PROSPECTS AND PROBLEMS OF SMALL TEA GROWERS IN ASSAM- A STUDY IN LAKHIMPUR DISTRICT

Porag Pachoni
Research Scholar (M.Phil), Commerce Department, Rajiv Gandhi University, Doimukh, Arunachal Pradesh, India

Abstract
Tea production in smallholding has been growing worldwide. Assam is not an exception in this regard. In the more than a century old Tea industry of Assam, the contribution of small tea plantations has been growing significantly and currently shares a good proportion in the total tea production of the state. Small tea plantation is cost effective, environment friendly, sustainable, and adds fresh impetus to the industry as there is gradual decline in quality and production of tea in estate sector. The Small tea grower (STG) is a new model of tea cultivation in Assam that fosters the growth of entrepreneurship and provides both direct and indirect employment. It may tender structural change in the rural industrialization process by setting small tea processing unit, marketing channel, and multi-cropping system. Although, the trend of small tea plantation has been mushrooming in the state but the small tea growers have been confronting with multiple problems since their inception, fundamentally due to infrastructure deficiency and non implementation of certain regulatory measures. This is an effort to highlight different problems faced by the small tea growers in the Lakhimpur district of Assam. This paper is descriptive in nature and drawn inference from the field survey and secondary data available on small tea growers of Assam. The study reveals that the problems of small tea grower are enhancing gradually and if problems are addressed, then there is a better future in small tea plantation to strengthen the rural economy.
Key words: Small tea growers, Entrepreneurship, Problems, Prospects
1. Introduction
Increasing number of small tea plantation in Assam is one of the major boosts to the economy in terms of income, employment generation, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development. The trend of small tea plantation in Assam could be traced back to the late seventies and early eighties. In 1978, first effort was made by Late Soneswar Bora (the then agriculture minister of Assam) to popularize small tea plantation in the state. His intention was to utilize available fallow land and attract young generation to take up tea plantation and thereby to solve unemployment problem (Baruah, 2011). Subsequently, small tea plantations show a considerable rise spreading over the districts, particularly in Eastern and Northern Assam. Comparatively low capital required for investment, favourable climatic conditions, technical support from cheap and skilled surplus labourers from the big tea gardens in these areas and locally available market for green tea leaves turned this new effort of local and enthusiastic youths in to a huge success story. This initial success drew hundreds of more young tea growers, mainly from Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Golaghat, and Jorhat districts of upper Assam. They were mostly educated and unemployed, ready to take the opportunities open by this new concept and came forward to exploit potentiality through self employment in this area (Talukdar, 2015).Tea Board of India has been emphasizing on promotion of small tea plantation since 1980s owing to the decline in quality and production of tea in the estate sector. Bhowmik (1991) indicates the rise of small tea growers (STG) in India is primarily because of the failure of the tea industry to meet the expected growth target and decline in demand in the international market and quality also. In India 51 percent tea bushes are more than 40 years old, which is one of the causes of stagnant productivity (Tea board of India). According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce, Government of India, 2012, the re-plantation rate of tea is never been more than 0.4 percent of the total acreages in a year in recent years, though the prescribed annual rate is two percent.

The tea sector in Assam till the 1980s was entirely dominated by the large estates. Tea smallholdings are now mushrooming in Assam, and we see a distinct shift in the production structure with the decline in acreages and production share in the dominant estate sector. There are a total 50,795 number of smallholdings in Assam at present which accounts for 22.7% of the total tea acreages of the state and an estimated 1.4 lakh workers (Government of Assam 2010). On the other hand, tea estates have now started to lose competitiveness due to old plantations, negligence in maintenance and failure to place tea in upper-end markets. Though, small tea plantation has been rapidly growing in different pockets of the rural Assam showing optimistic result but multiple factors also contributed as a barrier in the growth process. The present study tries to explore the different problems and prospects of small tea growers in the Lakhimpur district.

2. Objectives
  • To find out the various prospects of small tea growers in small tea plantation in the Lakhimpur district.
  • To study the different problems faced by the small tea growers in the district. 

3. Methodology
The study is descriptive in nature and carried out based on field survey in five development blocks of industrially backward Lakhimpur district viz. Baginadi, Narayanpur, Karunabari, Nawboicha and Lakhimpur where small tea plantation is prominent one. Face to face interactions and interviews with the small tea growers have been conducted to go through the different issues of the growers. The Lakhimpur district is situated on the North bank of Brahmaputra river and the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh provides a fertile land suitable for tea plantation. The paper also incorporates relevant secondary data available on small tea plantation of Assam. The study was undertaken in the month of December 2015 and January 2016. At present, the district has 1815 registered small tea growers covering an area of 1656.57 hectares (data collected from Tea Board of India zonal office, Guwahati dated 11.12.2015).

