COVID-19 continues to plague India’s tea workers and impact global tea sales. Wage protests persist across several tea growing areas. Small tea growers in Kenya, Bangladesh & India struggle to ensure decent prices & improve productivity. Child & bonded labour suspected in Sri Lankan tea. Photo courtesy of The Howarths
Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Global Tea Sector
- The first stage of THIRST’s Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Global Tea Sector is underway, with its literature review, drawing primarily on the THIRST Knowledge Hub which contains a collection of reports on human rights and environment issues in the tea sector.
- We are also recruiting members of the Advisory Committee. This will be a group of experts in a range of topics including gender, the tea industry, human rights, international trade, etc as well as a range of geographies . They will meet two or three times in the year and from time to time will be consulted on technical issues and asked to review documents. Please get in touch if you would like the opportunity to be involved in this important initiative.
- Civil society and corporate actors are invited to take part in the HRIA. There are a number of different levels at which you can get involved from providing contacts, reports and data, through facilitating field visits and providing in-kind support such as meeting venues in tea sourcing countries, to full implementation partnership. Please contact THIRST if you would like to discuss one of these options, or have other ideas about how you would like to be involved.
THIRST put forward questions at Tesco’s Shareholder meeting in June and Sainsburys’ AGM in July. We referenced the sexual assault and rape cases brought by women on Lujeri tea estate in Malawi and stressed that such issues are likely to be prevalent across their tea sourcing regions. We asked if Tesco and Sainsburys would now implement the changes that Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign has been calling for – particularly on policies relating to women and respond to information requests from civil society, including THIRST’s Human Rights Impact Assessment of the global tea sector. Both companies responded by acknowledging the seriousness of the Lujeri case and saying any form of human rights abuse are completely unacceptable. They said they had ceased trade with Lujeri while they launched an investigation, and are monitoring the actions Lujeri is taking to remdiate abuses. Sainsburys did not refer to gender issues anywhere else in its tea supply chain, but Tesco mentioned a number of other initiatives in human rights in tea including its support of IDH’s Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund initially focused on Assam but with ambitions to expand to other countries. THIRST will continue to engage with these and other tea buying companies on this issue.
TEA NEWS SUMMARY
HEALTH AND COVID-19
Reports of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the Assam region continue to dominate the news. More than 8500 cases have been confirmed in 403 tea estates and gardens, and at least 59 people have died as a result of COVID-19 infection. Those who tested positive are sent to one of the 288 COVID-19 care centres in the region to avoid mixing with a highly dense population. Otherwise, as Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser to NE Tea Assn stressed “the workers come back home to families sharing a cramped one-room accommodation, often without proper ventilation, sanitation or clean drinking water” and it is “safer for the workers to come to work than stay home”. Despite the alarming increase in cases, an estimated million tea workers continue working daily and are paid as little as 183 rupees ($2.50) a day. He continues “Several studies have noted a high rate of malnutrition, anaemia, hypertension and tuberculosis among tea workers…”
Tea workers in Assam can now be vaccinated without prior registration, which is done on their behalf by the manager. But only a third of tea estates have camps for vaccinations to be administered. Sandeep Mukherjee, principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association, hopes that 300,000 (three lakhs) tea garden workers “will fall under the industrial workers’ category” as the government includes tourism workers in the priority group for vaccination. “…the two COVID-19 waves had led to massive devastation of livelihoods of those who depended upon agriculture, fishing and government-aid to survive,” said Senior activist, Sankar Halder, while the situation in West Bengal is worsening due to the shortage of vaccines, lack of medical services, absence of political help coupled with natural disasters damaging agricultural land and destroying dwellings.
Because India’s plantation health sector is not included in the national health system, Covid-19 has exacerbated the health issue. Some estates do not have access to emergency medical services or ambulances. Even though they have been criticised, government funds and private funds have taken several initiatives to assist tea producers. By distributing protective equipment and sanitisers and investing in kitchen gardens, IDH Farmfit, the world largest private-public impact fund, supports small farmers in Malawi to ensure food security for 4,000 smallholders’ families. In India, they also subsidise the transportation costs for small tea growers in Assam with suspected COVID-19 cases so that the tests recommended by health practitioners can be performed. Against this background, mob attacks on frontline health workers, whom they blame for COVID-19-related deaths, spiked.
