Highlights: Kenyans sue UK government for land theft, abuses; human rights abuses persist across tea origins; climate crisis and fluctuating prices drive tea farmers to alternative income sources; wage struggles continue in S Asia.
Image: Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura, 98, claimant against the UK for the forcible eviction of him and his family from ancestral lands to make way for tea cultivation Photo: JACKY HABIB, Vice
RIP Ranjit Banerji, 1932-2022
This month I would like to pay tribute to my father, Ranjit Banerji who passed away last week. It was he who brought me and my sisters up in the beautiful tea growing hills of Kerala and plains of Assam in the 1960’s – inspiring me to want to give something back through THIRST. It was he who taught me that no matter what a person’s social status he or she should be treated with respect, that each person has their job to do and each job is to be valued. It was he who taught me the preciousness of the social security and National Health Service that we are so lucky to have in the UK and to hope for a world in which everyone has such safety nets. It was he who taught me to question the status quo, to say “yes, but…” instead of “no”, to listen to all perspectives; my natural instinct is to listen to the worker perspective – but he helped me see the management perspective too. I hope that these values live on in THIRST and will help us find practical solutions to problems that will suit everyone.
After his years as a tea planter, he ran a dairy farm in West Bengal, worked for the UK’s Southern Water Authority and then became a consultant working on privatisations – including that of electricity. This led him to joke that his whole career was dedicated to making a cup of tea with milk, no sugar – although he never touched the stuff himself. He will be fondly remembered for that understated wit, as well as for his wisdom and his warmth.
THIRST-Evidensia webinar on supply chain sustainability initiatives
If you missed this important discussion on the role of sustainability initiatives and certification schemes in tea supply chains, you can catch up by watching this recording of it. Several supply chain sustainability approaches such as certification, company codes and other tools have been operational in the tea sector for several decades. The webinar invited different tea industry stakeholders to discuss questions such as How far have they gone in addressing some of the human rights issues in the sector? How much further can they go? What sector-wide cooperation is needed to take a systemic approach to addressing these challenges? What underlies the gap between the intentions of these sustainability approaches and the reality for tea workers and farmers worldwide? The speakers were THIRST’s Alysha Shivji and Krishanti Dharmaraj, Roshan Rai from the Darjeeling-based NGO, DLR Prerna, and ETP Director Jenny Costelloe. Play the recording.
For more information or to be kept posted on other such events, please:
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- Global per capita tea consumption up – especially in producing countries
- Human rights challenges persist in multiple tea origins
- Wage struggles – and successes – in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
- Calls for rethinking of plantation model and land use
- Burning opposition to mechanisation
- Governments supporting tea workers’ & farmers’ welfare
- Help for tea workers’ physical (and financial) health
- Kenya farmers’ tea prices rise, India tea farmers seek higher prices
- Tea farmers explore alternative income streams
- Tackling caste and ethnicity issues in two Indian tea areas
- Tea workers continue to face lethal occupational health and safety risks
- Climate crisis brings unprecedented rainfall to tea districts
Tea News Summary
Disclaimer: The following updates consist of a summary of articles from the media – they are shared in the spirit of learning and do not necessarily reflect the views of THIRST. Please contact THIRST if you spot any factual errors or would like to raise any other issues connected with the Update. THIRST will not be held liable for any such inaccuracies in the articles summarised here or the external links provided.
The FAO’s latest overview of the global tea industry finds that global per capita tea consumption has risen – especially in producing countries. However, serious human rights abuses, both current and historical, have been highlighted this month, with surviving victims of alleged colonial violence and land theft in Kenya’s tea growing regions calling for justice and reparations from the UK government and a Scottish judge opening the way for more Kenyan tea pluckers to join the suit against James Finlays for failing to prevent work-related neck and back injuries. Meanwhile, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Slavery reports to the 51st session of the Human Rights Council on his 2021 visit to Sri Lanka; he acknowledges some progress achieved, for example in preventing and addressing the worst forms of child labour, while highlighting persisting shortcomings in ending contemporary forms of slavery in Sri Lanka. In India, state officials observed that human trafficking increased significantly in Assam due to heightened economic vulnerability, and that cases of missing children in the tea garden areas nearly doubled.