4. Results and Discussion
Tea cultivation in Lakhimpur district has immense potentiality for both entrepreneurship as well as income generation. It can be a profitable enterprise and can play a significant role in improving socio- economic condition of the rural people of Lakhimpur district. The young educated enthusiastic unemployed peoples are taking tea cultivation as their profession. The field study shows following opportunities in the district in respect of small tea plantation.

4.1 Production of bio-tea or organic tea – Production of tea without application of chemical fertilizer and pesticides has high demand in international market. Tea produced by using organic manure and herbal pesticides provides health benefits and earns high price. The Researcher has found one small tea grower named Mr. Gobin Hazarika, the only handmade organic tea producer in the Lakhimpur district. Mr Hazarika had his first batch product exported to Canada in 2007. The organic product, which was marketed as Madhupur Tea, received Price for green tea and black tea at Rs 2000 and Rs 1600 per kg respectively. Mr. Hazarika is engaged in production of handmade organic tea and already exported to countries like Canada, Japan and Egypt, which sold at Rs.2000 per Kg. His annual production is more than 4,000 kg, 80% of which is exported. Therefore, STGs can shift their production to organic tea.

4.2 Establishment of mini-factories – Small tea growers can set up mini tea processing factories on partnership and co-operative basis which may reduce tension of marketing of green leaf. Besides this, unemployed youth also can grab the opportunity to set up mini-factories on the support of financial institution. The field study reveals that a mini tea-processing unit named “Rhino Assam Mini Tea Processing Enterprise” setting up process has been going on at Nowboicha development block in the district on the initiative of three Small tea growers Ghana Bora, Pradipta Bora and Kanak Gogoi with an investment of Rs. 1.5 cr. This unit has estimated to produce 10,000 kg organic green tea and 70,000 kg orthodox tea in 2016 and its production was started from February last. Thus, it is a ray of hope for the small tea cultivators of the Lakhimpur district as well as for Assam.

4.3 Multi-crop cultivation – Small tea growers can cultivate some other crops such as medicinal plant, Neem, Black pepper, Betel nut and Betel leaf along with tea plantation. Small tea growers can enhance their income from the production of these crops. 

4.4 Packaging and Marketing of Tea: The small tea growers can also take up projects for packaging and marketing of the products of Mini Tea Factories, by giving their own Brand name. They may also set up distribution channel through their district level growers association.

4.5 Employment to the rural people: Small tea plantation provides many opportunities for self-employment to rural people. The cultivation itself creates many employment opportunities in the field of manufacturing, supply of garden equipments, transportation of green leaf etc.

4.6 Utilization of unused land – Most of the Small tea growers have used unproductive abandoned land, fallow land, grazing land etc for tea cultivation, which did not use earlier for productive purpose.
In short, it may state that many opportunities are there for small tea growers of Assam. However, to grab these opportunities, they must be well organised and sincere to their profession.

Small tea growers of the Lakhimpur district have been passing through a numerous challenges in the course of their tea plantation. Some are inherent in nature and some are situational. Following are the findings of the study:

i)     Land related problem - Small tea growers of the Lakhimpur district has been encountering with the land related problem. The land available for tea plantation in the district can be divided into three categories: myadi land (permanently settled), eksona (yearly settled), tauzi land (government land but under individual occupation in lieu of nominal rent to the government). At present, people have started all categories of land for tea plantation. The small tea growers who have myadi land or land ownership document get the benefit of registration under Tea Board of India and avail loan and subsidy from Tea Board of India and other financial institutions. Other non-registered STGs don’t get such benefits.

ii) Low price of green tea leaves – Another, major problem of small tea growers of the district is the absence of fair price of the green leaves produced by them. The growers don’t possess their own factory; so they have to sell tea leaves to BLF (Bought Leaf Factory) or big tea estate. During peak plucking time, BLFs or tea estate refuses or bargain to buy tea leaves. In order to ensure that small tea growers get a reasonable price for their green leaf, price sharing formula was notified under Tea Marketing Control order (TMCO is a price sharing formula for green tea leaves notified under Tea Marketing Control Order in 2004. It provides for equitable sharing of the tea price between the growers and manufacturers by taking into account the cost of production of green tea leaves in the smallholdings and the cost of manufacturing and marketing by the bought leaf factories.) 2004, which is not properly implemented. The district level monitoring committee constituted by state government has failed to stabilize the price of green leaves.

