A third of the tea growing acreage in Assam is owned by small holders and their interests are at times in conflict with owners of the larger tea estates.
Last week, recognizing that Assam accounts for 50 percent of India’s tea production, the government decided to create a directorate for small holders under the Tea Board of India.
Union Ministry of Commerce Vijaya Laxmi Joshi announced the decision in connection with preparation of the country’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan for Tea, Coffee, Rubber and Spices. Assam growers pressed the government to locate the directorate in Guwahati, since Assam holds the greatest concentration of small holders, according to reports in the Assam Tribune.
The definition of small holders varies by country. Typically they own 35 hectares, which is sufficiently large to justify investment in processing equipment but many small holders contract with “bought leaf” factories. While most tea is produced on estates (plantations) small-scale production predominates in the Nilgiri tea growing region in Southern India.
Assam is India’s largest producer of CTC (crush, tear curl). But the demand for India’s CTC tea in recent years has declined from 44 to 27 percent in the global market due largely to competition from African growers.