Vietnam hopes to increase its tea-export prices to the world average and double export turnover by 2015.
Nguyen Quoc Vong from RMIT University Vietnam, said a national tea committee should be set up to create a legal system, define production standards and generally manage the sector’s development.
The proposal was well received by representatives from north-western provinces with large areas under cultivation – Lao Cai, Yen Bai and Tuyen Quang.
However, other planters said the foundation of a national committee was not necessary. They believed it would be more practical to enhance the capacity of the existing Vietnam Tea Association (Vitas).
According to Vitas President Doan Anh Tuan, low production from small-scale farms, poor quality maintenance and loose links between enterprises and planters were headaches for the sector.
Tuan said 65 per cent of tea growing areas were under the management of planters, but output was only about 70 per cent of that of the bigger enterprises.
Nguyen Duy Thinh from Hanoi University of Science and Technology said Vietnam’s tea export price was the lowest in the world, about $1,160 a tonne.
This did not encourage planters to continue, he said, adding that many wanted to quit when they were recently paid only VND7,000 ($34 cents) a kilo.
Tuan said raising the quality of tea products was the first priority. And building a strong brand for Vietnam’s tea was the second.
He suggested that planters develop terraced fields and be shown which seedlings and farming techniques to use. He said this would help ensure productivity and quality.
Vong said that to strengthen cooperation between farmers and tea processors, planters should consider a scheme where they – and their land – would become shareholders of tea processing factories.
He said tea-quality inspection centres be used to ensure that standards complied with overseas demands.
Vietnam ranks fifth in the world in tea production and export. At present, it has more than 130,000ha of land under plantations. Output has been increasing at the rate of 6 per cent per year.
By 2015, tea export prices are expected to double to about $2,200 a tonne and export turnover $440 million.
During the first seven months of this year, Vietnam exported 73,000 tonnes with a turnover of $108 million, an increase of more than 4 per cent compared to the same period last year.