Jorhat, May 27: The weeklong small tea growers’ advisory programme, which concluded yesterday at the department of tea husbandry and technology, Assam Agricultural University here, seemed to be a routine exercise on the surface. What was different was the profile of the trainees.
The group of 30-odd people belonged to the fiercely independent Konyak community from the lush hills of Mon in Nagaland who were head-hunters in the British era.
From trainees who had cleared Class V to post graduates, these traditional jhum (slash and burn method) cultivators had hit on tea as their means of emancipation to a better life and economic uplift of their community, which is still considered “backward”.
The Dimapur chapter of World Vision, an NGO, has sponsored the trainees in this endeavour.
Nanpha, a graduate in political science and Wangham, a post graduate in psychology, from Hongphoi and Wangpho respectively, and Wangpho, a matriculate from Longkei, told this correspondent on the sidelines of the training session that after taking the training they would plant tea on one side of the hill and continue jhum on the other sides.
“We traditionally cultivate paddy. We have also planted saplings of cardamom trees, given to us by World Vision, at the foothills. Now we have decided on tea as this is a good cash crop,” Wangham said.
The reason for the Konyak community taking to tea was that “tea plantations in neighbouring Sonari were paying rich dividends to the owners”.
“Some of us have set up plantations and some sell lea-ves to middlemen from Sonari. But we do not know how to go about the proper way for getting the maximum amount. We also do not know much about fertilizers, pruning and skiffing. We hope to learn everything here,” he said.
Wangpho said there was no factory in or near Mon but a former minister had recently set one up at Tizit nearby. “But we are more used to selling leaves to the middlemen who come and buy it from us for Rs 10-12 or sometimes for Rs 15.”
The Konyaks are proud that they were never under British dominion.
“We fought the British and we could make guns. They did not dare dominate us. It was during the later British rule that we were brought under the Tuensang administrative area. Even then we were exploited and today the so-called advanced tribes of Nagaland deprive us. That is why we want to be economically ahead now,” he said.
The trio spoke of the poor infrastructure, educational backwardness of the people saying that “there is only one government college”, and how the people for generations were given opium by the British and “are still trying to come out of it”.
“World Vision and UNDP have helped us. Now we want the tea husbandry department here to teach us everything about tea,” he said.
Mon borders Myanmar, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and the districts of Tuensang and Longleng in Nagaland.