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Organic test leaves planter with bad taste

- Grower mulls switch to inorganic tea after board backs out on certificate
The Agnigarh Bioplantations factory in Sonitpur district. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, Aug. 7: The owner of the only small tea plantation that produces organic tea in Sonitpur district is running from pillar to post to procure a certificate from the Tea Board so that he can sell his produce through auction centres and export directly.

Vijay Kashyap, the chief executive officer of Agnigarh Bioplantations, a 32-hectare plantation at Biswanath Chariali, has, however, been denied such a document, forcing him to contemplate to convert his plantation back to producing inorganic tea leaves.

“I have written to the Prime Minister, the DoNER minister and parliamentarians from Assam, but nothing has happened till now,” he said.

Kashyap told The Telegraph today that he had changed to organic plantation last year going by the demand for organic tea and the government initiatives to encourage organic production.

He said he had set up a factory, having the capacity to process 90,000kg of tea leaves per annum, this year after the Tea Board announced last year that small tea growers who set up factories manufacturing less than 1 lakh kg of tea annually need not obtain any licence under the existing Tea Marketing Control Order, 2003. “The Tea Board had also issued a circular in February this year regarding easy processing of certification/registration for such units so that we could sell our teas at the auction centres.”

However, when Kashyap applied to the Tea Board for the required certificate, the Board refused to issue him such a document saying that there was no clarity about the micro (producing capacity less than 400kg) and mini (less than 1 lakh kg) factories.

Kashyap said without the Tea Board’s registration, sale of manufactured organic tea through established tea auction centres or direct export was not possible. Besides, neither would banks process the working capital finance requirements nor would the electricity board give load sanction.

Kashyap said he was selling his tea in the market on his own but was unable to get a good price. “I am getting Rs 250 per kg for my tea now but if I sell it through auction, I would get at least Rs 600 per kg. I will also get a bigger market,” he said.

The planter said it was an irony that the Tea Board had become a major roadblock for conversion of inorganic tea farming into organic farming practices. “Or else how can the Tea Board explain as to what an organic tea farmer should do to his organic tea leaves? Keep on supplying the same to bought leaf factories, which will not pay any premium price for organic tea leaves? Does the organic farmer not have the right to process his own organic tea leaves into organic speciality teas?” he asked.

Small tea growers said if organic small tea growers could not process their own tea leaves, they would be forced to go back to inorganic practices and abandon organic plantation since bought leaf factories would pay them the same price as they pay for inorganic tea leaves.

Dinesh Sarma, former vice-chairman of the Tea Board admitted that such a decision was taken by the Board early this year. He said he was present in the meeting where the decision was taken to exempt mini and micro factories from the provision of tea marketing control order (TMCO) and the Board would issue them certificate to sell their produce.

“It is unfortunate that the Board is delaying the process and discouraging a small tea grower who is producing organic tea,” he said.

There are not more than 10 small tea growers in Assam who produce organic tea.


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