Struggles over wage levels continue across the tea-growing world; the management and administration of Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates (DOTEPL) (India) has apparently abandonded its ten estates after promising to clear backdated wages. However, a credit rating agency has stated that “Despite the back-to-back increase in wage rates in West Bengal and Assam from January and August 2022 the pressure in the margin of large bulk tea players in North India (NI) may not be material, given the considerable increase in the prices of good quality CTC and orthodox teas which are expected to be sustained. Some tea companies have agreed to pay the annual Diwali bonus in one go, while others are insisting on two instalments. Bangladeshi workers still struggle to survive on the new higher wage agreed last month, some resorting to eating tea leaves. And the unprecendented economic crisis in Sri Lanka is continuing to cause poverty and hardship for tea workers, possibly for generations to come.
There are growing calls across South Asia to consider new approaches to land ownership and land use which could improve both the lives of workers and the economic health of the industry; For example, the new Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, Senaka Alawattegama] “…urged planters to continuously re-evaluate land use policy to make maximum use of all of the land allocated to them”, although some Sri Lankan “small holder farms are already practising a model where a group of workers have responsibility over a farm who are paid according to the volumes they pluck and also keep owners informed of the need for fertilizer and other inputs to boost leaf growth.” A new study by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), suggests that “Small tea growers [in India] should be encouraged to produce high-value tea for better prices and exports”, and that land from inefficient medium-sized plantations can be leased to small farmers. The US-based tea company, Nepal Tea Collective is taking an even more radical approach, saying it’s “cutting out the middlemen and working with the farmers directly to give underappreciated tea makers a platform to directly interact and connect with global customers; “to legally hold ourselves accountable to this mission, we converted to a public benefit corporation in January 2022.”
Mechanisation is one of the ways estates are attempting to make tea more profitable, but there is opposition from workers’ representatives over lost jobs. “Kericho and Bomet county assemblies [Kenya] will hold a joint session to pass legislation outlawing Mechanised Tea Harvesters. Meanwhile “ten tea harvesting machines on October 5th went up in flames at Chebown Tea Estate [owned by ekaterra] in Kericho County”.
The governments of Bangladesh, India and Kenya have stepped up to support their tea workers in a variety of ways. Bangladesh’s PM has pledged to give tea workers land rights, nationalise tea estate schools and ensure there are ambulances and doctors in every garden and ensure 6 months’ maternity leave. Meanwhile the Bangladesh Tea Board has been running hands-on training on tea plantation management, and tea workers there are set to get extra help from the United States Department of Labor’s $3 million award to improve working conditions and labor rights standards in various Bangladeshi industries, including tea. West Bengal’s administration has disbursed three months of financial assistance to former workers of two closed tea estates under the FAWLOI (Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries) scheme. Tea farmers in [Kenya’s] Vihiga and Kakamega counties are asking for a stimulus package introduced in the region to serve as a top-up on the regular bonus payouts they receive from the KTDA-run Mudete tea factory.
Non-governmental organisations have also provided support to tea workers in Bangladesh and farmers in Kenya – with a Community Health and Inclusion (CHAI) project to tackle leprosy (“a persistent problem in the tea-growing area of Moulvibazar District, Sylhet”, Bangladesh) and a free medical camp for treatment of non-communicable diseases organised for tea farmers by the KTDA Foundation.
Tea prices for small tea growers in Kenya rose of the first six months of the year, indicating that export markets are recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but South India’s small tea growers are protesting in demand of better prices for their green leaves.
The impacts of the climate crisis and the fluctuating price of tea is leading tea farmers in India and Kenya to explore alternative income streams. India is seeing a growing number of applications from tea garden owners to open “homestays” to benefit from tourism (although there is a conflict of interst with tea workers over the land they have lived on for generations). In Kenya, tea farmers are switching to avocado farming to meet growing international demand.