Global tea sales are reportedly down due to COVID-19 , causing supply chain disruptions, the closure of factories, and labour shortages. As a consequence of the droughts and COVID-19 in India, which affects 3.5 million people working in tea gardens in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, tea production is expected to decrease by between 20-25% this year. Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Tipu Munsi announced plans to expand its international tea market. “The government has chalked out detailed programmes to increase its production. To export tea shortly, its production is being increased, developing new varieties,” he said commemorating the First National Tea Day. Bangladeshi tea production – which employs 25,000 people, mainly women – increased by 46% from 2011 to 2020 reaching 86.39 million kg. A collaboration has been announced between Trustea Sustainable Tea Foundation and Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) which, according to ACF’s CEO, “will support tea growers and tea garden workers in the tea growing areas of West Bengal to adopt environmentally-friendly sustainable farming.” The aim is for farmers to gain knowledge and have the opportunity to network with one another, bargain collectively, purchase inputs in bulk, and market their goods.
SMALL TEA FARMERS
Small tea farmers (with plots of 10-15 acres) in South India’s Nilgiris District, challenged the Tea Board for banning any new manufacturing units, preventing them from starting their own tea manufacturing units. Meanwhile, those who are already procured by Indco Cooperative tea factories are demanding higher prices for green tea leaves. It is important that small tea farmers are paid at least Rs 25 per kg of tea grown, according to founder president of Nilgiris Nelikolu. Small tea farmers are also fighting for survival in Meru County, Kenya, who say the introduction of plucking machines would cause a reduction in earnings for hard-pressed families who depend on tea production for their livelihood.
The average price for tea auctioned in Kenya this year is at a two-year low of $1.74 (Sh187.52), while volumes traded have reduced and the shilling is strengthening against the dollar. According to KTDA, continuously high production rates and a global oversupply have contributed to the decline in average tea prices. The new chairman of Kenya Tea Development Agency, David Ichoho Muni promised to pay a mini-bonus of between Sh2 and Sh5 a kilo to farmers in the factories in July, and the main bonus will be delivered in October. KTDA’s new governance system will allow farmers to have greater control over their assets worth more than Sh36 billion following a restructuring in its shareholding structure. Tea factory companies will remain corporate shareholders owning 23,000,000 shares and will now jointly and directly own the company with the farmers who will now own 5,000,000 shares. Additionally, trading or selling the shares will be locked for the next 10 years to protect the farmers from short-term speculators.
The Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) has opened The ‘Camellia Khola Akash School’ (Open Sky School) in Northern Bangladesh for small tea growers to develop their skills in tea cultivation, such as selecting tea varieties, establishing tea nurseries, techniques of planting tea saplings, irrigation, drainage, applying fertiliser, pest management, pruning and plucking of tea leaves.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND WAGES
Maijan Tea Estate workers in Assam are demanding improved benefits including the appointment of doctors, timely supply of firewood to workers, adequate number of teachers and promotion of senior fourth-grade staff, adding “….The workers have been forced to live in cramped conditions.” In Bangladesh three-quarters of 100,000 permanent and 30,000 casual tea estate workers live in extreme poverty – like Moni Biswas, 35, a mother of three and a fifth generation of tea leaf plucker who earns as little as 120 takas ($1.40) for a full day’s work plucking 23 kilograms of tea leaves. Bangladeshi labor officials have proposed a Tk 117 a day minimum wage for tea garden workers, significantly less than the TK 300 requested by the workers and “not even a survival wage”, an employee representative claims. As the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Tea Workers Union pointed out, no single recommendation from workers was considered by the Wage Board. Meanwhile, tea work was stopped in Luhaiuni Tea Garden after workers staged a peaceful protest against the sacking of a worker who had complained about his tree being cut down by management.
