Vietnam's tea industry must become more sustainable through building concentrated tea areas and improving productivity, quality and safety, experts said at the on- going fifth Vietnam Tea Outlook 2013 in capital Hanoi.
Vietnam exported 86,000 tons of tea so far this year, representing a 15 percent decrease compared with the same period last year, and the supply of raw materials would decrease about 20 percent in 2013 due to unfavorable weather conditions, state-run Vietnam News Agency reported Wednesday, quoting general secretary of the Vietnam Tea Association (VTA) Nguyen Thi Anh Hong as saying.
Fewer farmers were investing their profits back into growing tea and some grew small-scale plantations without proper planning, said the VTA official, adding that the overuse of plant protection chemicals, lack of attention to ensuring quality and safety and weak linkage with farmers are also affecting the industry.
According to the association, Vietnam now exports tea to 61 countries and territories, down from 77. Not a single European nation is among the top 10 markets, with China's Taiwan, Pakistan and China holding the first three positions.
Experts said, Vietnamese tea exporters found the EU countries harder to penetrate due to risks of pesticide residue and consequently focused on easier markets such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and China.
The association called for a central government agency to coordinate government policies for the industry and develop concentrated tea areas to improve the safety and quality of tea leaves.
It also stressed the need to reduce low-scale processing factories and link the processing factories with raw material areas.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) planned for the country's tea growing area to reach 150,000 hectares by 2020, from about 124,000 hectares in 2012.
According to the ministry, although Vietnam is among the top five tea exporters in the world, Vietnamese tea still lacks branding and consumers perceive it as low value.
The average export value per hectare for Vietnamese tea is about 1,200 U.S. dollars, in comparison with 5,700 U.S. dollars for Sri Lanka and over 6,000 U.S. dollars for Kenya, but Vietnamese tea farmers lack the motivation to improve the quality of raw materials.
Long-term planning must tackle the challenge of supplying land for large-scale plantations, monitoring quality throughout the supply chain and restructuring the production of tea products according to changing market demand, said experts.