Assam plans new measures to streamline BLFs, STGs

Supratim Dey / Kolkata/ Guwahati February 13 :

Concerned over the deterioration of the quality of tea produced in the state, the Assam government has decided to adopt at least 10 new measures from next year, primarily aiming at streamlining the bought leaf factories (BLFs) and small tea growers (STGs).

"In Assam, though the STGs are playing an important role, due to some policy deficiency our quality of tea is going down. The government, small tea growers and bought leaf factories, need to collectively take a few measures to maintain quality," said Pradyut Bordoloi, industry minister of Assam while addressing a press conference.

An eight member delegation, headed by Bordoloi and consisting of representatives from bought leaf factories and All Assam Small Tea Growers Association (AASTGA), recently visited Kenya to study the Kenyan model of tea production where the small tea growers account for 60 per cent of the total production.

Merits mention, tea production in Kenya started since 1924 after clones and seeds of Assam tea were sourced from the Tocklai Tea Research Centre, located in Jorhat in Upper Assam, and sowed in Kenya.

Bordoloi said that the state government was planning to identify catchment areas of approximately 250 hectares of plantation for each BLF and would make it compulsory for the BLFs to source green leafs from the catchment area.

The government also plans to check the "irrational" and "unauthorised" growth of BLFs in Assam. Currently, there are around 200 registered BLFs in the state.

Moreover, the government plans to make it mandatory upon Tocklai Tea Research Association to extend services to STGs, who till now could not afford it due to financial constrains, at a nominal rate from next year.

"Indiscriminate" use of any planting material would also be restricted, as also buying of green leaves by organised sectors from outside.

The government might also make it mandatory for all STGs to supply green leaves to BLFs three times a day during the peak season and twice a day during the lean season so that fresh leaves immediately reach the factory and is processed.

Bordoloi further said that from next year onwards the government would start a grading system for the entire tea industry of Assam and all tea factories would be certified "A", "B" and "C" grades by an "independent" grading agency based on the quality of tea they produced.

Furthermore, the state government has decided to give land 'pattas' to all STGs who presently cultivate in government lands, except reserve forests.

Assam produces almost 55 per cent of the total tea grown in India. Not less than 15 years back, the contribution of STGs in tea production of Assam was almost negligible, but it now stands to around 29 per cent

As a comparison, Assam produced around 400 million kgs of tea in 2007 and exported 170 million kgs, whereas, Kenya produced 369 million kgs and exported 345 million kgs in the corresponding year. Moreover, there has been a decline in the volume of export of Assam tea. From 250 million kgs, it came down to 170 million kgs in the last ten years.

Cheniram Khanikar, president of AASTGA, who was a member of delegation that visited Kenya, said that they were "overwhelmed" by seeing the Kenyan model, where STGs and self-help groups (SHGs) play a major role. Bordoloi said that if required the state government would go for appropriate legislations for implementing the measures.