Thirteen former employees of the Githambo Tea Factory in Murang’a County Kenya filed a lawsuit against the company’s management for illegally terminating their employment. As a result of the audit, the conciliator ordered the factory’s management to provide each petitioner with their taxation, deductions for years worked, leave days, arrears, and other dues as specified in the collective bargaining agreement. Still in Kenya, the issue of tea pluckers’ jobs being at risk from the introduction of plucking machines continues. Labor accounts for a major portion of their revenue and mechanisation would reduce the cost of harvesting tea.
The Tamil minority in Sri Lanka has been impacted by economic hardship as a result of Covid-19, and tea workers are struggling to feed their children. A quarter of the population is still unemployed, forcing them to leave the estates or live in starvation, chronic poverty, and desperation. Employees’ rights, bargaining power, and industrial relations suffer as a result of estate management’s refusal to enable them to engage in income-generating activities; trade unions are weak and ineffective, undermining workers’ rights, bargaining power, and industrial relations.
Workers at nine West Bengal tea gardens owned by the bankrupt Duncans Industries have submitted a Rs 1,538.76 crore claims for unpaid salaries, additional leave, rations, fuelwood, gratuity, and provident fund. Arrear earnings, overtime, extended leave payment, rations, fuelwood, gratuity, and provident fund are all covered by the action.
CHILDREN AND CHILD LABOUR
Despite Sri Lankan government statistics reporting a steady reduction in child labour, Save the Children, has found worrying evidence of the worst forms of child labour in tea supply chains. While Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have adhered to a child protection policy that forbids the paid or unpaid employment of children under 16, they were less certain of the extent to which their supply chain – which includes small tea growers – was child labour free.
A new two-child policy has been introduced in Assam, from which Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe populations, as well as tea garden employees are exempt. The Chief Minister announced the new “Population policy” on 18th June, explaining “We will gradually incorporate a two-child policy for availing government benefits…, loan waiver or other government schemes.”
TEA NEWS LISTINGS FOR JUNE 2021
Health and COVID-19
June 1. Al Jazeera
Tea Garden Workers in India’s Assam Hit by Second Wave of Covid.
Hundreds of workers are reporting sick in Assam’s tea gardens amid an abysmally low rate of vaccination as the state government battles to contain the spread of the virus. According to figures maintained by Assam’s Labour and Welfare Department, there have been 7,121 COVID-19 cases spread across the state’s 403 out of 800 large tea gardens since April. As many as 53 people have died. Assam was one of the five states that held a regional election in March and April even as signs that the pandemic was making a comeback were visible in several pockets of India. As cases started surging in Assam, the authorities announced restrictions in mid-April. On May 11, the state government announced the shutting down of offices in urban and semi-urban areas. But tea gardens are operational and about a million tea workers continue to go out and work for 205 Indian rupees (less than $3) a day in Brahmaputra Valley and 183 rupees ($2.50) in Barak Valley, after the recent wage hike of 38 rupees (50 cents). The month of May is picking time for the second flush of tea which would make its way mostly to the international markets. Assam produces more than half of India’s tea. The industry is already facing a loss of production due to the lockdown in 2020 and a partial drought in early 2021.
June 05 The Economic Times
Assam Tea Garden Workers don’t need to register for vaccines.
The Assam government will do away with mandatory registration for the Covid-19 vaccine for tea garden workers.The registration on behalf of the workers will be done by headmen of a line, manager or the officer-in-charge of vaccination. The second wave has severely affected tea estates with almost half of them recording Covid cases. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said rules are being relaxed for those not having smartphones. “In case of a tea garden, the manager can register the tea workers under one link. All these can be done from one number. Even the officer in charge of the inoculation in the area can register.”
June 06. The Tepegraph Online
Covid: State govt to include tourism sector staff in a priority group for vaccination
The state government has decided to include tourism sector workers in the priority group for vaccination. There is no clarity whether the nearly three lakh tea garden workers from north Bengal are included on the vaccination priority list. Most of the vaccination camps in Bengal are vaccinating only those above 45 years.
