Women Small Tea Growers in Karbi Anglong, Assam are raising family incomes and reducing their vulnerabilities. These are determined, empowered tea cultivators, also mothers and home makers, who refuse to settle for unfair deals.
In the remote village of Panjan, Karbi Anglong, Assam, a group of 36 women, all small tea growers, are brewing an inspiring story.
Till four years ago, these women were individually cultivating tea in their respective small land holdings. But in November 2014, they collectivised to form a group, ‘Panjan Women Mini Tea Plantation Society’ and got the society registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860. The members also applied for, and are individually registered with the Tea Board of India.
The Society President, Bina Lekthepi says, “We came together because of the motivation of Centre for Education and Communication (CEC). Their Field Officer, Minto Goswami, helped us to understand the benefits of working together. He helped us to register and to do direct leaf trade with bought leaf factory. CEC conducts regular trainings which has helped us to enhance our technical efficiency.”
CEC, implementing the European Commission project, ‘Sustainable Livelihood for Small Tea Growers,’ has been instrumental in mobilising about 50,000 individual tea growers.
The reason for collectivising women tea cultivators in a society was to help them realise good price for their produce (i.e. the tea leaves). Most of the women have low education qualification. Tea is the prime source of income for several women and their families. Selling tea leaves individually didn’t fetch the women fair price from the tea leaf processing factories. In addition, the local leaf agents on whom they were dependent to sell their perishable leaves gave them exploitative rates.
Getting women together meant a collective voice. For these women, collective bargaining translated into upstaging the omnipresent influential tea leaf agents and excluding the tea agents to increase in their income to up to Rs 5 per kg of leaf.
Local tea leaf-agents tend to dominate the leaf trade market. They pay meagre prices to the leaf producers and pocket the profits.
Collectivisation also empowered these women growers to directly establish contact with the Leaf Processing Factories/ Bought Leaf factories. A total of 15 members from the society started direct leaf trade with Tanay Tea Factory from June 2015 onward. By December the society was able to save Rs 8,000 from sale of 35000 kg of leaf during the 6-month period. In 2016, they have already made agreements with Tanay Tea Factory and Letekujan Tea Factory for sale of leaves worth Rs 100,000 each.
“We are using the increased household income on our children’s education, we are able to send them to better schools,” says Lekthepi. “We have been able to buy bikes, an important achievement for those who live in remote parts,” she adds.
Since the society was registered under the Act, the women growers were able to avail Tea Board of India’s welfare schemes too, such as leaf-carrying vehicle and a revolving corpus of Rs. 500,000. The savings have enabled them to service the loan for the vehicle, financed by the bank.
Challenges have not deterred them. “We wish we were more educated and received stronger support from family and society, but we are determined,” says Lekthepi.
The society received their first technical training on organic tea cultivation and plant protection code. The women are keen on receiving more training to further improve the quality of leaves they are producing. During off-season, they sell chillies and maintain their income, a skill of multi-cropping they learnt during the CEC training.
The ‘Panjan Women Mini Tea Plantation Society’ has become a source of inspiration for several other women who are striving for sustainable income through tea cultivation.