| Labourers pluck leaves in a tea garden in North Lakhimpur. File picture |
Jorhat, April 28: The directorate of tea has released a part of cess collected from small tea growers to train over 21,000 such growers across 18 districts of Assam.
In December, the All Assam Small Tea Growers Association had threatened to stop paying the cess of 25 paisa per kg on green tea leaves from February if the state government did not release funds for their training and other welfare activities.
Besides the usual training and campaigns, the department of tea husbandry and technology, Assam Agricultural University, which is the training partner, will also give specialised training on processing in micro and mini factories and marketing.
Gautam Kumar Saikia, co-ordinator of the department’s small tea growers’ advisory programme said the directorate of tea had come forward to support a programme to educate growers on all aspects of tea cultivation with a financial support of Rs 1.5 crore collected as cess from the small tea growers.
The project initiated by the department was inaugurated in February at Brahmajan village under Pengeri police station in Tinsukia district but no training could be held because of the imposition of the model code of conduct ahead of general elections.
Saikia said the project was submitted in 2013 for capacity building of small growers to be completed within one year.
“The funds will be used to hold institutional training programmes in which 30 participants will be trained for five days each in 24 batches at the university. Secondly, there will be 120 one-day field training in which we will train the growers in their tea gardens. Thirdly, there will be 18 awareness campaigns on problems such as pesticide residue and overuse of chemical fertilisers,” Saikia said.
He said the Tea Board of India has assured small tea growers of setting up micro and mini factories so that they can process the tea they produce. Emphasis will be given on this as most of them have no knowledge about how to make tea from the green leaves, he added.
“Although a lot of educated youths have entered the tea industry, their technical knowhow of growing tea vis-à-vis pruning, skiffing, shade trees, pesticides, fertilizers and producing made tea is negligible,” Saikia said.
The department has been working as an advisory body since 1988 by opening a tea advisory cell, which was elevated to the small tea growers’ advisory programme when it received grant from the tea board for training tea growers.
The president of All Assam Small Tea Growers Association, Karuna Mahanta, said he was happy that at least the government had acceded to their request and given a small portion of the money for educating the growers but a lot was left to be done regarding implementation of welfare schemes in the gardens.
“Since March 2009, since cess was collected, the government must have got at least Rs 100 crore or more and we are demanding that this money should be released for welfare schemes in the small tea gardens,” Mahanta said.