Guwahati: The Assam Company India Limited (ACIL) is set to transform the Indian tea industry with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain technology and Big Data, thus making tea drinking a one-of-its-kind experience.
ACIL, in association with the American agri-tech company SmartFarms Inc., is trying to introduce the “Farm to Cup” system that would enable a tea drinker in any part of the world to reward the farmer who has plucked the tea leaf used for their cup of tea.
The company will introduce a barcode system with a unique reader to identify the codes and blockchain technology allowing traceability, identification, proof of authenticity and quality assurance.
“We are trying to bring in new technologies from Israel, Australia and the US, to revive the tea industry. The marking will give an identity to the product. An Israeli firm will help us with DNA barcoding and RFID technology for the cause of traceability from the moment the tea leaf is plucked till the moment it is consumed,” said ACIL director Sanjay Jain at a daylong event at the Maijan tea estate in Dibrugarh district on Saturday.
“If anyone in America drinking a cup of tea wants to tip the farmer who plucked the leaves, they will be able to do so. It will be an app-based system,” he added.
The farmers working behind the scenes and earning about Rs 300-350 a day will now be recognised from the field to the tea table. With cutting-edge technology, ACIL also aims to help them increase productivity and reduce costs.
It is also the first tea company to be testing an agricultural drone in Assam tea gardens for spot-spraying tea bushes. Farmers will no longer need to carry a hand-operated sprayer on their backs without any precautions. To help protect the health and safety of Assam tea farmers, SmartFarms Inc. will guide ACIL to build the fully automatic spraying drone that will deliver doses of liquid chemicals and pesticides as it flies over the garden.
The oldest tea company in the world, ACIL was incorporated by the Royal Charter of the British Empire in 1839. Of the 14 tea estates across the state, the ACIL group currently has 10 plantations in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts. The Maijan tea garden encompasses over 500 acres of land in Dibrugarh. ACIL is currently at 1.1 crore kilograms production capacity and aims to increase its capacity to 5 crore in the next five years by increasing farming capacity and additional acquisitions. The company headquarters will also be shifted from Kolkata to Assam for effective functioning.
ACIL had gone through corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP) proceedings last year. BRS Ventures Investment Ltd had participated in the process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, and came out successful bidders. They acquired the company after the National Company Law Tribunal, Guwahati order in September 2018.
Union minister of state for food processing industries, Rameswar Teli, welcomed the initiative and emphasised on the need to use pioneering technology to revive the tea industry. He, however, said that there should be a fixed green leaf price, which now stands at Rs 10 per kilo.
“We have talked to the owners of tea companies as well as small tea growers to have a fixed price for tea leaves, which has been highly fluctuating from Rs 5 to Rs 30 per kg. There’s also the problem of shortage of manpower and maintaining quality in production. Our farmers are now plucking seven leaves and a bud in an interval of 15 days. We need to maintain quality through two leaves and a bud plucking system,” the minister said.