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Tea Board blends AI, digital tech for that perfect cup of chai

January 30, 2019 09:00 IST

Chai Sahay, an artificial intelligence-based mobile app, will be primarily used to issue advisory, disseminate information related to various schemes of the board for the sector as well as provide real-time weather updates, says Avishek Rakshit.

Photograph: Rupak De Choudhuri/Reuters

Digital technology is poised to play a major role to better the yield and quality of Indian tea this year, as the Tea Board of India is coming up with an artificial intelligence-based mobile app for the sector targeted primarily at small tea growers (STGs).

This app, which may be christened Chai Sahay, will be primarily used by the regulatory authority to issue advisory, disseminate information related to various schemes of the board for the sector as well as provide real-time weather updates.

Sources in the Tea Board said field activities of various board officials will also be monitored by the app such as garden visits, their analysis of the tea bushes, health of the STGs, so that summary reports can be generated.

This way, the board feels, the quality of tea in various small gardens can be monitored for slippages.

"There will be other beneficial features in the app as well and we may likely have some positive development on this front by mid-February.

"It is time for the tea sector to adopt modern technology," A K Ray, chairman at the Tea Board, said.

A database of all registered STGs will be uploaded back-end, which will drive and feed information to the Android-based app.

While five years ago, the STGs accounted for around 25 per cent of the total tea production in India, they now account for 47 per cent of the total Indian tea production.

However, estate owners have time and again complained about quality and pesticide issues from some of the STGs' gardens, which adversely pull down prices in the auctions.

Apart from sharing of information and monitoring the heath of the STGs, this app will also empower an odd base of over a 200,000 STGs to obtain information about pesticides and get real-time suggestions on yield problems from the Tea Research Association (TRA).

Sources among the STGs said the users can report pest problems or plant disease directly to the TRA, the research and development backbone of the tea industry, which, in turn, will suggest which pesticide or fertiliser to use and how.

"It will help maintain residue levels in the end-produce and help us compete in the international market alongside the bigger estates," a small planter from Assam said.

According to Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, president of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association, various STGs are in the dark about board schemes and the residue level requirements in various export markets, which limit their produce to domestic and local consumption.

"Through this app, the STGs will come to know about various board schemes, which will help them improve yield as well as quality," said Chakraborty.

This app is being developed in native Java language and the back-end web services are being developed using the Microsoft (MS).NET Framework with MS SQL and Oracle server database by a Guwahati-based firm.

The board as well as the industry for long has been toying with the idea of how to use digital technology to better the produce, which will directly lead to better sales prices. Although the TRA provides the necessary innovations, their activity mostly revolves around improving the plant quality, yield, and development of clonal varieties.

"Using such modern technology will also help the board reach out faster to the STGs or the estate app users at one go," said Chakraborty.

Avishek Rakshit in Kolkata
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