June 07. UCA News
Christians struggle to check pandemic’s spread in northeast India
Catholic dioceses in India’s northeastern states have joined other Christian groups to contain the spread of Covid-19. Leaders of Christian volunteers said their prime concern is to stop the virus from spreading among more than one million people working in some 800 tea gardens in Assam state.
June 19. Counterview
Poor health infrastructure, vaccine hesitancy ‘rampant’ in rural West Bengal
Sankar Halder, who is a senior activist and founder president, Mukti, has said: “the two Covid-19 waves had led to massive devastation of livelihoods of those who depended upon agriculture, fishing and government-aid to survive. He attributed four factors to the worsening Covid crisis in Bengal: Crowding due to Assembly elections, the inability of cities to effectively tackle the new wave, lack of infrastructure in rural areas, and social stigma attached to the virus.
June 11. Outlook India
2 arrested for doctor assault incident in Assams Biswanath district
Two arrested for alleged involvement in another case of assault of a doctor in Assam. Senior medical officer of Majuligarh Tea Estate Basanta Goswami was assaulted over the enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions in the garden area on Wednesday. This is the third incident of attack on doctors in the state in June. President of the Assam chapter of the Indian Medical Association said it is unfortunate that doctors are being attacked by relatives of a patient at tea gardens.
June 12. Tea Biz Podcast/Episode 21
India’s tea industry under duress.
While the peak of the horrific second wave has passed, India’s tea industry remains under duress as the coronavirus simultaneously strikes down workers, limits plucking and processing, halts inter-district transport, and forces the early-day closure of restaurants and beverage stalls. The government estimates more than one million workers, mainly women, are losing productive days and wages due to the pandemic and inclement weather with the arriving monsoons…Biz Insight – There is no slack in demand for tea. Tata Consumer Products reports that revenue from its beverage segment (which includes coffee) grew by 59.6% during the period January-March 2021. Volume was up 23% largely due to an increase in at-home consumption. India’s packaged tea market is estimated at $2.26 billion. An additional $1.3 billion is spent on tea from unbranded suppliers, according to ICICI Securities.
June 13. GPlus
Mob Mentality in the time of Covid-19 pandemic: Doctors face Brunt
An upsurge of incidents where angry mobs assault healthcare workers have occurred in Assam, illustrating the need to protect this frontline medical personnel.
June 23. News Laundry
Poverty and fear derail the Covid fight in Bengal’s Dooars tea gardens
On June 15, 2021, West Bengal reported 4,371 new Covid cases and 84 deaths, while the respective numbers for India were 77,722 and 3,721. Cases have declined since mid May, though deaths remain high and a cause of concern. While many states have started the process of rolling back their lockdowns, the Bengal government has extended its lockdown, with a few relaxations, until July 1. In the villages and tea gardens of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, Covid cases are still very high…There is a high probability of unreported cases considering the vulnerability of the population due to lack of testing, loss of jobs, and insufficient nutrition. The fight against Covid is, therefore, extremely difficult in the tea gardens and villages of Dooars…‘There is tremendous fear’ Even during normal times, the Birpara state general hospital is full to its capacity. Due to the lack of space, patients are often accommodated in its corridors. The hospitals in the tea gardens are in poor condition, many of them without doctors or nurses. Even medicines – for fever, headache, stomachache – are hard to come by, let alone treatment for serious illnesses. Workers at the tea gardens receive a daily wage of Rs 202. Battling both poverty and malnutrition, they are susceptible to tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoea, to name a few, and hundreds die every year, though the specific numbers are unknown due to poor reporting. Despite welfare measures mandated by the Plantation Labour Act of 1951, tea garden workers continue to live impoverished lives.
