KOZHIKODE: With plantations leasing out estates to private groups at throwaway prices and small and marginal farmers abandoning tea farms, the failure of Union government to ensure sufficient funds for the Tea Board of India and also assuring a floor price for green tea leaf, has put the lower and middle-class farmers of Wayanad and adjacent Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu in dire straits as the price of green leaf is almost the same over the last two decades. The hostile climatic conditions and crashed market has hit at large the farmers.
Plantation groups like Harrisons Malayalam Limited have leased out their plantations due to high labour costs and low yield. An official of the HML told DC that the cost of raw material production is many fold higher for the company with the existing wage structure for plantations and profit returns are almost nil. “For us it is more profitable to purchase green leaf agents who buy straight from farmers for a price ranging from Rs 8 to Rs 12 per kilogram,” he said. However, small and medium farmers are at the end of their wits as they are getting almost nothing from tea.
Kayyunni Small Tea Growers’ Association vice-president T.A. Muhammed told DC that there is no other go for tea farmers of the region but to end life or shift to other crops. “Most of the small farmers are skeptic to switch as at present they are getting a weekly income though it is meager. “We will get only the wages if we pluck it on our own and if we depend on labourers our income will be just Rs 2 to Rs 5 per kilogram depending on the price,” he pointed out. The plucking cost alone would go up to Rs 6 per kilogram, it was pointed out.
The newly launched factory of farmers, the ‘Wayanad Green Tea Producer Company Limited’, an initiative supported by NABARD at Karadippara near Ambalavayal, also has been hit by the hostile environs which is on the edge of closure.
Chief Executive Officer of the fledgling firm Jose Sebastian told DC that he is afraid the firm would sink in the bad industrial weather as well as hostile climatic conditions.
Set up at a cost of Rs 83 lakh, the majority of the fund was mobilised from farmers as shares and rest as repayable fund from NABARD, we are struggling to repay our loans, he said.
“If there is no help from Tea Board or from state government, we will be forced to close it down,” he added. “Low quality tea due to incessant rains and shortage in production have hit the company seriously,” he said.
A. Krishnadas of Karadippara Tea Growers’ Association at Anappara, near Sulthan Bathery, said that many of the farms are now abandoned due to the crisis. “No buyers due to low quality leaf, no leaf plucking as it is not viable and no buyers even for land,” he said.
Most of the farmers are of the opinion that they would be able to survive only if a price between Rs 20 to Rs 25 per kilogram has been ensured for tea leaf. It takes four kilograms of raw tea to produce one kilogram of tea dust. In the market all the prominent companies selling their tea brands for a price above Rs 200 per kilogram which means the price of tea is not at all that much low in the market, say farmers.