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Factory licence for small tea growers

Jorhat, June 17: Small tea growers, who have always complained of being paid a pittance by the factories for their produce, now have reason to cheer with the Tea Board India assuring at least one self-help group among them of a licence to set up its own processing unit within a month and encouraging others to follow suit.

The factory will provide members of the self-help group, Kofeucha, a captive buyer and thus bring to end their perpetual complaint of being offered a low price by bought leaf factories and factories owned by the bigger gardens for their green leaf.

Comprising 300 members, Kofeucha — named after three villages Kohargaon, Fetanigarh and Udaipur — where the members have their gardens (cha stands for tea) — is the largest and the oldest SHG among the small tea growers in Assam and was formed way back in 1994.

The factory will come up in the Tingkhong area of Dibrugarh district and have the capacity to produce 15,000kg of tea per day.

“Setting up of our own factory will be the beginning of a new chapter for small tea growers in the state. Within the next couple of years we are hopeful of coming out with our own brand of tea,” chief adviser of the self-help group, Cheniram Khanikar, told The Telegraph today.

He said the Tea Board will provide a 40 per cent subsidy to set up the factory, which would cost nearly Rs 3 crore.

According to a government survey conducted recently, there are nearly 72,000 registered small tea growers in Assam and they account for nearly 30 per cent of the state’s tea production of nearly 500 million kg.

This is nearly 18 per cent of the country’s total production.

While confirming the development, Tea Board chairman M.G.V.K. Bhanu told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta that the board has been encouraging small tea growers in Assam to form self-help groups and set up factories of their own.

“Kofeucha will be the first self-help group in Assam to be issued a licence for the factory. We have also asked other SHGs to apply for licences to set up factories and if these groups fulfil the necessary criteria we will definitely issue licences to them, too,” Bhanu said.

A team of Tea Board officials, including Bhanu, visited Upper Assam recently and was impressed with the functioning of the self-help group.

There are nearly 200 self-help groups in the state.

The general secretary of the All-Assam Small Tea Growers Association, Karuna Mahanta, said the Tea Board’s assurance of issuing the licence is a welcome step and will help small tea growers to be independent.

“We no longer have to depend on bought leaf factories and other factories of big tea gardens to sell our leaf and about getting low prices. We can now concentrate on producing quality tea and come up with our own brand,” he said.

Bhanu said the SHGs to whom licences would be issued have been asked to use only green leaf produced by the members of the self-help group.

“Someone from outside the SHG willing to sell green leaf to a particular factory should be enrolled in the group,” he said.