June 19. The Star
Tea auction prices hit a two-year low
Tea farmers in the country are staring at poor returns this year as auction prices remain subdued, hitting a two-year low at this week’s sale. This comes amid a strengthening shilling against the US dollar which is likely to wipe out gains that come with the greenback. A kilo at the Mombasa weekly auction averaged $1.74 (Sh187.52) down from $1.82 (Sh196.20) last week, even as volumes traded reduced.Average hammer prices have been $1.80 (Sh194.04) since January with the highest price recorded around March when the commodity fetched $2 (Sh215) a kilo.
June 10. Daily Industry
Detailed programs chalked out to increase tea production.
Observing that tea is a potential export product of the country with high demand abroad, he said, “The government has chalked out detailed programmes to increase its production. With an aim to export tea in the near future, its production is being increased, developing new varieties.” The commerce minister said this addressing a discussion marking the ‘First National Tea Day-2021’ at Osmani Auditorium in Dhaka yesterday, jointly organised by the commerce ministry and the Bangladesh Tea Board.
June 09. Hotelier India
Ambuja Cement Foundation partners with Trustea Sustainable Tea Foundation
Aiming to encourage sustainable agriculture in the tea sector, Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) which is working in the areas of water resource management, livelihood promotion, healthcare, women empowerment, and rural development, recently, announced its association with Trustea Sustainable Tea Foundation. The association aims to transform and introduce a large number of producers to the trustea program in West Bengal, which will catalyse the process of enhancing sustainability in the tea industry and enhancing the livelihood of small tea growers and tea garden workers.
June 14. Inews
India’s Covid outbreak hits tea industry that supplies world’s cuppas
India’s tea industry hit by the Covid-19 outbreak and changing climatic conditions. Around 3.5 million people in India work in tea gardens, mainly in Assam, West Bengal, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Drought-like conditions add to this year’s crop problems, with production expected to be hit by 20-25 per cent 9from 1.34 million tonnes of tea produced in 2019).
June 17. KSU. The Sentinel Newspaper
Tea market is estimated to be valued at $67,920.8 million by 2028
The global tea market is estimated to experience a negative impact amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The supply chain disruptions, complete closure of manufacturing & production facilities due to lockdown restrictions, and labour shortage have negatively impacted the market growth. The world’s largest private-public impact fund for smallholder farmers has introduced various initiatives to support the tea manufacturers amidst the pandemic. Multiple industries have been taken by the government, key vendors, and others to provide food security to 4,000 smallholders farmers and their families.
Industrial relations and wages
June 15. New Age
TK117 as daily minimum wage proposed for tea garden workers
The minimum wage board has proposed Tk 117 as the daily minimum wage for the tea garden workers, ignoring the proposals made by the labour union in the sector, alleged a worker representative to the board. ‘The tea garden workers have been receiving the amount for the last two and a half years under a negotiation between workers and owners. The wage board has recommended the same amount as the minimum wage through a “unilateral” gazette notification issued on Sunday,’ the worker representative to the board, Ram Bhajan Kaori, told New Age on Monday.He said that no single recommendation from the workers was considered in the wage board and the board recommended the minimum wage of workers as per the suggestions made by the owners.
- Tea workers must have a living wage
- Repeal draft gazette, reform wage board
- Bangladeshi tea workers angry over new terms
June 15. The Northeast Today
Assam: Maijin tea workers stage protest in Dibrugarh
Assam workers demand the procurement of basic amenities from the chief managers of the Maijan tea estate. According to sources, the workers of Maijan tea estate have been demanding solutions to various issues such as appointment of doctors, timely supply of firewood to workers, adequate number of teachers and promotion of senior fourth-grade staff. “We have been demanding for a long time that the quarters of the tea garden workers should be repaired. The workers have been forced to live in cramped conditions,” a worker said. Nabin Keot, central vice president of Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) admitted that the garden has been facing several issues which have gone unheeded by the management.
