Producing tea: the Indian farmers' perspective
Globally, tea consumption is rising. Consumption is dominated by Asia, particularly China and India, which together accounted for around 60% of global demand.
However, tea farmers in Asia face a number of challenges. For example, according to Farming First, globally, female farmers typically achieve yields that are 20 – 30% less than men due to unequal access to productive resources and services. Closing this gender gap would reduce malnutrition by 12 – 17%. In Asia, where a high percentage of the world’s teas are produced, the issue of gender inequality is key challenge.
Specifically in India, severe shortages of rainfall, as well as crop disease in recent yers have affected the main tea-growing areas of Darjeeling, Dooars and Assam. India's tea bushes are generally also old. For example, nearly 40% of existing bushes are over 50 years old, compared with Kenya, where fewer than 30% are over 40 years old, and Vietnam, where the tea plantations are less than 20 years old.
The small, family-owned tea gardens in Assam, often receive low market rates for their leaves, and high rejection rates from the tea factories. In addition, most of the new or small-scale tea growers have little or no training in the cultivation of tea. Most of the information that they have is based on the practices utilised in the large-scale commercial tea plantations which are not suitable to small tea gardens.
The Tea Board has helped small growers to form cooperatives, to improve their knowledge, resources, tea trading skills and build capacity. For example, Dharmen Bora the Secretary of the Udayanchal Tea Growers Cooperative Society stated that “We formed this group because we recognised that small growers like us had limited knowledge about tea and especially tea prices, making us easy targets of exploitation by the tea agents. Hence, we decided to come together and help each other get fair prices for our produce.”
In addition to the financial benefits, TrustTea states that as a cooperative the farmers built an office and employed staff to maintain their accounts. There have also been wider community beenfits such as the building of a road, that enabled children to get to school easier, where beforehand, they often missed school because of the lack of a road.
So, the next time you drink your cuppa, spare a thought for the effort that the tea growers have put in, in the first place.