Tea workers are often from communities that are marginalised from the mainstream, resulting in discrimination and deprivation. Caste and ethnicity issues have been raised in two Indian tea areas, Assam and Tamil Nadu. A new book by anthropologist Jayaseelan Raj, describes how “large numbers of workers who had lived on plantations for more than five generations were now compelled to seek work outside, the former untouchables joining the ranks of fellow Dalits who power India’s unorganised and informal sectors.” But in Assam, efforts have been made to resolve conflicts between people indigenous to Assam, and indigenous people brought in from other parts of India generations ago to work the tea plantations; “A tripartite peace agreement was signed between the Centre, Assam Government, and eight tribal groups of Assam…The agreement was signed to end the decades-old crisis of tea garden workers and Adivasis in Assam.
Tea workers continue to face lethal occupational health and safety risks as over 40 tea garden workers were injured after their vehicle overturned in Siliguri in northern West Bengal (India), one tea worker was trampled to death by a wild elephant in Bangladesh, and, in South India, another was tea worker injured in a leopard attack and a wild elephant along with its calf destroyed around 8,000 saplings in a nursery.
Scientists reconstructed a 90-year rainfall record for northeast India, primarily using handwritten tea garden records going back to the late 19th century. As incessant rains battered the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu [India] in July and August, [small tea farmers in the region]… claimed the harvest has dipped by around 80 per cent,struggle to meet their daily needs. Tea production in Buhweju District [Uganda] has [also] dropped due to climate change. But some are working to tackle the impacts of the climate crisis: a farmer and director at Igara Growers Tea Factory in Uganda says factory and the district leadership are encouraging the protection of wetlands. “We are also championing tree planting so that we can conserve the environment.” And Mahendra Peiris, is innovating the use of herbicide-free weed management on Rainforest Alliance Certified tea farms in Sri Lanka.
THIS MONTH’S TEA NEWS IN DETAIL
Global per capita tea consumption up – especially in producing countries
The FAO has published an overview of the global tea industry. Highlights include: “Global tea production amounts to more than US$17 billion annually (about R275 billion), while world tea trade is valued at about US$9,5 billion (R161 billion).” “Smallholders are responsible for 60% of world production… Global per capita tea consumption has increased by 2,5% over the past decade, with marked expansion in tea-producing countries. Developing economies in East Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have been driving the growth in demand. In the more mature European markets, as well as other advanced countries, demand for tea has dropped.” It concludes “Critically, the sector needs to balance the need for expansion and the requirements of sustainability at all stages of the value chain.” (Farmers Weekly)
Human rights challenges persist in multiple tea origins
“The death of Queen Elizabeth II has revived calls for Britain to issue restitution for its colonial past and ongoing profiteering from former colonies. British colonialists ruled in Kenya from 1895 until 1963, when the country gained independence. Over that period, approximately 15,000 Kipsigis and Talai Indigenous groups were murdered or died as a result of colonial violence, including starvation. This is in addition to other indigenous clans in Kenya who faced violence from the British…” “Ngasura [see main image], along with other survivors of colonial violence and land theft, have filed a case against the British government at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), an international court that interprets the European Convention on Human Rights. They are seeking compensation in the range of £178 billion ($200 billion, €200 billion).” (Vice)
“A judge in Scotland has given an extension of 12 months to more workers who suffered injuries while employed as tea pickers at the James Finlay Tea Estates in Kericho [Kenya] to join the ongoing case in the UK. The company faces a landmark suit filed by 1,300 current and former workers demanding millions of shillings for neck and back injuries.” (Standard Media)
