Tea World

Lesson 30

Concept of Small Scale Tea cultivation in Assam

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The definition of smallholder or small grower varies across countries. In most countries, the definition is based on holding size. In India, a small-grower is one who cultivates 10.12 ha or less and not possessing his/her own tea processing factory. In Kenya, it means a grower cultivating tea in a small piece or pieces of land who does not possess his own tea processing factory. In Sri Lanka,“small-holding” means area of land less than 20.2 ha.In Indonesia, smallholders/small growers are those who grow tea on land size between 0.8 to 2.0 ha and sell tea without processing.However,the average holding sizes in most countries, irrespective of the upper limit, tend to be on the lower side, for example, less than 0.4 ha in Indonesia and between 0.7 to 4.0 ha in different growing regions in India, with an average holding size of 1.6 ha. More than 80 percent of small-holders in Sri Lanka hold less than 0.2 ha.  

 You have come to know that initially, the tea industry in Assam was colonial in nature without the involvement of local people and plantations were in large scale. This was also limited within the influential classes and not permissible to common people. The situation was also the same after the independence, the indigenous people of Assam were deprived from this outstanding entrepreneurship because of some legislation. No one was permiited to plant tea on any land unless permission has been granted to him in writing by or on behalf of the Tea Board, India. Finally, in the year 1978, the Government of India as well as the Government of Assam allowed the local people to cultivate tea on small holdings, abolishing all the barriers.

Although congenial weather, suitable land and other infrastructural facilities for tea cultivation were readily available in Assam, tea cultivation by the common farmers was beyond their imagination.You may find some families in Upper Assam whose some members served in tea estate to raise a few bushes in their homestead garden out of interest. It was not beyond that. The concept of tea cultivation in small scale was initiated during the seventies of the last century by the then Janata Government of Assam. The honorable Minister of Agriculture of Assam, Sri Soneswar Borah, mooted the idea of tea cultivation in homestead garden and utilizing land along with other crops and sale the green leaf to the existing big factories for family income.The Assam Agricultural University was entrusted to see the possibilities of growing tea in small scale and preapare a project on this. With the encouragement of the government patronage, a group of farmers of Golaghat and Sivasagar district initiated tea cultivation in the high lands, with an area ranging from 0.13 to 3.0 ha. However, after the fall of Janata Government, the Government patronage was also lost.The pioneers had to face both social and economic hurdles. At that point the Department of Tea Husbandry & Technology of Assam Agricultural University came forward and started to provide technical guidance to those growers.The needy growers also started to visit the department for guidance. In October, 1988, a separate wing called “Tea Advisory Cell” was established in the department to promote the concept of small scale tea cultivation and provide all possible help and guidance to the growers in Assam. Meanwhile, after the end of Assam movement in 1985, there were some social changes and many young educated youths from different districts of Upper Assam showed interest in tea cultivation.Though not by choice but by chance many youths got involved in this new agrarian movement and later could become good entrepreneurs in tea sector.

 In 1987, 'All Assam Small Tea Growers Association' was formed, which was a land mark for extension of small scale tea cultivation in Assam. Since then, both the organizations (the Small Growers’ Association and Assam Agricultural University) worked together to popularize tea in small sector. In 1991,“Tea Advisory Cell” was reconstituted as 'Small Tea Growers’ Advisory Programme' (STAP) . The Small Tea Growers Advisory Programme of Assam, Agricultural University has made tremendous impact by providing not only technical guidance to small tea growers but also served as a main centre for spreading tea cultivation among the farmers on small scale.

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