Speakers at an international tea conference in Guwahati have underlined the need for 'branding' for small tea growers, who contribute over half of the total annual tea production in the country.
Noting that quality compliance remains an issue for these tea planters, they said that branding of their product will help overcome to a large extent the allegation of poor quality leaves produced by them.
They were participating in a discussion on 'Small Tea Holder Revolution in Assam and India' as part of a two-day Bicentenary Assam Tea International Conference, 2024.
"Quality compliance is a major issue faced by us. To overcome it, branding is most important," Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty of the Confederation of Indian Small Team Growers Association (CISTA) said.
"Small tea growers contribute over 50 per cent of the tea produced annually in the country, but allegations of poor quality leaves are frequent against us," he claimed, adding that proper branding can help in addressing quality compliance issue to a large extent.
Siddharth Thard, who runs a tea manufacturing consultancy, said, "Small tea growers are mostly viewed as 'backend producers' and they face the problem of low price realisation, which severely impacts their income and livelihoods.
"While there are no easy answers to their problems, branding is definitely one way of addressing it at least partially," he maintained. Thard, who is also a tea planter, identified 'gap of knowledge' as another factor in low price realisation for green leaves produced by small growers.
He said many small growers are not even aware of solutions available for problems they face, like pest control or other best practices. Focus has to be on quality improvement of green leaves for higher prices, even if it means some decrease in production, Thard added.
Former chairman of Tea Board India PK Bezboruah, who was the moderator for the session, maintained 'price' can serve as a great driver for better quality leaves. "Some of the small growers produce high quality green leaves and these have fetched very good prices. In such a scenario, 'price' becomes the driver for quality production," he added.
Value addition through innovation while creating a niche market for the tea produced by the small growers is a new market being tapped, said Upamanyu Borkakoty, an entrepreneur in creating value-added products. "Our idea is to create not just a brand for the small tea growers but go beyond it. We have started off with something which can perhaps serve as a pilot project in this regard for the industry," he said.
Borkotoky maintained that revenue has gone up by up to 600 times for small growers when his company marketed their tea after value addition and innovation. "When the growers realise that better quality leads to higher price, they will focus on the quality aspect more," he added.
Karuna Mahanta, a small tea grower, said low price realisation remains the chief concern for his ilk. "We are dependent on the bought leaf factories to sell our green leaves. But the price paid to us is low," he claimed. While admitting that quality has to be ensured, Mahanta also advocated for fixing the minimum price for green leaves.