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Government Of Assam Industries & Commerce

Small Tea Growers

About tea industries

About Tea Industries

The tea industry in Assam is about 172 years old. It occupies an important place and plays a very useful part in the national economy. Robert Bruce in 1823 discovered tea plants growing wild in upper Brahmaputra Valley.
A tea garden was started by the Government in 1833 in erstwhile Lakhimpur district. With the arrival in London of the fine quality tea from this garden in 1938,the commercial circle of the city took a keen interest in tea plantations in Assam and a company known as the Assam Company was formed in 1839 to take over the experimental holdings of the East India Company's Administration over the tea gardens established in Assam till then. This was the first company in India to undertake the commercial production of tea and was, in fact, the direct successor of the East India Company.
A site was cleared from the jungle at Nazira which became and remained as the headquarters of this company until it was shifted to Calcutta in 1965. The official incorporation of this Company was effected in 1845. This company, however, did not attain much prosperity during the first ten years of its existence. By about 1852,under the management of George Williamson, one of the great pioneers in tea garden management, its condition began to improve and its success made the prospect of the industry so promising and attractive that speculators egarly rushed to it .
In 1859,the second important tea company, the Jorhat Tea Company was formed. To encourage tea plantation in the province, the Government also made liberal provisions for the settlement of the waste land for tea cultivation. In the early sixties, many provisions of the former waste Land Settlement Rules were waived. Between 1860 and 1865,the industry was the object of wild speculation. Then came the collapse in 1866, when all tea properties depreciated and all the babble concerns burst. So severe was the situation that a Government Commission of Enquiry had to be appointed. It reported that the industry was basically sound, and by 1870-71 public confidence was restored and development continued on sounder basis. In 1879,further slump occurred following the boom in prices due to a false rumour of shortage of exports from China. Though condition improved after three years, another slump occurred for a period between 1893 and 1906 because of over-production. The industry did not recapture its expansion mood again in the present century. On the other hand, great improvements have been made in the yield per acre under tea, in the grouping of gardens under a limited number of companies, in the progressive mechanisation and rationalisation of production and in increasing their efficiency in regard to the productivity of labour.
In 1911, the Toklai Research Station was established near Jorhat with a view to carrying on research on cultivation and manufacture of tea. This Research Station has been very useful in disseminating knowledge for the increase of yield for the industry. The tea industry faced another crisis during the First World War due mainly to prices. At the suggestion of the Indian Tea Association, the tea gardens in Assam stopped plucking on 15 November,1923 to decrease the output in order to improve the price structure. Up to 1927 an era of prosperity followed, during which modernisation of factories and production techniques made rapid strides. The industry again faced an acute crisis during the early thirties. This crisis was successfully averted by enacting the Indian Tea Control Act,1933, and instituting an International Tea Committee and Indian Tea Licensing Committee.
During the World war II, the industry again passed through a boom period and after 1951 it reached an unprecedented prosperity. Then followed a severe crisis in 1952 when prices of tea crashed to an extent often below the cost of production. Among the manifold causes suggested as being responsible for the recession in tea. The most potent ones seemed to be over production in competing countries, a glut in medium and indifferent grades of tea which could not attract a ready market owing to the cessation of the bulk purchase system in the United Kingdom, and the impact of the general downward trend in the commodity prices during the post-Korean slum of late 1951 and early 1952. Conditions improved considerably in the following year and since then the tea industry has been enjoying a satisfactory position, although it faced some difficulty due to severe drought in 1960.
The Opening of Tea Auction Centre at Guwahati on 25th Sept.1970, augurs a new era for the tea industry of Assam. Marketing of tea has always been a problem for the products of this region. Previously the Tea Auction Centre at Calcutta was the only centre of sale for Assam Tea. The imposition of West Bengal Entry Tax on Assam Tea, transport bottlenecks and many more difficulties involved in arranging the sale at Calcutta Auction centre, necessitated the opening of the Tea Auction Centre in Assam which produces the bulk of it. Both in acreage and output the tea industry in Assam expanded very rapidly upto the 1920's. But the increase of acreage slowed down considerably thereafter, though output continued to increased rapidly owing to a high yield per acre.
The Toklai Experimental Station has been helping the tea estates to increase their yields by improved techniques and cultivation and by control of diseases and pests affecting the plants. The coarser plucking, since the Second World war, has also contributed greatly to the higher yield per acre.
Only about one quarter of the total area of the tea estates is actually planted with tea. Even admitting that some portion of the garden land had been utilised or reserved for other purposes, eg., for factories, quarters for employees, future expansion, forests.etc., and that some portion is unsuitable for plantation or other cultivation, large tracts or waste land are still available in the tea estates. Some portion of this waste land might be devoted to cultivation of other crops like paddy, wheat, cotton, hemp and medicinal herbs.
From the very beginning of tea plantation in Assam, the planters have faced great difficulties in securing the necessary labour force. The experiment with immigrant Chinese labour in the early days proved a complete failure due to the high cost of requirement and maintenance and to the difficulties in their management. Local labourers were not available in sufficient number. There was also the risk of their desertion. It thus became necessary to bring labourers from other parts of India in large number to cope up with the expansion of the tea plantations in Assam. As a result of continuous inflow of immigrant labourers, there are now large number of tea garden labourers in the tea producing regions of the State.
Now, the Assam Tea has its international reputation and commands significant share in the world Tea Market. The total area under tea cultivation in Assam is accounting for more than half of the country’s total area under tea. Assam alone produces more than half of India’s tea production. The estimated annual average production of tea in Assam is about 630- 700 million kg.

