West Bengal’s Small Tea Growers (STG) and factory owners continue to struggle over new measures to guarantee tea quality and ensure fair pricing. STG has implemented a work stoppage recently as a result.
Factory owners are demanding that at least 65% of the tea brought in for processing consist of finely plucked leaf (two leaves and a bud.) This has become a major point of contention as STG, the tea research association and even Prabir Seal, president of the North Bengal Tea Producers Welfare Society, acknowledge that it is not a standard that can consistently be met through the entire year. The North Bengal Tea Producers Welfare Society includes 140 “bought-leaf factories” (BLFs). These factories can process up to 40 million kg of tea annually.
The Indian Tea Board (ITB) established the newly implemented standard and is requiring enforcement by the BLFs. The rules were two-fold. They created a minimum price that would adjust monthly and vary by district and also designated a percentage that would be paid to the growers. The quality standard of 65% fine leaf was required in order for the pricing to be paid. The quality restrictions were announced in November 2013 and were not successful in Assam. The STGs were angry that the perishable nature of the tea put them in a poor negotiating position.
The 40,000 STGs are responsible for one-third of the tea production in West Bengal so this walk-off raised fears of serious repercussions for the industry.
Further conversations led to a temporary agreement with a new set minimum of 25% fine leaf content that will be in effect until October 31.
SOURCE: The Economic Times (India)