International Tea Day, December 15 : Small Tea Growers in West Bengal and North Eastern States are Asserting Their Rights for Fairer terms of Trade
While poor condition of tea industry is in public domain and widely reported, what is relatively unknown is the improving situation of small tea growers in the Northeast regions of India. For the last few years, small tea growers in Assam, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh and others, are adopting technically sound methods of tea cultivation. An increasing number of growers are forming societies and taking a collectivised approach in negotiating better prices for their produce. These societies are forming bank linkages for better management of their incomes and savings. On this International Tea Day(ITD), December 15, Centre for Communication and Education(CEC) is joining hands with over 500 societies- an innovative initiative of CEC- to help them realise fairer terms of trade, reduce poverty and promote sustainable livelihood. In observing ITD this year, CEC is also strongly urging the UN food agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to officially mark December 15 as ITD to promote tea as a health drink and affirm the contributions of the producers. Since 2005, various stakeholders in tea industry are observing December 15 as International Tea Day.
New Delhi, December 07, 2015: Every morning millions of people worldwide wake up to tea, a perennial health drink. There is a little bit of India in most tea cups consumed worldwide. India stood as the second largest producer of tea with a total output of 1.2 million tonnes in 2013. Year 2013 marked an increased export of Indian tea at 209.2 thousand tonnes in the global market (FAO, 2015).
Tea is a health drink. The UN food agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that there is an increasing weight of scientific evidence of black and green tea being a contributor to a healthy lifestyle for people all over the world. While tea consumption expanded by 2.4 percent in 2009 and 6.6 percent in 2013 to reach 1 million tonnes in India, the world tea consumption increased by nearly 5 per cent in 2013 to 4.84 million tonnes. No other beverage offers greater health benefits other than tea; a rising level of consumption of which holds testimony to this fact.
An estimated 10 million people in India depend on the tea estates for their livelihood. But the tea industry, including estate workers and small tea growers, continues to suffer from deprivation due to poor wage system and lack of basic welfare benefits, pushing tea industry to the brink of crisis. However, in Northeast, among small tea growers a different story is brewing.
Small Tea Growers (STGs) account for almost 35 per cent of total tea production in India and sustain about 300000 farmer households and an equal number of worker households. A majority of India’s small tea growers are located in remote and difficult areas. Poor education, skill and asset levels of these farmers, coupled with their isolation and generational marginalization, have blocked STGs from accessing equal opportunities in the tea value chain.
However, in West Bengal and Northeast, STGs are negotiating better trade and sustainable livelihood terms for themselves by forming societies. By forming societies, STGs are operating in collectivised manner in selling their green leaves (produce) to Bought Leaf Factories (BLF) directly and negotiating better prices for their produce by removing leaf agents.Their livelihood is no longer dependent on exploitative leaf agents and other middle-men.
For example, in Jamuguri region of Golaghat district, Assam, Dhoroni STG (registered in 2012) has been receiving an average price gain of Rs 3 per kg per day by removing leaf agents and directly selling their produce to BLF .
The ‘All Bodoland Small Tea Growers’ Association (Udalguri, Assam)- an association of 8000 STG in the entire area- formed in 2011- is negotiating a fair price on their leaves. Mr. Pronoy Basumatary, President of the Association, apprises, “We are receiving an increased price of Rs 2-4 per kg on our produce.” He further adds, “Since the adoption of collectivised approach, forming a society, we deal directly with the BLFs without the intervention of agents. There has also been gain in other aspects of business through the various collective value addition techniques.”
Since 2011, a total of 500 societies have been formed in West Bengal, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. The societies receive capacity building training that include agricultural, technical , financial, record-keeping and society management training. Even as agricultural and technical training has helped STG societies’ to register a marked improvement in quality produce, money management has given them financial cushion.
In Sonapur block, North Dinajpur district of West Bengal, for instance, training has empowered the Jaidurga STG to reduce the leaf plucking round to 18-20 days from the earlier 45-50 days. The best quality of leaves ( two and a half leaf) grow within 8-10 days.
The societies are opening bank accounts too, to utilise and manage their finances better. An increasing number of STGs are getting aware of their rights and entitlements. The small growers have now greater access to the Tea Board of India, the Small Tea Grower Directorate and the Development Officers in the field, and obtain benefits offered by the Tea Board like leaf shed and leaf carrying vehicle.
At the upper level of the value chain, STGs still don’t get to know the price that their produce fetch in tea auction, marking a lack of transparency in the system and depriving them in obtaining the correct price of their produce. STGs are asking from the government strict implementation of price sharing formula and revival of Price Stabilization Fund Scheme (PSFS) intended to address severe volatilities in tea prices. PSFS ceased to exist in 2013 and the new PSFS is yet to be revived.
Lives and livelihoods of several thousand growers are tied to tea industry. Tea is a major export commodity that fetches handsome revenues for the Indian government. At macro level, societies are raising their plea to the government to provide adequate and fast intervention in addressing financial needs so that they are able to maintain quality, competitiveness and reputation of tea, a health drink like no other and heavy revenue generator. The national level Confederation of Small Tea Growers Association (CISTA)( http://www.cista-india.net/), is urging the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to be a member of the Tea Board of India for appropriate representation.
The United Nations, in officially declaring December 15 as ITD, will give impetus to the cause of tea industry in India. CEC is in the process of writing an appeal to FAO Inter-governmental Group (IGG) on tea to officially announce December 15 as ITD.
For further information, please contact:
Centre for Education and Communication (CEC). 173-A, Khirki Village, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi-17
Additional Talk Points: Demands of Small Tea Gowers on International Tea Day, December 15
1. On Livelihood Security:
- Government should extend support and subsidy to the small tea growers
- Fixation of price of green leaf should be scientific, transparent and with the involvement of small growers.
- The formation of association of small growers and strengthening the existing ones – locally, nationally and internationally is to be encouraged.
- The small growers should be encouraged to explore alternative market intervention strategies.
- STGs must receive remunerative prices for green leaf, which ensures decent livelihood price that covers the cost of production and provides for a “living wage” for producer-workers
- The small growers should have a share in the company to which they sell their leaf/ participate in the management of companies.
- Adequate training should be imparted to prevent the use of toxic or carcinogenic pesticides and chemicals and protection. Training and support should be given so that the “Maximum Residue Levels” is observed to maintain a uniform international standard so that export rises.
Additional Talk Points: Demands of Plantation Tea Workers on International Tea Day, December 15
1. On Wages and Employment Security :
- Affirm the principle of ‘living wages’.
- Equal wage for men and women for equal work
- Institutional support for workers takeover through workers’ cooperative with state assistance rehabilitation of displaced workers into decent working situations
- The workers in the subleased or contracted-out gardens and out-growers should get all the benefits as applicable to regular workers.
2. On Women Workers and Child Rights:
- The exclusion and exploitation of women workers, who constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce in the tea sector should stop
- Women should get equal wages and service conditions and equal opportunities in all negotiations and decision making processes.
- Plantation should stop the use of harmful weedicides and herbicides which affect the health of women workers.
- Maternity Benefits must be provided for.
- Elimination of child labour
- There should be provision of child-care centres and healthcare benefits.
3. Labour Rights
- Trade union rights are the universal human rights which should be respected by all and hence Trade Unions must be given the right to organise and collective bargaining including right to strike
- No forced labour
- Trade union rights should not be violated. Trade Unions affirm the principle of Decent Work and standards as defined by the ILO.