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Pest shuts down tea factories

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  • Published 8.06.11

Islampur, June 7: Pest attack on tea bushes in North Dinajpur and Darjeeling districts has hit the small gardens and consequently the bought leaf factories because of low production, leading to fears that the industry might be crippled.

The attack that comes in the peak season has brought down production levels in the BLFs to less than 40 per cent of the usual quantity produced this time of the year. Eight factories, three in North Dinajpur and five in Darjeeling, have been forced to shut down because of the crisis. At least 13,000 gardens in Chopra and Islampur, both in North Dinajpur, have been affected.

Asok Das, the owner of a small garden on the outskirts of Islampur, said pest attack was common every year but this time there had been a three-pronged attack.

“The pests that are attacking the tea bushes are the red spider mites that causes leaves to fall off, thrips, an insect that inhibit the growth of leaves and the looper, a caterpillar that feeds on tea leaves,” Das said. He said he and others like him was on the verge of shutting down the gardens. Other growers said the pesticides generally used were not working.

The secretary of the North Dinajpur Small Tea Growers’ Welfare Society, Debashis Pal, said production had dropped to about 40 per cent. “We have written to the Tea Board to intervene immediately,” Pal said.

“We do not have figures of production for North Dinajpur and Darjeeling districts, but last year the small tea gardens in north Bengal produced 410 million kg of green leaf from which 82 million kg of tea was made. The fall in production is alarming, it is less than half this time. We fear that if the gardens and factories start shutting down, there will be an unemployment problem that might cause a law and order situation,” Pal said.

Biren Das, the president of the Uttar Dinajpur Kshudra Cha Chasi Samiti, said: “Nearly 13,000 gardens in Chopra and Islampur have been affected by the pest.” Sanjay Dhanuka, the North Bengal Tea Producers’ Association secretary, said eight BLFs had already shut down and if this continued, more would follow.

“There are 55 such factories in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur,” Dhanuka said.

The Tea Board’s regional deputy director based in Siliguri, K.K. Bhattacharya, said some of the associations had contacted him and he had advised them to collectively write to him specifying their problems. “The board has always stood by the growers, but at present, I cannot give any estimate of the fall in production,” he said.

Dibyajit Buragohain, the advisory officer at the Tea Research Association’s station at Bengdubi, said: “We shall have to go into the reason for the pest attack. We are thinking of holding a workshop to train farmers in pest control.”