“The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery reported to the Fifty-first session of the Human Rights Council on his visit to Sri Lanka from 26 November to 3 December 2021. “Following an analysis of the normative framework and the existing institutional architecture to combat contemporary forms of slavery, the Special Rapporteur examines the labour conditions in various sectors of the economy, including in the garment industry, on tea plantations and in the domestic sector, as well as the conditions related to microfinancing schemes…The Special Rapporteur acknowledges some progress achieved, for example in preventing and addressing the worst forms of child labour, while highlighting persisting shortcomings in ending contemporary forms of slavery in Sri Lanka. The report concludes with recommendations to assist the Government and other stakeholders in addressing the remaining challenges.” (Relief Web)
“State officials observed that human trafficking increased significantly in Assam [India] due to heightened economic vulnerability, and cases of missing children in the tea garden areas nearly doubled. A study found that 37 percent of workers across 50 tea estates in Assam had daily expenditures that exceeded their daily income, making workers extremely vulnerable to debt-based coercion.” (Goa Chronicle)
Wage struggles – and successes – in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
Workers at the ten Darjeeling Tea Estates Private Ltd (DOTEPL) estates [India] have been protesting for two months, and conducted a hunger strike “demanding immediate payment of wages, salaries, bonus and other dues (Telegraph India), and also because “fuel was not being provided to run the machines of the factory”. (Milennium Post). The management of intially promised “to clear the wages of two fortnights instead of one communicated earlier” (Telegraph India), but have now apparently abandoned the gardens without any notice. “They have not paid bonuses to the workers along with past dues”. (Millennium Post). MP Raju Bista has written to the tea board of India requesting that legal action is taken against the owners of DOTEPL for allegedly “instructing managers and administrative staff to flee their estates without honouring the agreement to pay workers”. (Siliguri Times)
Producers concerned that wage rises might affect profitability may be reassured by a few report by the Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency of India; “Despite the back-to-back increase in wage rates in West Bengal and Assam from January and August 2022 respectively, which together contribute around 80% to the all India production, the pressure in the margin of large bulk tea players in North India (NI) may not be material, given the considerable increase in the prices of good quality crush, tear, curl (CTC) as well as orthodox teas in the recent past. The price trend is expected to sustain… (Economic Times)
Meanwhile, Bangladesh tea workers say they will still struggle on the new wage agreed last month; “They may say that we live in a home provided by the tea estate, but the cost of repairing the house is ours. We still have to buy clothes, have to provide for our children’s education — rice, pulses and vegetables have to be purchased. Is this BDT 120 [USD 1.26] enough? Because they are sustaining their lives in this heaven by eating tea leaves!” (Global Voices)
“As Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis in decades, rampant inflation has caused food prices to rise by 93.7%, according to the country’s statistics department. However, the basic pay rate for tea workers has remained the same in Norwood at 1,000 rupees ($2.79) for 18 kilograms (40 pounds) of tea leaves. Poverty is not new to Sri Lanka’s tea estate workers, but the economic crisis and its impacts on food and education make them fear there will be no way out of their situation, with future generations forced to continue living in the never-ending cycle of hardship.” (DNA)
“What Sri Lanka’s economic crisis looks like for women: Tea plantation workers’ salaries have always been very low, but at least they used to be able to work extra hours if they wanted to earn some overtime, according to Hemachandra of the Women’s Liberation Movement. However, many factories are now operating for fewer hours as they can’t access enough fuel or electricity to keep the machinery ticking over. This just shuts off another potential lifeline for many women and their families.” (The New Humanitarian)
“On Monday, [12th September] over 75 workers from Glenugie Estate, at Upcot in the Nuwara-Eliya district, [Sri Lanka] protested wage cuts by the Maskeliya plantation company, amid the country’s escalating cost of living. The demonstration outside the estate’s office was called by the Glenugie Estate Workers Action Committee (GEWAC). Over the past month, the wages of all Glenugie Estate workers who fail to reach new unrealistic daily work targets have been cut by more than half. The daily tea leaf plucking target has increased from 16 to 20 kilograms and the land clearing target doubled from 75 to 150 square metres.” (World Socialist Website)
