Due to lack of irrigation facilities, thousands of small tea growers may end up with heavy losses for the second successive year.
GUWAHATI: Scarcity of rain has severely hit production of small tea growers (STGs) in upper Assam, who have been contributing to about half of the state’s tea production. Due to lack of irrigation facilities, thousands of STGs may end up with heavy losses for the second successive year. They lost the valuable first and second flush last year due to the lockdown.
Leading organic small tea grower Achyut Prasad Gogoi, the owner of Punjoy Organic Tea Plantation and Production, has bestowed all hope on the ‘rain god’ and has been sky-gazing for some showers. Several districts like Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Golaghat, which are producing a vital share of the state’s total tea production, are facing severe drought conditions, as there is hardly any impactable rain in the last 25 days. If there is no rain in the next seven days, Gogoi said there will be no hope for crops in his tea garden spread over 30 bighas in his Chelenghat rural block in Jorhat district.
With uncertainty looming large on foreign buyers during the second wave of Covid-19, the STGs producing organic tea may face a double blow if they cannot grow the most sought after second flush of tea leaves, which has the highest demand for its aroma and briskness.
“Due to severe loss last year, we missed the entire foreign supply of hand made speciality organic tea like white tea, oolong tea, hand crafted orthodox tea and green tea. Speciality tea buyers from foreign countries like Canada, Brazil and Thailand could not come to our tea garden last year to buy tea amid the pandemic,” Gogoi told TOI on Thursday.
Foreign buyers have been regular visitors in the upper Assam tea belt, as they usually give 50-60% more price of tea, depending upon the quality. They would start arriving in Assam from April-end, when the second flush is reaped. While this year, 56% shortfall of rain during the ongoing pre-monsoon season has posed a grave threat to the tea leaf growth, several diseases have plagued the tea gardens in Assam due to lack of rain. Looper, Helopeltis and Red spider caterpillars are affecting the tea plantations. “This time, it’s a triple challenge. It’s doubtful whether foreign buyers would come anytime soon. The Indian buyers from Delhi, Kolkata and Haryana are facing the most challenging time due to the second wave. Third is the rainfall shortage and diseases,” he rued. Facing debt repayment for bank loans, hundreds of helpless small tea growers like Gogoi can only pray for rains in a highly mechanized world.
Due to inadequate infrastructure support, they are toiling like never before in the pandemic. Taking the cudgels on their behalf, the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Associations (CISTA) demanded the government treat their members as traditional agricultural farmers so that they can avail the Kisan Credit Card and other schemes to save their crops. Project Trinitea is being run in Assam with the help of the Indian Tea Association and the All Assam Small Tea Growers Association to support the STGs in farm and market level, and growers like Gogoi have sought timely assistance under the programme in this crisis situation.
CISTA president Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty said that an estimated 1.5 lakh small tea growers have been badly hit by the prolonged drought for the last three months. Last year too, the multiple lockdown phases affected the tea growers a lot and the small tea growers missed their valuable first flush and second flush.
Though more than 300 factories depend on the STGs, but due to the scarcity of water, tea bushes are withering and becoming non-productive. Small tea growers are worried about the survival of the tea bushes. The FAO Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Tea report has shown that the main tea growing areas of Assam will be badly affected by climate change in the near future. To mitigate this situation, Chakraborty said, “Climate-smart tea cultivation like the use of irrigation should be adopted by the STGs. In North Bengal, they adopted the micro-irrigation system and faced lesser problems.”
CISTA, the only national apex body of STGs has demanded that their members be treated as traditional agricultural farmers, who enjoy facilities under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Senchai Yojana ( PMKSY) for irrigation equipment free of cost.
“The Assam government should come forward to help STGs by providing irrigation equipment under PMKSY so that artificial rain protects tea bushes,” he added. While in Assam, STGs contribute to nearly 50% of the state’s tea production, in India, more than 2.5 lakh STGs are cultivating tea which crossed 51% of the national tea production last year.