Tea research in south India: at a glance
The legendary history of United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI) dates back to late nineteenth century, even though, tea has been introduced and cultivated in certain pockets of southern India much earlier than 1894. The relationship between UPASI and scientific research on plantation crops can not be separated since its inception. In pre-independent era, until 1924 UPASI depends on the financial assistance provided by the then state governments of Madras and Mysore Durbar for agricultural research on plantation crops. With the auspices of governments aid, the Tea Experimental Station at Peermade, the Rubber Experimental Station at Thenmalai and the Coffee Research Station in Coorg were established, however, the experimental station at Mundakayam was administered entirely by UPASI.
The First Tea Experimental Station
The first milestone in the history of UPASI was the establishment of a separate Tea Experimental Station at Davershola in 1927 where Dr. W.S. Shaw was appointed as the First Scientific Officer followed by the appointment of an Assistant Scientific Officer in the same year. To meet the tea research expenses, UPASI levied a cess of eight annas per acre on its members. Between 1926 and 1932, the area under tea in south India expanded by 14,000 ha from 34,000 to 48,000 ha. Keeping in view of the expansion of tea area and to strengthen the research activities, UPASI appointed an Entomologist and a Mycologist in 1932 and a Soil Chemist a couple of years latter (1935) to work on composts which evoked considerable interest at that time. During post independence, particularly in 1948, a vacancy in the staff was created by the resignation of the Mycologist and in his place a Botanist was appointed who had contributed both on mycological and cultural aspects of tea. In the mid fifties, the Tea Board, Government of India recognized the research activities of the Institute and provided financial support by way of a capital grant. Research activities got further accelerated in 1958 with the establishment of two new departments – Agronomy and Plant Pathology. In addition during 1965, a Tea Technologist was appointed to advice on manufacturing aspects. In 1980, division of Plant Physiology was established by appointing a Plant Physiologist. At present the Institute has seven divisions viz., Botany, Chemistry, Entomology, Pesticide Residue, Plant Pathology & Microbiology, Plant Physiology & Biotechnology and Tea Technology. The Institute also offers advisory and analytical services to the estates located in and around Valparai.
TRI and Advisory Centres
Considering the pre-independence political situations, the Tea Experimental Station was set up in Davershola (Gudalur) on the assumption that the location would become central when vast areas in Mysore would be planted with tea. However, this assumption was disproved since Devarshola station was located at the northern range of the south Indian tea plantations. In order to cater the need of the planters’ instantaneously, it was decided to establish/shift the Research Station from Devarshola to the centrally located Valparai in the Anamallai mountain range. Further to the decision, the Association was able to purchase 63.3 hectares of land from the Government Cinchona Plantations. Even though, the construction work of research laboratories and living quarters commenced in 1961, entire shifting was completed by 1966. During the course of time, in 1964, a substation was instituted at Vandiperiyar, Kerala to cater the requirements of tea planters at Peermedu and Central Travancore region. Later, in order to maintain a systematic knowledge transfer system from the scientists of UPASI and enable to adopt the same by the tea industry, advisory centres were established periodically and the first advisory centre started functioning in Munnar (High Range) during 1968 followed by Coonoor (The Nilgiris) and Meppadi (Wayanad) in 1971, Gudalur (Nilgiri-Wayanad) in 1980 and Durgadbetta (Chikmagalur, Karnataka) in 1987. Initially, the Durgadbetta centre functioning from an estate was shifted to TRF’s own building in 2002 which was more centrally situated in Koppa considering the tea growing regions of Karnataka.
The UPASI Tea Research Foundation
The UPASI Tea Scientific Department witnessed a very important event in 1999. The UPASI found it necessary to form a separate Tea Research Foundation (hereafter TRF) for better administration of scientific research pertaining to cultivation, production and processing of tea and other allied aspects. Management of the UPASI TRF vests with the Board of Trustees whose tenure is for three years. The Board of Trustees consists of members not exceeding 15 and they have to be nominated by the Executive Committee of UPASI, two representatives of the Government of India nominated by the Ministry of Commerce and three representatives of the Tea Board, including the Chairman, Tea Board. However, the day to day administration of the Foundation is carried out by the Management Committee, consisting of the six members of the Board of Trustees (nominated by UPASI) and two members of the Board of Trustees (nominees from Ministry of Commerce and Tea Board) besides the Director, TRF is an ex officio member and the Secretary General of UPASI is the Secretary of the TRF. At present the UPASI TRF comprises the Tea Research Institute at Valparai and its six Regional (Advisory) Centres at Coonoor, Gudalur, Koppa, Munnar, Meppadi and Vandiperiyar as mentioned earlier.
The Tea Research Institute is located near the Nirar Dam in Valparai, in the Anamallai Hills, Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu while the administrative/registered office located in Coonoor, The Nilgiris. The Research Institute situated at 1,050 m above MSL, is 120 km from Coimbatore city, 76 km from Pollachi and 12 km from Valparai town. Decennial average (2001-2010) rainfall of the Valparai is 3969 mm. The mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 26.0 and 15.4°C, respectively; the mean relative humidity varies from 76 to 89%. The Experimental Farm of UPASI has 63.27 hectares of land of which 48.0 ha are planted with vegetatively propagated clonal teas. The Tea Board had also handed over to TRI another 36.42 ha adjoining the Tea Experimental Farm. A part of this area is planted with the available commercial Camellia species and other genotypes including ornamental Camellias. This collection of germplasm has been recognized as the National Active Germplasm Site (NAGS) by the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR).