— Abhijit Deb
For Umeshwar Phukan, a small time tea grower from Sibsagar district of Assam, going organic was not an easy decision. After eight years of dedicated work he is now reaping rich dividend. Phukan is one among the growing tribe of small tea growers in Assam who are going organic in order to regain the lost glory of world famous `Assam Tea’ and augment their profit margin by producing high quality hand made tea.
“The very essence of high quality Assam tea got destroyed over the years with excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides. I decided to convert half of area of cultivation tea into organic farming in the year 2006. It was a risky decision as my production of tea halved but I stuck to my resolve of producing high quality healthy tea,” said Phukan who in last eight has converted 20 bighas of cultivable area into organic farming.
Prior to 2006, Phukan had to depend entirely on the Bought Leaf Factories in the state to sell his entire produce of green leafs at a price decided by the owners of the factories. Naturally, his returns were not commensurate with his effort in time of bumper crop he had to resort to distress sale which incurred him huge losses.
Cut to the present, demand for his hand made organic tea is even growing within his own vicinity. Apart from international buyers from countries like Canada, employees of state run oil major Oil and Natural Gas Corporation are regular buyers of his hand made tea. “To shift into organic mode of farming you need patience. I invested my time and I can tell now for sure that I am being rewarded with higher price for my produce,” Phukan proudly said.
Last crop season, Phukan produced 700 kilogram of organic tea which were priced at Rs.5000-6000 per kg by international buyers. In fact, various international NGO’s who are promoting the idea among organic farming are working in tandem with the small tea growers in the state who are willing to convert into organic farming facilitating them with identifying buyers and other related needs. Around 1.2 lakh small tea growers in Assam account for 14% of tea production in the country per annum. India produced around 1200 million kgs of tea in 2013 out of which Assam produced about 618 million kgs. The estimated production of green tea (both organic and inorganic) in India in the year 2013 was 11 million kgs only – West Bengal contributed 8 million kgs, Assam 2 million kgs and the remaining 1 million was contributed by South India. According to Assam Small Tea Growers Association, apex body small tea growers in the state, the conversion rate of small tea growers into organic mode stands at around 2% per annum.
“There is growing craze for organic tea. Small tea growers are trying to tap into that demand with their limited resources. Mainly the high returns are attracting many to go into organic mode of cultivation,” said Karuna Mahanta, General Secretary of All Assam Small Tea Growers Association.
He lamented the fact that little is coming from the Tea Board of India in facilitating the process of growth of organic cultivation of tea in the state.
But as the domestic demand for organic tea is also on rise it could be expected that in coming times more and more tea growers will embrace the healthier mode of cultivation.