Facts and Figures

According to a recently conducted door to door survey by the Industries & Commerce Department, some of the facts given below:

(1) No and growth:

  • Total numbers of small growers in 14 surveyed districts of Brahmaputra Valley is 68,465.
  • Maximum growth occurs from 1996 to 2005.
  • Growth in five upper Assam district is 64,519 (94%).
  • Apart from upper Assam, the districts of Udalguri, Sonitpur and Nagaon have seen remarkable growth.

(2) Distribution of Small Growers:

  • Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of upper Assam have remarkable numbers of small growers and their number is 37,755 (55%).
  • Udalguri, Sonitpur, Nagaon and Karbi Anglong districts have in rising trend.
  • The rest of the districts other than upper Assam districts seem to be steady.

(3) Land under Tea Cultivation by Small Tea Growers

  • Total area of land under tea cultivation of small growers is 117 thousand acres.
  • There is a shift from paddy to tea in high lands.
  • Small growers used patta land as well as other Government land for tea cultivation.

(4) Patta land owned by Small Tea growers used in Tea Cultivation:

  • 41% of small growers cultivate tea on patta land ( 28723 nos)
  • Baring Karbi-Anglong, Sivasagar and Sonitpur, the tea cultivation in patta land is below 40%

(5) Age profile of Tea bushes in small garden:

  • 67% of tea bushes are below 10 years of age.
  • Only 8% is above 15 years of age.
  • Big gardens have purchased major portion of their production due to young character of plant.

(6) Size of holding among small tea growers:

  • 59717 small gardens have holding size of less than 3 acres.
  • only 380 small gardens have holding size of 15 acres.

(7) Production of Green Leaf

  • 400 million Kg of green leaf was produced by the Small growers.

(8)Linkages with Buyers of Green Leaf:

  • Only 4920 growers have direct link with the factories.
  • 93% of the growers sales Green leaf through Agents.

(9) Average price of green leaf seen in the survey:

  • Average price fetch per kg of green leaf does not exceed Rs.13.
  • Price sharing formula as per TMCO guidelines is never followed.
  • Price is fixed at the mercy of big factories.

Small Tea Growers – The Emerging Sector

Tea cultivations were once the domain of aristocrats with hardnosed British sahibs on horseback supervising them. But tea plantation in Assam has come a full circle as hundreds of small farmers have taken to growing the crop. The profession has now shifted from the rich to the common man, especially unemployed youths who have taken up tea cultivation as a business venture. Some even cultivate it in their backyards too.
The small tea growers sell the leaves to the nearby big plantations and Bought Leaf Factories where it is processed.
Across this tea-growing belt in eastern Assam, people in large numbers have started growing the crop in 3 to 5 acres of land. They have been provided with technical support and advice by experts at the Assam Agriculture University in Jorhat and also help from the Tocklai Tea Research Station for better yield and quality. The overheads and consequently the production cost of green tea leaves for small growers is much lower than those of the big gardens.
Spurred by the mushrooming growth of small tea growers, the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India recently took a team of young tea farmers from Assam to Kenya and Sri Lanka to help them get firsthand knowledge about the success of small tea cultivation in these two countries.

The Surge of the small tea growers
A sizable number of small farmers especially in upper Assam have taken up tea cultivation during last 15 years. Their relative contribution vis-à-vis the big gardens is more than 20% and the big gardens purchase a major part of their green leaf production. Using clone varieties of tea seedlings on small holdings, these small and marginal farmers are dependent on their crop as the main source of income.

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