Falling tea prices cause exodus amongst farmers

- ARJUN RAJBANSHI, DAMAK

Apr 22, 2017-

Falling prices of green tea leaves have forced a number of small farmers in Jhapa to switch to other crops. 

In the past few years, farmers have started converting their tea gardens, as they are unable to make profit in line with the investment they have made. 

“Neither tea producers nor the mills pay farmers reasonably,” said Prakash Budhathoki, a tea farmer. “We are forced to sell green tea leaves at Rs8-10 per kg during the key season,” he said. “With such meager price, we are not even able to cover the production cost.”

Budhathoki, who owns a tea estate on 30 bigas of land at Baigundhura in Gauradha municipality, is gradually shifting from tea plantation to other alternatives. 

He is planning to dig fish ponds soon in areas where tea is currently planted. Likewise, a group of seven young people have already started vegetable farming and removing tea plants on a biga of his tea estate. 

Farmers in Baigundhura, Haldibari, Jalthal, Mechinagar and Garamuni are on a demolition drive of their tea estate. According to Small Tea Entrepreneurs Association, there are 3,500 farmers involved in tea plantation, each holding more than 10 bigas of land, in the district.  

Ram Bahadur Poudel of Baigundhura has already demolished his tea garden spread on six bigas of land.  He has 4 bigas left, which he plans to demolish soon. Like Poudel, many other farmers in the district are converting their tea estates. 

Tea farming reached a peak a few year back, occupying 140 bigas of land. This year, famers have destroyed 30 bigas. 

“Tea used to give good returns until a decade ago. But the industry has not come into the government’s priority. As a result farmers have started destroying it,” said Gyanendra Bahadur Poudel, another tea farmer. 

“The price of green tea leaves was Rs18 per kg fifteen years ago. “It has now fallen to Rs8 per kg.” He said that they have to pay workers Rs5 per kg to pluck the leaves and the transportation cost to take them to the mills is Rs2 per kg. If the irrigation, fertilisers and other costs are added, the total production cost comes at Rs10 per kg. On the other hand, the prices of leaves are determined by the factory. “The price fixed by them is the final mill gate price,” he said. 

Purna Bahadur Karki, president of Tea Farmers Association, said that they have made several agreements with Small Tea Farmers Entrepreneurs Association, Tea Mills, National Tea and Coffee Development Board, District Administration and Political parties’ representatives to determine the tea leaves prices, but it has not been implemented. He said that the government should resolve the problem immediately before the situation gets worse. 

Published: 22-04-2017 08:30

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