A new plantation scheme offers financial assistance is to be launched
Assam government has firmed up plans to issue land deeds (pattas) to small tea growers of the state as part of the plan to offer support to the planters who have contributed to the state’s progress and prosperity.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told reporters at Assam Agriculture University in Jorhat that under a new plantation scheme for small tea-growers (STGs) that will soon be launched, financial assistance to the growers will be provided by the government. The scheme will provide Rs 5,000 per bigha with a maximum amount of Rs 1 lakh for a single grower.
He informed that the government would start issuing land pattas to STGs, who were growing tea by collecting a premium of Rs 1,000 per bigha. A single grower is allowed a maximum of 30 bighas.
Sonowal said The Small Tea Growers are a formidable force in the state and they have contributed to the growth of state economy. The Government has resolved to promote the industry and extend support to the people involved with its plantation. He added that the government was aware about the plight of about 1.3 lakh STGs (as stated by STG associations though the government figure was 78,000) in the state for lack of land pattas of their plantations as a result of which the STGs were deprived of a lot of benefits.
While making a case for maintenance of quality, the chief minister said by getting ownership of the plantations the small growers could augment their production. He advised the growers and the big gardens to come together to bring back the old glory of Assam tea. He urged them to undertake training programmes on offer the AAU and Tocklai Tea Research Institute here.
Cultivators with an area up to 10.12 hectares are considered small growers. The government’s decision to assist the small tea-growers assumes importance in view of their share in the sector in Assam. Latest figures released by the Tea Board of India reveal that the share of small tea-growers from north India (Assam, Bengal and others) is 44.08 per cent while that from south India is 43.64 per cent.
According to the Inter-governmental Group on Tea of Food and Agriculture Organisation, small tea-growers globally constitute 70 per cent of the trade and 60 per cent in production.
Bidyananda Barkakoty, the adviser to the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) and chairman of the Advisory Committee of Small Tea-Growers of Tea Board of India, had told the media in an interaction some months ago that Indian tea was entering a new era.
He explained that a new system would have to be devised by the Tea Board so that the quality of Indian tea improves and maximum residue limits (MRLs) are kept within permissible limits so that every kilo of tea is exportable. If Kenya and Sri Lanka, the two largest tea exporting countries of the world, can maintain quality and MRLs in spite of having more than 70 per cent of production from the green tea leaves of small tea- growers, then why not India? But a new holistic approach will have to be put in place, he said.
Some growers however feel that the schemes of the Tea Board of India still have not benefited the sector to a great extent. The schemes take a long time for the growers to derive the benefit. Despite taking risks in the value chain through production and market uncertainties, adverse weather, climate change, weeds and infestations, farmer earnings accruing to them were clearly not sustainable. In some cases, the tea-growers’ earnings were below national and international poverty line indicators.
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