In more positive news, “[t]he Santosh Kanoria Group, which runs Tindharia and Goomtee tea gardens in Kurseong, [India] has paid workers bonus at the rate of 20 per cent at one go, while a few other estates have decided to follow suit. The decision comes at a time when a sustained campaign by trade unions is on in the hills against the planters for their unwillingness to pay the bonus at one go. The Darjeeling Tea industry had refused to pay 20 per cent bonus at one go during two rounds of bilateral meetings held between its representatives and trade union leaders early this month. On September 21, the state government issued an advisory asking the Darjeeling Tea industry to pay the bonus in two instalments of 15 per cent and 5 per cent before Puja and Diwali, respectively. (Telegraph India)
Calls for rethinking of plantation model and land use
There are growing calls across South Asia to consider new approaches to land ownership and land use which could improve both the lives of workers and the economic health of the industry:
[Sri Lanka‘s Planters’ Association of Ceylon new Chairman Senaka Alawattegama] “…urged planters to continuously re-evaluate land use policy to make maximum use of all of the land allocated to them. The plantation sector was also facing a shortage of labour and for the RPC sector, the workforce had reduced from 327,000 in 1992 to approximately 115,000 today and showed no sign of stopping… Alawattegama urged that every viable measure must be taken to reverse the migration of labour out of the plantation sector noting that the daily wage system that has been in place since the colonial era was simply not suited for the task.” (Daily News)
“Sri Lanka’s small holder farms are already practising a model where a group of workers have responsibility over a farm who are paid according to the volumes they pluck and also keep owners informed of the need for fertilizer and other inputs to boost leaf growth. Some plantations companies have also tested other wage models. Until the flat rates was re-introduced by manifesto a partial productivity based model was in place.” (Economy Next)
“[A] paper [entitled], ‘Value chain configuration in the Indian tea economy: A historical perspective,’ authored by Thiagu Ranganathan, Tirtha Chatterjee and Rucha Takle of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram”, suggests that “Small tea growers [in India] should be encouraged to produce high-value tea for better prices and exports… Researchers have suggested restructuring plantations, ”collectivization” through farmer producer organisations (FPO) for small tea growers (STG) and encouraging STGs to produce high-value tea for reviving the Indian tea industry and guaranteeing better prices and exports. The revamp could begin with the medium-sized tea plantations that have, over time, become less efficient than the larger ones and STGs. The land can be leased out to the small farmers…” (The Hindu)
The US-based tea company, Nepal Tea Collective is taking an even more radical approach, saying it’s “cutting out the middlemen and working with the farmers directly to give underappreciated tea makers a platform to directly interact and connect with global customers… [in the short term] they plan to build a fulfillment facility in Nepal that allows majority of the small-holder farmers to centralize collection, storing, packing and exporting… “We all know that the tea industry has not been fair to the primary producers though tea is the most popular beverage after water,” said Nishchal Banskota, a second-generation tea producer and founder and CEO of Nepal Tea Collective. “I aim to create the most impactful tea company that works for not just the shareholders but all stakeholders. Therefore, to legally hold ourselves accountable to this mission, we converted to a public benefit corporation in January 2022.” (World Tea News)
Burning opposition to mechanisation
“Kericho and Bomet county assemblies [Kenya] will hold a joint session to pass legislation outlawing Mechanised Tea Harvesters. Kericho Governor Erick Mutai in his address during the county assembly’s first sitting disclosed he had agreed with his Bomet counterpart Hillary Barchok and respective speakers for the two counties to hold a joint session to empower the county executives to prohibit the use of tea harvesting machines by multinational tea firms. (Standard Media). Meanwhile “ten tea harvesting machines on October 5th went up in flames at Chebown Tea Estate in Kericho County. The incident [took place] at the farm belonging to Ekaterra Company.” (Standard Media)