June 23. UCA news
Bangladesh tea workers trapped in eternal slavery
Bangladeshi tea workers trapped in eternal slavery. Often hailing from ethnic minorities, three-quarters of workers on the country’s 161 tea estates live in extreme poverty… “We don’t have land rights. Our income is too little and we cannot save anything. So, buying land is beyond our imagination. Sometimes we worry what will happen when we retire and our daughters don’t work in the garden,” Moni said. Like Moni, some 74 percent of about 100,000 permanent and 30,000 casual workers on 161 tea estates live in extreme poverty, according to a 2018 study. The majority of the tea estates are in Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts of Sylhet division. The tea worker community is estimated to number 700,000. Tea workers are mostly lower-caste Hindus and indigenous people from about 80 ethnic groups, according to a study by the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD).
June 18. Kenya News Agency
Stakeholders want cost of operaitons in Tea Sector reduced
A section of stakeholders has proposed an increase of exploitation of machinery in the tea sector so as to reduce cost of operations. During a meeting held in Murang’a town, farmers among other stakeholders in the tea sector noted that cost of operations has been too high leaving farmers to get meager earnings. In the forum that was organized by the Tea Prices Stabilization Taskforce, those present argued that machines can be utilized instead of using human labour, especially in picking tea. High cost in picking of tea, the farmers said, has occasioned poor earnings thus forcing small scale tea farmers to abandon the cash crop.
June 21. All Africa
Kenya Sacked Staff su Muranga’s Githambo Tea Factory
At least 13 former workers of Githambo Tea Factory in Murang’a County have gone to court, accusing the management of unlawfully terminating their employment. In an application before Justice Njagi Marete of the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nyeri, the petitioners, through the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (Kpawu), say the factory’s administration fired them without notice. In the suit, they have sued Githambo Tea Factory, which is under the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). They want their former employer compelled to reinstate them unconditionally.
June 25. Ground Views, Journalism for citizens
Institutional Discrimination puts plantation community at risk
About 80% of Sri Lanka tea workers returned to estates after pandemic-imposed restrictions. 30-40 % remain unemployed & dependent. In the wake of Covid-19 they’re finding it difficult to feed their children, provide online education and fulfil other basic needs…Due to poor management, workers are being given only three or four days of work a week so they cannot depend on the sector owing to the increasing cost of living and other forms of economic and social pressure. This is because the income they earn from estate work is insufficient to cover their monthly expenses. They now have to spend additional money for facemasks, sanitizer and mobile data for online education.
June 25. Outlook India
Duncans Industries tea garden workers file claims worth Rs 1,538 cr before NCLT
Workers of nine tea gardens owned by the debt-ridden company Duncans Industries have filed their claims which include claim for arrear wages, extra leave payment, rations, fuelwood, gratuity and provident fund. In a statement, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) said it has supported 54,250 workers from nine Duncans Industries” gardens in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri to file a claim of Rs 1,538.76 crore. The claim includes arrear wages, overtime, extra leave payment, rations, fuelwood, gratuity and provident fund, it added. The Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process was initiated by the Kolkata bench of NCLT against Duncans Industries on March 5, 2020. All creditors of the company are to file their claims after which NCLT will approve a plan on the basis of which the amounts owed to them will be paid back, either by liquidating Duncans’ assets or by finding a new owner.
June 24. The Daily Star
Workers in Moulvibazar’s Kulaura protest tea garden closed indefinitely
Workers of Luhaiuni Tea Garden in Kulaura upazila of Moulvibazar staged protest yesterday with 11-point demand, including reinstatement of a worker… Shyamal Pachi said, on May 20, Assistant Manager Nazrul and Gatekeeper Sadhu cut down a tree that he planted inside the garden without any notice. When he protested, he was terminated from his job on May 22, under Section 26 (Ka) of the Bangladesh Labour Act, Pachi claimed. Since May 22, the workers were protesting the termination and demanded immediate reinstatement of Pachi…As the workers took a stand in front of the office on June 22 morning and threatened to go for a strike, the authorities called police in the garden and issued a notice, declaring suspension of work indefinitely.
