On one hand, farmers in 22 districts of Assam are facing their worst nightmare due to widespread pest attack in the state while on the other, small tea growers in Upper Assam are facing huge losses due to very low market prices they are currently getting by selling raw tea leaves. The tea growers in Upper Assam, the main tea producing zone in the state, are witnessing severe crisis as September is considered peak season for the industry and the present market rates are nowhere enthusiastic.
Tea growers said that the raw tea leaves grown by the small tea growers in Upper Assam are currently fetching prices of Rs 8/9 per kg, whereas its actual price should be around Rs 20 per kg. The cost of production per kg of raw tea leaves is around Rs 15, added tea growers.
Monoj Singh, a small tea grower of Rajgarh area in Dibrugarh district who is also an office bearer of the Tingkhag regional committee of Assam Small Tea Growers Association, said: “Many unemployed youths in Upper Assam have taken up tea cultivation as their profession. More than 15 lakh people, mainly in Upper Assam, are directly or indirectly associated with tea cultivation in small scale, and they have a major share in the overall tea production in the state. But these small tea growers are now facing huge losses due to low price of raw tea leaves.”
Calling the state government for help, the tea growers alleged that big tea companies bought leaf factories in Upper Assam, most of which are run by gas. They now have cut their production due to falling gas supply and as a result, these factories have refused to buy raw tea leaves from small tea growers as well which has depressed the market for raw tea leaves. While the big tea companies do not show interest in buying raw tea leaves from small growers, they buy leaf from factories which generally are their reliable customers.
During the previous Congress government in the state, the Deputy Commissioners were asked by the government to monitor prices of raw tea leaves on regular basis. The effort maintained some clarity but it was often alleged that as big tea companies always maintain good relations with the district administration, the government machinery was acting in their favour.
The small tea growers have sought the intervention of the present government but till now no satisfactory measures are taken.