Governments supporting tea workers’ & farmers’ welfare
Bangladesh “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has assured tea workers, who have been landless for almost 150 years, of rights to their land…. “I will definitely make arrangements so that all the tea workers get a house, especially the rights to land. In reference to education of tea workers’ children, she said, “There are schools in the tea gardens. I will take initiatives to nationalise these schools and talk to the Ministry of Education.” She also stressed the need for improving the treatment facilities in tea garden areas. She said ambulances and doctors should be kept in every garden. The government will take the initiative to set up community clinics next to every garden, she added. In view of the demand of women tea workers for maternity leave of 6 months, she said, “It is a very fair demand. The job of tea workers is a very risky one. I will take measures to make their maternity leave 6 months.” (TBS News)
“[A] significant project undertaken by the Bangladesh Tea Board is the Camelia Open Sky School. It is a school where small tea growers are imparted hands-on training on tea plantation management under the open sky. The Camelia Open Sky School has been set up as advised by former Chairman of Bangladesh Tea Board Major General Zahirul Islam to train the growers on tea cultivation through a systematic schooling procedure. (The Financial Express)
“The [West Bengal, India] district administration has disbursed three months of financial assistance, along with an ex gratia, to the jobless workers of two tea estates lying closed for years now, ahead of Durga Puja… On Friday, the administration transferred the money to the bank accounts of 345 workers of Dheklapara tea estate, which has been closed since 2002, and 1,204 workers of Lankapara, another tea garden shut for the past 11 years. According to administrative sources, each worker receives Rs 1,500 per month under the FAWLOI (Financial Assistance to Workers of Locked Out Industries) scheme.” (Telegraph India)
“Tea farmers in [Kenya’s] Vihiga and Kakamega counties are asking for a stimulus package introduced in the region to serve as a top-up on the regular bonus payouts they receive from the KTDA-run Mudete tea factory. Through their co-operative, growers want the county governments of the two devolved units to set up the fund that they believe would help address falling production of the beverage, which has been blamed on rising input costs. Mudete Tea Factory Chairman, Mr Abung’ana Khasiani, said the injection will also shield farmers from the rising cost of living.” (Business Daily Africa)
But it is not only tea producing countries’ governments that are providing support for their own farmers: “The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the award of $3 million to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity for a project to improve working conditions and labor rights standards in Bangladesh’s ready-made garments, tea, shrimp farming and construction industries. The funding will support workers’ rights to collectively seek remediation for issues related to workplace safety and gender-based harassment in Sylhet, Khulna and Dhaka, Bangladesh.” (US Department of Labor)
Help for tea workers’ physical (and financial) health
“Leprosy is a persistent problem in the tea-growing area of Moulvibazar District, Sylhet, [Bangladesh] where leprosy management has been neglected for many years, due to poorly funded and under-equipped health system structures. Poor case detection and the lack of early treatment have led to an increase in disabilities caused by leprosy, which in turn has a significant impact on people’s emotional well-being and ability to maintain employment. Lepra’s new Community Health and Inclusion (CHAI) project is addressing the needs and gaps in health care provision in this particularly vulnerable group and increasing access to vital health and support structures, helping to improve the lives of people affected by leprosy within the district. The project is funded by investment company, Baillie Gifford who have previously funded Lepra’s mental health projects in Bangladesh.” (Eastern Eye)
Also in Bangladesh; “BRAC Bank’s agent banking team has recently organised an ‘Uthan Boithak’, a knowledge-sharing engagement, for the tea workers in Bahubal in Habiganj, said a press release. Field officers of Bahubal agent banking outlet disseminated information about opening bank accounts, importance of savings and services available at agent banking outlets.” (New Age)
