Assam Planters Demand Special Incentives

JORHAT, Assam, India

The Assam Tea Planter’s Association is seeking additional subsidies to uproot and re-plant tea bushes exhausted due to age.

A Special Purpose Tea Fund exists to meet the needs of planters seeking to improve yields by replacing tea bushes that are past their 30-year prime. Many of the region’s tea bushes are 50 years old. A subsidy equal to 25 percent of the annual yield was established in 2007 to ease the financial burden of re-planting. The fund is expected to generate 4,760-crore ($107 million) that was to be spent over a 15-year period.

Planters, suffering the effects of a long recession, have not taken advantage of the program due to a shortage of capital. It takes at least three years for new plants to produce commercial amounts of tea leaf. Many growers simply continue to pluck existing stock. Planters say they want the subsidy increased to 40 percent.

According to the Calcutta Telegraph, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told attendees at the 74th annual general meeting of the Tea Planters’s Association that the industry should not depend too much on the government and aim for diversification to face these new challenges.

“The government is aware about the problems of the tea industry and is always ready to help. However, the industry should not depend too much on the government and has to go for innovative ideas to face these challenges,” he said.

High quality tea is selling above Rs 150 ($3.36) per kg and domestic consumption is rising. Per capita consumption was 220 grams in 1951 (the same as the current consumption in the United States). It has since increased to 717 grams but tea from low-yielding, poor quality trees will not bring these prices at auction.

Gogoi suggested planters add pepper trees, coconut and rubber plants to diversify their income and generate funds needed to re-plant. Modern harvesting equipment and training will increase productivity and help curb absenteeism as high as 40 percent during peak of the harvest, he told planters.

Source: The Calcutta Telegraph