(Assam): A green revolution is sweeping Assam,
empowering many people for the first time and rejuvenating the
state's economy. Small tea gardens now dot the landscape as more
and more people turn their backyards into mini tea plantations.
It does not really matter if you have a small patch of vegetable
garden to spare or a big mass of land.
According to the All Assam Small Tea Growers Association (AASTGA),
the number of small tea growers has swelled to 65,000 in the last
two decades. And it is on the rise.
Assam currently produces around 480 million kg of tea. Around 30
percent of this comes from small tea growers.
Lakhi Gogoi is one of the many who has his own tea garden -
Rajashree Tea Estate - in the upper Assam district of Tinsukia.
"In 2008, my green tea leaf production touched 80,000 kg. In 2009,
it rose to 81,000 and this year I am expecting it to touch
100,000. Tea business is good business," Gogoi told IANS.
Although Gogoi worked in a well-known tea company earlier, he had
no knowledge of the business.
"I am well accustomed to the knowhows of tea cultivation, spraying
pesticides, pruning and plucking. It was a matter of time before I
realized that if the big tea companies can grow these plants and
reap such big benefits, so can I," he said.
"After years of toying with the idea, I began my venture in 1996
on a small patch of land. Over the years, I scaled up my
operations and now grow tea in 50 bighas of land," Gogoi said.
Depending on the market conditions, the price of green tea leaves
varies between Rs.12 and Rs.18 a kg.
Said an AASTGA official: "By growing tea in underutilized uplands,
small tea growers have brought in a green revolution in Assam by
bringing in huge socio-economic changes."
"More than 900,000 people are involved in the small tea growing
business in Assam. Almost 250, 000 hectares of land is covered for
such plantations. They contribute to 29 percent of the total tea
produced by Assam, which is 14 percent of the total tea production
of India," the official added.
Even farmers in villages, who traditionally grew vegetables, are
now opting for tea cultivation. "Tea cultivation brings much
higher profits and is a steady source of income," said D. Bora, a
In a state where unemployment looms large, youth are the biggest
Rajiv Sharma, 28, decided to try his hands in tea plantation two
years ago. He started small -- growing tea bushes in the backyard
of his house. And there has been no looking back since.
"My parents were initially sceptical and said tea production has
always been the big companies' cup of tea. But I was willing to
take the risk. I started small and now have the capacity to invest
in more land for more plantations," Sharma said.
Unlike the big tea companies like McLeod Russel India and
Goodricke, small tea growers do not have their own factories. They
sell their leaves either to the big firms or smaller private
factories which in turn manufacture and market it under different
One of the challenges that the small tea growers are facing is
that of maintaining quality.
"Not all growers are aware of banned chemicals. All they seek for
are strong pesticides which will kill the pests - thus making the
wrong choice. As a result, this tea does not get a good price at
tea auctions," Sharma told IANS.
It is for this reason tea leaves of small growers are manufactured
and branded differently from the main brands by the big tea
companies. Nevertheless, almost 25 percent of the tea manufactured
by the tea moghuls are from the small growers.
While the small tea growers are helping to change the
socio-economic condition in Assam, they hardly get any help from
the state government.
Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia's
recent announcement of a special scheme to provide financial
assistance to the community has, however, given them some hope.
"If the government is seriously thinking of helping us, it will be
great. We are after all an unorganized sector. Let's just hope it
is not another empty promise," said Gogoi.
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