tea”.

But first, they would have to overcome an obstacle that is mushrooming low-quality processing facilities, he added.

Many new tea companies have emerged recently, including wholly foreign owned firms in northern Vietnam and a number of joint ventures, according to a report by Cultivation Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

This has prompted development of large-scale farms spanning tens of hectares growing new tea varieties using modern and safe technology in Lam Dong, Thai Nguyen, Cao Bang and Phu Tho provinces.

However, lack of coordination between tea growers and producers as well as poor planning of processing plants has led to fights over tea supply and distribution while farmers have been pressured to sell at low prices, according to a top official from the Cultivation Department.

Dr. Thong said that unplanned processing plants, especially small scale ones with low technology, have put a strain on sourcing input material while lessening the importance of quality.

On top of that, quality control remains to be loose, which explains the inconsistency of Vietnamese tea’s quality, Dr. Thong added.

The Cultivation Department also pointed out that, too many intermediaries in the production cycle has not only increased costs but also extended preservation time, thus reducing tea quality. It's said to be the main reason for the low quality of Vietnam's final tea products, leading to lower prices and competitiveness in the world market.

“It's time to change and act towards safer and more sustainable tea production,” said Dr. Thong. He added that input materials have to be carefully inspected at all stages of production.

Vietnam's agriculture ministry has allocated 140,000 hectares to grow high yielding tea varieties using clean production techniques. More than half of the allocated farmland will be used to grow medium to high quality tea.

The volume of Vietnam's tea exports in 2016 in the first five months reached 41,000 tons, worth $64 million, down by four percent in volume and 7.5 percent in value on-year. However, there are some markets where export value increased strongly such as Indonesia (by more than 96 percent) and Malaysia (up 100 percent).