June 23. Nation. LK
Estate sector salary issue: A bitter cuppa for workers
Several protests by estate workers demanding their due salaries were staged in several areas in the Central Province over the past few weeks. The estate workers continue to grapple for survival amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Estate sector workers have been fighting long and hard over the past few years for a minimum daily wage of Rs. 1,000, which finally came into fruition last March, with the Wages Board’s seal of approval. Thus, a gazette dated 5 March stipulated that plantation sector workers be given a Rs. 1,000 daily wage. Regional plantation companies (RPCs), despite the decision of the Wages Board, had not been too keen on the idea, and had proposed an incentive-based performance model, citing a potential reduction in productivity. However, with the Government’s intervention, the decision had been finalised. The economy is reeling from the impact of the pandemic, and the plantation sector in its entirety, especially the workers who rely on a daily wage, have had to face a multitude of hardships to keep their heads above water. While the fertiliser issue has brought about a significant level of uncertainty to the plantation sector, the rising cost of living has already caused further damage to the income of the labourers, adding to their woes.
June 15. The Times of India
Revoke ban on new tea factories in Nilgiris: Associaton
The Nilgiris Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers’in the Nilgiris urged the Union government to lift the ban on new tea factories in the district. In 2019, the Tea Board India passed an order banning new manufacturing units in the Nilgiris. “On receiving this circular, we made several representations to the board to lift the ban and to give opportunity to new entrepreneurs wanting to enter the industry,” said NBLTMA president Dhananjayan.
June 11. The Hindu
Small tea growers seek higher prices
The small tea growers in the Nilgiris have sought higher price for green tea leaves that are procured by Indcoserve. Founder president of Nilgiris Nelikolu Micro and Small Tea Growers and Farmers Development Society Hubbathalai N. Sivan told The Hindu that the Tamil Nadu government is procuring tea from Indcoserve to be given in kits that will be distributed at PDS outlets. Since May, the government has procured 42 lakh kg of tea and the sourcing continues. It will be distributed to two crore ration card holders in the State. Last year, the Kerala government procured 1,250 tonnes of tea and the growers were paid ₹18 a kg for green tea leaves. This year, the growers are getting ₹20 a kg for the leaves procured by the Indco Cooperative tea factories. “The growers should get at least ₹25 a kg. Or, they should be paid according to the price sharing formula of the Tea Board,” he said.
June 07. The Star
Farmer to have seat at KTDA Holdings Board, agency clarifies
KTDA has said that farmers will now have greater control over their assets worth more than Sh36 billion following restructure in its shareholding structure. In a clarification communication on Monday, the agency said that the restructuring has made KTDA Holdings PLC one of Kenya’s largest companies by shareholding as it will now have over 620,000 individual and institutional shareholders. It said that previously, farmers owned the organisation 100 per cent through their 54 tea factory companies whose zonal representatives formed the KTDA Holdings Board at the national level. Tea factory companies will remain corporate shareholders owning 23,000,000 shares and will now jointly and directly own the company with the farmers who will now also own 5,000,000 shares. Hence, farmers will have a seat at the KTDA Holdings Board, with the farmer representative from each of the 12 Zones holding the position for a three-year non-renewable term.
June 16. All Africa
Kenya: Meru Farmers Oppose Arrival of tea plucking machines
Tea farmers in Meru County have opposed the introduction of plucking machines, saying the gadgets will affect the quality of green leaf and lead to reduced earnings. A section of small scale farmers said plucking of tea using machines will reduce their earnings since the leaf would not be of the required standard and would thus rob them of the quality they have enjoyed for decades. Payment to each factory for made tea sold at the Mombasa auction is based on quality, with those that produce top grades earning premium prices. Currently, there are several companies that have descended in the region, carrying out demonstrations on farms on how to use the plucking machines.