Meanwhile; “Residents of Karumandi Ward in Gichugu Constituency, Kirinyaga County have benefited from a free medical camp organized by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Foundation in partnership with Kirinyaga County Government… Hundreds of residents turned up for examination and treatment for various diseases such as cervical, breast and prostate cancer, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension by various specialists and given medicines for free… The ailments, according to the medics present, were attributed to the harsh cold weather farmers were exposed to while cultivating farms and plucking their tea… Director for Medical Services Kirinyaga County George Karoki, said there has been a growing burden of lifestyle diseases which were nutrition related affecting the residents especially farmers and they were keen as health department in putting proper prevention and control measures… ” (Kenya News)
Kenya farmers’ tea prices rise, India tea farmers seek higher prices
Kenya‘s “Tea prices rose 30.6 per cent over the first six months of the year even as farmers grappled with lower volumes due to poor weather conditions. Tea sold at the auction in Mombasa went for $2.56 (Sh307) per kilo over the half year, compared to $1.96 (Sh235) per kilo over a similar period last year. The prices in the first half of 2022 were also higher than in 2020 and 2019. This could be an indication that the export markets have recovered from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, although the Russian-Ukraine crisis is threatening to erode the buying power of consumers in these markets, which could affect Kenya’s tea exports.” (Standard Media)
However, “Small tea growers in the Nilgiris [India] staged a fast protest in Coonoor on Wednesday seeking higher price for green tea leaves. Malai Mavatta Siru Vivasaigal Nala Sangam president Thumboor I. Bhojan said the small tea growers are getting ₹12 to ₹13 for a kg of green tea leaves. Their demand is ₹30 a kg (minimum support price) to meet the production expenses. There are about 15,000 small farmers in the Nilgiris, he said. In a petition submitted to the Tea Board India in Coonoor on Wednesday, the association said the farmers are getting very low prices for green leaves and are not paid the rates fixed by the Tea Board and the district administration. One reason for the reduction in prices is adulteration and the officials should conduct checks at check-posts, it said.” (The Hindu)
Tea farmers explore alternative income streams
“Small tea estate owners [in West Bengal India] are becoming increasingly interested in developing homestays. More than 30 applications have already been submitted to the tourism department. Small tea farmers claim that they have to look for alternative business to prevent the price of raw tea leaves from going down. Many people say that due to the increase in the price of fertilizers, the price of tea leaves is not available in proportion to the increase in the cost of production. As a result, tea plantations have to be used to find other ways of earning. Large resorts have already been built in several tea gardens. Small tea garden owners want to make their debut in tourism through homestay.” (Pipa News)
However, “The West Bengal [India] government’s decision to allow tea tourism and related real estate development on 15% of tea garden land has prompted a number of garden owners to hive off tea estates, though the workers’ demand of conferring them rights of tea garden land has come in the way of such conversion. Most of the workers have been staying in the gardens for generations, and they have demanded land rights on which they can arrange for home stays for tea tourism. “There is a conflict of interest among the tea garden owners and workers, due to which very little tea tourism is fructifying in the hills of Darjeeling,” a Darjeeling Tea Association member, unwilling to be named, said.” (MSN)
Meanwhile, in Kenya; “More farmers have embraced Hass avocado farming in Kirinyaga: Farmers from Kinyaga village in Mutithi ward have opted to grow the fruit to meet the growing demand in the international market. By integrating avocados in tea and coffee farming, farmers have now added value to their farms and an extra income stream.” (Standard Media)
Tackling caste and ethnicity issues in two Indian tea areas
Tea workers are often from communities that are marginalised from the mainstream, resulting in discrimination and deprivation.
