Small tea growers in Kerala are facing a crisis following a sharp decline in the price of green tea leaves, shortage of workers, and dearth of tea-processing factories in the public sector.
The spot price of green leaves on Friday was ₹10 a kg against ₹17 a kg during the corresponding period last year.
‘‘The farmers are forced to sell their produce at a low price to agents from the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu State owing to the dearth in tea processing factories in the public sector in the State,’’ K.C. Krishanadas, secretary, Wayanad Small Tea Growers Association (WSSTGA), said.
‘‘We had got a better price for the produce last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the current price in the market is not remunerative, as the production cost has doubled now,’’ he said. The shortage of workers and the increasing inputs are also a cause for concern.
A farmer should get at least ₹20 a kg to survive, K. Hassan, a small-scale tea grower at Karadippara, said.
According to the available data with the WSSTGA, as many as 16,000 small tea growers including 10,000 farmers in Idukki and 6,000 farmers in Wayanad districts depend on the tea industry for their livelihood. Many of them have a landholding of 50 cents to five acres.
Nearly 80,000 kg of green tea leaves is produced daily in Wayanad alone. Still, the 11 tea factories functioning in the private sector in the district could procure only 50,000 kg a day, Mr. Krishanadas said.
The remaining quantity was being procured by the agents from the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu at a low price, he said.
The average production from an acre is 450 kg a month and a farmer would get ₹4,500 from it. But, he has to spend ₹3,200 as plucking charge and around ₹1,500 to ₹2,000 for fertilizer and other inputs , Mr. Krishnadas said.
If the government would set up a public-sector factory and sold value-added products through retail outlets under a brand name, it would be great help for small-scale tea farmers, said M.A. Peter, president of WSSTGA.
Mr. Peter said though they had submitted many proposals to the government and Tea Board to fix a minimum support price for the produce, the latter was yet to consider it. The farmers also demanded to include the small-scale tea sector under the MGNREGS for their existence.