Small tea growers (STGs) in Assam account for 14% of India’s total tea production. On the flip side, their productivity has been a factor in Indian tea losing its international brand image.
The first survey of tea grown in the unorganised sector has also revealed a link between the success story of small tea growers and the mushrooming growth of ‘bought leaf factories’ (BLFs) leading to output leakage. BLFs are standalone units distinguished from factories owned by major tea estates.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi released the report on small growers, dubbed the ‘new emerging sector’, last week.
According to Assam industries minister Pradyut Bordoloi, the quality loss of Assam tea linked with uncontrollable rise of small tea growers and BLFs was the primary driver of this survey. So was gap between production of tea leaves and processed tea, both CTC (crush, tear, curl) and orthodox. Assam produces the most CTC tea in the world.
“It took 500 people six months from November 2009 to complete the survey. This report has given the tea industry in India a benchmark for better management,” Bordoloi said.
The report, though, has thrown up figures that don’t match up. For instance, 68,465 STGs in Assam annually produce 400 million kg of tea leaves and offload the bulk to BLFs. But 450 estate factories source 377 million kg of tea leaves from STGs besides producing 1,623 million kg themselves.
Officials underscored the need to rein in the BLFs — 177 at the last count — make them register, demarcate sourcing areas for each and make them accountable. They also sought the Tea Board’s help in drawing up a mechanism to provide expertise to STGs.