Hope for Small Tea Growers

Mountain Day hope for Small Tea Growers

Dharmalingam Venugopal

[Nilgiri Documentation Centre, Kotagiri]

There is hope for small tea growers of Nilgiris if only they can reinvent themselves as family growers catering to a value added niche market. This was the conclusion of the workshop on ‘Sustaining Small Family Growers in the Nilgiris’ oragnised by Nilgiri Documentation Centre and supported by Hill Area Development Programme and Fortune Hotel Sullivan Court on International Mountain Day 2014.

Small growers currently face high risks due to weather, price and market fluctuations and are caught in a classic ‘Scissor crisis’. When they entered the tea industry in the 1980s tea prices were high and the labour cost was low. Since then, labour and other costs have steadily increased while prices have declined leaving them caught in between the two blades of the scissor.

Small growers should give up their attitude of despondency and be creative to find solution to their problems by substituting quality for quantity and family labour for hired labour. Small growers can better control the various quality parameters that affect tea such as nutrients in the tea bush, quality of plucking and quality in the manufacturing process and make small quantities of high value teas rather than merely growing more and earning less. They must learn the manufacturing techniques for high value teas from organizations such as UPASI and Tea Board. The decline in volume will automatically help in realizing a higher price for green leaf from Bought Leaf and co-operative factories.
Nilgiri teas are high grown with a lot of flavour more comparable to Darjeeling teas which are consumed without milk than Assam teas which depend on strength. However, while both Darjeeling and Assam teas are playing to their strength, Nilgiri teas are playing to their weakness, thereby keeping their teas at the bottom of the value pyramid.

Small growers should focus on black tea and other value added products like organic and green teas. Small growers who manufacture their own teas should set up a common brand to collectively sell their teas. Already a number of consortium initiatives have been taken to grow organic teas, bio-dynamic teas, soft leaves and so on. With such concerted backward and forward linkages on a consortium mode and with the assistance of Tea Board, Small farmers can confidently sustain themselves.

In recognition of the ‘increasing significance of the small-growers sector’, the Tea Board has allocated Rs.200 crores for development of small-holdings for the five year period from 2012-13 to 2016-17.

A large number of small tea growers are Badagas who have been caught in the storm – definitely not a ‘storm in the tea cup’ – unremunerative price for green leaf, unscrupulous green leaf tea agents, unhelpful attitude of the Tea factories and not easily approachable Tea Board & UPASI.

The initiative taken by NDC, hope and pray, will bring some cheer in this winter chill – Wg Cdr JP

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