iii)  No processing unit of small tea growers – Small tea growers are the producer of green tea leaves, they don’t own tea factory to process green leaves and sell their green leaves to private BLFs or estate factories either directly or through leaf collection agent. This is the most significant problem of the small tea growers of the district.

iv)  Lack of storage facility- Green tea leaf is a perishable product which needs to be processed within 12 hours of plucking. Lack of storage facility compels STGs to take the price whatever offered by the factory owners or leaf collection agents and also cause deterioration of quality (freshness) of green leaves due to multiple handling.

v)   Lack of crop insurance scheme – Weather uncertainties have put the small tea plantation in a difficult situation as it still does not have a proper insurance policy. Excess rainfall, heavy storm in Assam has put the tea plantation in a spot of bother as floodwater had entered the gardens and heavy storm had destroyed tea bushes. 

vi)  Lack of irrigation facility- One hectare standing standing mature tea plants requires about 10,000 liters of water per day which is equivalent to 2.5 mm rainfall (Barua, 2008). Tea plants also need water after pruning which generally done during the months of December and January. This period is generally dry in Assam, receives a few showers of retreating monsoon, eventually fruitful for the growth of tea plants after pruning (Barua, 2008).However, irregular nature of rainfall in recent times, particularly during the non-monsoon period, forces the growers to make arrangement for irrigation facility. This is uneconomical to growers to make arrangement of irrigation facility at their own cost.

vii)Lack of technical knowledge and skill of the small tea growers – Field study reveals that most of the small tea growers are not technically sound and lack of proper knowledge in the field of tea plantation. These unskilled tea planters are facing problem in certain areas like – pest control, manuring, drainage system etc which are most essential for the growth of tea plants.

viii) Other factors – Other factors stand as barriers in small tea plantation are situational in nature like Small Tea Growers more or less unorganized, theft of green leaves by miscreant, unregulated growth of small tea growers etc.

5. Policy Implications
From the above discussion, it is clear that that this industry may build the socio-economic structure of the rural people. Sincere effort is needed from the government side and consider the issue of the STGs as a new development initiative for the district. Following are the some recommendations-
  • Land related issues should be resolved very soon by the state government because non-patta land holders are depriving from registration, subsidy, and loan from Tea board and other financial institution.
  • The concerned authorities should impose strict price control mechanism for green tea leaves. Since, Tea marketing Control order (TMCO) price sharing formula is not working properly at grass root level.
  • Mini tea processing units or Bought leaf Factories (BLFs) should be set up in the district.
  • Storage facility should provide for keeping green leaf as fresh as possible for sustaining its better quality.

6. Conclusion
The emerging entrepreneurship in small tea plantation could be considered as new vision for the sustainable growth and development of the tea sector of Assam. This silent socio-economic revolution by the small tea growers of the district has been contributed significantly in the rural industrialization process. But the present status of small tea grower’s shows their multiple dependencies on large tea estate. Lack of own processing unit, storage facility, lower price of the green leaves are the most sought problems. Establishment of processing units, production of organic tea would provide youth of the state the profitable opportunities in tea industry. Thus, these different opportunities should be grabbed through policy measures and challenges should be addressed to make them opportunities. Therefore, support should come from all the stakeholders to promote this socio-economic revolution of small tea plantation.

References
  • B.P. Baruah (2011). “Tocklai and Small Tea growers” Concourse (Souvenir of World Tea Congress) Tea Research Association; Jorhat, Assam.
  • Directorate of Economics and Statistics “Statistical Handbook of Assam 2010” Guwahati: Government of Assam 2011.
  • K. Borah (2013, January). Entrepreneurship in small tea plantation: A case of Assam. The Echo-A journal of humanities and social science. Vol. 1 Issue.3 pp.82-85.
  • M.Goswami (2006). Emerging Entrepreneurship in Tea Plantation: A study of Small Tea Growers of Assam. Phd thesis, Guwahati University, Assam
  • P.Baruah. The Tea Industry of Assam, Origin and Development. Guwahati: EHB Publishers, 2008, pp. 230-236.
  • P. Ganguli (2014). Small tea growers of Assam: theories, practices, and challenges of an indigenous entrepreneurship. International Journal of Informative and Futuristic Research (Online). Vol.2, Issue.1, pp. 22-25.  Available:www.ijifr.com/pdfsave/acceseed on December 15, 2015.
  • R.B.Talukdar (2015). “Big hopes from small tea” (Online) Available: http://indiatogether.org/articles/smalltea-agriculture accessed on February 22, 2016.
  • S K Bhowmik (1991). Small growers to prop up large Plantations. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 26, No.30, pp. 1789-1890.
  • Tea Board of India, www.teaboard.gov.in accessed on February 22, March 15, 2016.



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