The Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations (Cista) — the apex body of small tea growers — handed over a status paper to the Union commerce ministry on Wednesday, seeking interventions to boost the sector that produces around 51 per cent of India’s tea.
“We had engaged consultants and experts to prepare the status paper to bring out the current status and challenges faced by the small tea sector in India and to seek policy intervention from the central government to resolve issues,” said Bijoygopal Chakraborty, the president of Cista.
On Wednesday, he handed over the status paper — a 68-page document — to Sunil Barthwal, the Union commerce secretary.
It says small tea plantations are located in some of the remotest parts of the country with limited job opportunities.
“The growth of the small tea sector indicates it is a major employment generator in remote areas. As of now, around five lakh people are directly involved and another 10 lakh people are indirectly associated with it. The central government should come up with policies to encourage the growth of the sector,” said Chakraborty, adding that the livelihoods of 15 lakh people depend on the sector.
For the status paper, consultant firms surveyed tea-producing districts across India to find around 2.4 lakh growers who own around 2 lakh hectares of plantation. In all, India has 722 bought-leaf factories (BLFs that buy tea leaves from growers and process them).
A tea expert in Siliguri said the sector saw unprecedented growth since 2011. A key reason for this is the high yield of tea bushes in small tea plantations that are comparatively younger than those in tea estates, he said.
"Around 86 per cent of bushes in tea estates are 10 to 50 years old or even more, with a yield of around 1,549 kilos of tea leaves per hectare. In small tea plantations, bushes are at best 15 to 20 years old and the yield is around 3,500 kilos per hectare,” he said.
The growers, mostly concentrated in Bengal and Assam, said the current trends in the rise in domestic consumption of tea, along with exports, indicate a shortfall of around 330 million kilos of tea in 2030.
“To bridge this gap, it is necessary to encourage the small tea sector. We also need more BLFs,” said Partha Pratim Roy, a senior grower of Jalpaiguri.
In the status paper, Cista sought a number of central interventions such as crop insurance and irrigation.
“Unlike farmers, tea growers don't get Kisan Credit Cards. So they rely on private moneylenders. There is no minimum support price for tea leaves. A number of times, growers sell tea leaves at rates lower than their production cost,” said a Jalpaiguri Zilla Kshudra Cha Chashi Samiti representative.