A new book by anthropologist Jayaseelan Raj, ‘Plantation Crisis: Ruptures of Dalit Life In The Indian Tea Belt’, describes “How Kerala’s Tea Plantation Workforce Was Reduced to Itinerant Labour In A Global Economy: As the plantation system collapsed in Kerala’s tea belt from the mid-nineties following a crisis in the international tea economy, a largely Dalit workforce, indentured labour since the 1860s, found itself in crisis. Large numbers of workers who had lived on plantations for more than five generations were now compelled to seek work outside, the former untouchables joining the ranks of fellow Dalits who power India’s unorganised and informal sectors.” (Article 14)
But in Assam, efforts have been made to resolve conflicts between people indigenous to Assam, and indigenous people brought in from other parts of India generations ago to work the tea plantations; “A tripartite peace agreement was signed between the Centre, Assam Government, and eight tribal groups of Assam…The agreement was signed to end the decades-old crisis of tea garden workers and Adivasis in Assam. According to the agreement, it is the responsibility of the government of India and Assam to fulfill the economic, political, and educational aspirations of the Adivasi groups. Provisions have been made to protect and strengthen the social, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identity of Adivasi groups in the agreement. The agreement also provides for the establishment of an Adivasi Welfare and Development Council with a view to ensuring speedy and focused development of Tea Gardens. It also provides measures for resettlement and rehabilitation of armed cadres and the welfare of Tea Garden workers.” (Jagran Josh)
Tea workers continue to face lethal occupational health and safety risks
“Over 40 tea garden workers were injured after their vehicle overturned in Siliguri in northern West Bengal on Wednesday morning, police said. The incident happened near Hashkhoa tea garden when a pick-up van with the workers was heading to Gulma tea garden, they said. The pick-up van hit the divider on the road while overtaking a vehicle ahead of it, and overturned, they added.” (Devdiscourse)
“A tea worker was trampled to death by a wild elephant in Satkania upazila of Chattogram district on Tuesday evening, UNB reports.” (Prothomalo) “A 52-year-old estate worker was injured in a leopard attack in Valparai on Tuesday. Police said Chinnamurugan from ‘Nallakathu Estate’ was spraying pesticide in the tea plantation, when a leopard emerged from the bushes and pounced on him. Chinnamurugan suffered injuries to his chest, shoulder and legs. [He received] an initial compensation of Rs 5,000 on behalf of the Forest Department… In another wildlife related incident, a wild elephant along with its calf destroyed around 8,000 saplings in a nursery of the Horticulture Department in Gudalur on Monday night.” (D T Next)
Climate crisis brings unprecedented rainfall to tea districts
“Scientists reconstructed a 90-year rainfall record for northeast India, primarily using handwritten tea garden records going back to the late 19th century. This dataset is expected to generate a new baseline for northeast India that will allow researchers and policymakers to analyse and address impacts and risks due to extreme rainfall, in ways and over time periods that was not possible earlier, the scientists say. They report an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall in northeast India over the past century while a decrease in the average rainfall.” (Mongabay)
“As incessant rains battered the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu [India] in July and August, [small tea farmers in the region]… claimed the harvest has dipped by around 80 per cent, but the government has not assessed crop damage yet… Sheeba Solomon (36), whose husband is a farm labourer at Kayyunni, hardly got 10 days of leaf-plucking work in August. With two school-going children, her family had to struggle to meet their daily needs. “The public distribution system saved us from starvation. I borrowed money from women’s self-help groups and took wage advance to meet the expenses related to the household and education of children,” she said. Her mother, also a daily wage labourer in the tea garden, did not get work for three weeks. “We suffered a setback of at least Rs 25,000 in earnings,” said Sheeba, who is constantly worried about a possible landslide as the family lives near a hillock. ” (Daiji World)
Tea production in Buhweju District [Uganda] has [also] dropped due to climate change, with an acre which used to produce between 550kgs and 600kgs every harvest, now reduced to between 250kgs and 280kgs, according to district officials. “Climate change is real and for us tea farmers, we are already feeling it. If seasons keep changing and the rainfall reduces, our productivity will reduce significantly,” he added. Mr Rwankangi, a farmer and director at Igara Growers Tea Factory, said they have launched a campaign to restore the environment. “We at the factory and the district leadership are encouraging the protection of wetlands. We are also championing tree planting so that we can conserve the environment,” he said. (Monitor)
But some are working to tackle the impacts of the climate crisis: “Mahendra Peiris, an innovator in herbicide-free weed management used on Rainforest Alliance Certified tea farms in Sri Lanka, explains that the first year of this approach requires a substantial investment in labor. Workers extract noxious weeds and leave the beneficial ones to proliferate and enrich the soil with nitrogen (the noxious weeds are composted into fertilizer). By year two, the labor is less intensive because the flourishing soft weeds keep the noxious weeds away. By year three, crop yield can increase as much as 20 percent, and farmers save on costs since they no longer need to buy herbicides. The end result: richer soil, thriving tea bushes, and healthy streams and rivers.” (Business Fights Poverty)
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