Kochi: In a bid to seek concessions from the government and improve the quality of tea, more than 160,000 small tea growers—those with less than 4ha landholdings—in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh have formed a new body, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association.
Reaping benefits: A woman works in a tea garden. Thanks to self-help groups, small growers have better bargaining power for their produce.
These growers account for around 25% of the more than 900 million kg of India’s annual tea production. The small growers, however, dominate other plantation crops such as coffee and rubber. In coffee, small growers account for more than 60% of the annual production of around 300,000 tonnes, and in rubber, they have a share of more than 90% of the 800,000 tonnes or so annual production.
This umbrella organization has been formed by state-level associations of tea growers such as the High Range Small Tea Growers Association in Kerala and the Nilgiri Small Tea Growers Association in Tamil Nadu. The body is likely to get a representation on the government trade promotion body, the Tea Board.
Once that is done, the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association will have access to various schemes of the Tea Board, says P.A. Joseph, president of High Range Small Tea Growers Association. The confederation will help coordinate various activities being undertaken for quality improvement of tea manufacturing to match international standards.
Joseph says that around 25,000 small growers in Idukki district in Kerala have begun the process of forming self-help groups (SHGs). Around 100 growers have been brought together and registered with the Tea Board.
Small growers across India have formed around 150 SHGs, each with 75-100 members. R.D. Nazeem, executive director of the Tea Board in south India, says each of these SHGs, which needs to be registered with the Tea Board, gets support through a fund of around Rs5 lakh, besides subsidy for transporting the leaves to the factories and also for processing them.
The SHGs have better bargaining power. The members of SHGs now earn as much as Rs10 per kg of green leaves from the processing factories, double what they were getting earlier.
According to Nazeem, hardly 10% of small growers are registered with the Tea Board and few growers have access to the board’s schemes.
The board is keen to undertake a survey of small tea holdings across the country and carry out a census of small tea growers.
It is also involving the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in West Bengal, to develop new cost-effective manufacturing technologies for small growers.
Admitting that there are problems of quality, especially among small tea growers in West Bengal, Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, says his ministry has written to the state governments to issue land possession certificates to the growers.