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Small growers seek govt help

Jorhat, Jan. 8: Bisa Nang Gam, grandson of Bisa Gam, who was instrumental in bringing tea to the notice of the British and the world, would have grown and made tea as it was done during the days of his forefathers — plucked from wild tea trees in the forests and made in bamboo soongas (bamboo cylinders).

However, he and others in Margherita have compromised because it is not cost-effective to go to the forests and pluck leaves atop elephants any more. Neither is there a market for tea made in soongas. That is why they have had to change on some counts. Most of the growers are concentrated in Bisa Gaon and Inthem village areas of Margherita. They have been growing wild tea in columns as the British did in plantations in the organic way and drying them manually in kerahis since 2000.

Manje La, chairman of Singpho, Sema Tangsa and Mantai Development Council, who also has a 15-bigha organic tea plantation, said if the government provided more support to small tea growers, they could garner a bigger market. Bisa Nang, Manje La, Imon Chakhap and Molu Ronrang Tangsa were invited by the Tocklai Experimental Station to take part in the national seminar here today and share their experiences.

“The best way to grow tea is to grow it organically. We should live and sustain the environment in which we live. I would love to pluck leaves from wild tea trees several metres tall from atop elephants as was done in the 19th century but keeping an elephant has become a costly affair. So the column system of growing tea, which we taught the British, prevails,” Bisa Nang Gam said. “It was after we hacked all the bushes in anger when the British taxed us in the early 19th century that new leaves sprouted and the pruning of bushes and the column system began.”

The tea, which they make, called phalap, was an instantaneous hit at the seminar, where it was served to the delegates. Manje La said an easier and cheaper way of producing organic tea is to get it certified.