June 22. Standard Media
New KTDA board takes over, amid inhouse wrangles
The newly-elected board of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) took over the reigns yesterday, marking an end of an era for the ousted directors. Led by the new chairman David Ichoho Muni, the directors were escorted by police into the new offices at KTDA Plaza in what ended up being a smooth transition, except for a late evening protest from former office holders. The takeover brought to an end the leadership of Peter Kanyago, who had been at the helm of the tea agency for many years. The team was elected by 59 other directors elected by tea factories… However, last evening, a statement from the “Office of the Company Secretary” discounted the changes, describing the 12 as impostors. “The said group has purported to distribute amongst themselves positions at KTDA Holdings Plc. We wish to notify KTDA Holdings shareholders and the general public that the meeting was not convened by KTDA Holdings Plc. The public are advised to ignore any pronouncements and declarations by this group of people,” the statement said.
June 25. Business Daily
New KTDA board to pay tea farmers mini-bonus in July
The new Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) board says it will pay a mini-bonus to farmers at the beginning of next month. The move, which comes hardly a week after the new board took office, is a blow to the outgoing board that has opposed the takeover and insisted that they are the rightful custodians of the agency. New KTDA chairman David Ichocho said the agency would pay a mini-bonus of between Sh2 and Sh5 a kilo to farmers in the factories that have already declared. The main bonus will be paid in October. “We have managed to change the signatories of KTDA accounts, and we can now make key financial decisions such as payment of mini-bonus to farmers, which we are starting soon,” he said.
June 22. The Daily Star
Camellia open sky school
‘Camellia Khola Akash School’ (Camellia Open Sky School), an innovative initiative of the Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB), is eying to create expert tea farmers, develop the skills of small-scale tea farmers and flourish tea cultivation in five northern districts including Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Nilphamary, Lalmonirhat and Dinajpur. The school is a practical training programme beside most tea gardens, in open fields, for the marginalised tea farmers of different places…With an aim to provide training facilities on tea cultivation process at the doorsteps of small growers, the Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) is conducting training at different villages of these districts considering prospect of tea cultivation in northern region. Through the school the growers can easily know the process of tea cultivation both in theory and practice, such as—-selection of tea variety, setting up tea nursery, techniques of planting tea saplings, irrigation, drainage, applying fertiliser, pest management, pruning and plucking of tea leaves.
Children and child labour
June 20. Khaleej Times
India: Two-child policy applied for availing govt benefits in Assam
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday announced the gradual implementation of the two-child policy for availing government benefits in Assam. However, tea garden workers and members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities have been exempted from its purview. “We will gradually incorporate a two-child policy for availing government benefits. You can consider this an announcement,” the Chief Minister said. Mentioning that the new population norms would affect the eligibility for government benefits, including waiver of loans, Sarma said, “Be it loan waiver or other government schemes, population norms will be taken into account. It won’t be applicable to tea garden workers and SC-ST community. In the future, population norms will be taken into account as eligibility for government benefits. Population policy has begun.”
June 23. Groundviews Journalism for citizens
Hidden and Discounted: Child labour in Tea and Tourism
Save the Children has been has been working on child labour issues within the tea industry and the tourism industry. Its research uncovered some worrying findings regarding the prevalence of some of the worst forms of child labour. While Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have adhered to a child protection policy that forbids the paid or unpaid employment of children under 16, they were less certain of the extent to which their supply chain was child labour free. Part of the supply chain is the smallholders from whom leaf tea is sometimes bought…Two key findings that emerged startled the child protection sector as well as the decision makers in the tea industry. One finding was that 73.0% of children started to work before they reached the age of 12 years. Although this would not be classified as child labour under labour laws in Sri Lanka, it is evident that children’s involvement starts too early for a significant number of them, and that there is some risk of hazardous work and long hours. The majority of children, however, do not engage excessively and the data indicates that most parents understand that assigning hazardous work to their children is off limits. The research also revealed the prevalence of a practice that was widely used and accepted in the mid-sized estates that has serious implication for entire working families – the practice of bonded labour. The average monthly income of a worker in a mid-sized estate is Rs. 10,207, with nearly half of labourers earning less than Rs. 10,000. In this context, it is a struggle for most families to afford food, children’s education and other basic necessities, and considerable portion of worker families (15.5%) take loans from the estate owners and have debts to repay.