Kochi: Kerala-based Poabs Group, which made a mark internationally with its organic coffee exports, is making a big push for the tea business. The group has acquired six tea estates and is in final negotiations for the takeover of three more. The estates, which belonged to the Ram Bahadur Thakur Group (RBT), are located in the Idukki district of Kerala and have been closed for more than five years.
The acquisitions come a year after the Kerala government took over the 351.36-acre organic coffee estate managed by Poabs in the Nelliampathy hills in Palakkad district on the expiry of its lease.
The tea estates were put up for auction about two months ago after RBT failed to make its contribution to the workers’ provident fund accounts. The dues have been paid now and around 3,000 workers have begun work on the estates, said Thomas Jacob, chief executive officer of Poabs. Plucking of tea leaves was in progress and leaves were being sold locally to tea factories. The group has spent Rs76 crore on the acquisitions so far, he added.
Jacob said the group was awaiting registration of the land. On charges that surplus land has come under these estates, he said he had requested the government to undertake a survey and reclaim any surplus land so that Poabs could begin production.
“Only after registration can the group look for funds in the form of loans and also convert the loans availed earlier by the estates to medium-term ones under different schemes of the Rs60 crore relief package of the Tea Board for reopening closed tea estates. And only after getting sufficient funds can the group open factories and start production,” Jacob said.
There are six factories in these estates, which need to be renovated and revamped. Most of them are beyond repair because of years of disuse, he said.
According to estimates, around Rs15 crore would be needed to set up new factories meeting international standards. He said the group would be requesting the Tea Board for some assistance, since it gives subsidies only after investment is made in the factories.
Jacob said since the area was once known for the manufacture of high quality orthodox tea, the group would look at producing this variety, in addition to green tea, which is increasingly becoming popular as a health drink.
Jacob said Poabs was still trying to get the lease on the Palakkad organic coffee estate renewed. The estate is now with the state’s forest department.
“There are still international orders pouring in for the rare and exquisite organic coffee grown in these estates,” he said. Under Poabs, the estate produced 250 tonnes of coffee and 115 tonnes of pepper. This has now come down to 117 tonnes of coffee and 15 tonnes of pepper, Jacob said.