EM Exclusive, Nagaland
Locked down, Nagaland tea growers brew losses
Dimapur, April 30 (EMN): The first plucking of a tea leaf during the harvest season is the freshest one; however tea farmers in Nagaland have missed their first production to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown resulting in losses worth in crore.
A tea garden owner from Jaboka village in Tizit under Mon district, Epha Wangnao, told Eastern Mirror that the lockdown was imposed at a time when the tea leaves were supposed to be harvested.
Wangnao said in Tizit, those villages that border Assam are plain areas and most of those villagers are tea farmers and depend on tea farming for survival. He said the tea farmers have incurred loss of minimum INR 1 to 3 crore during the lockdown.
Wangnao said the harvest season for tea starts in the month of March, which provides the freshest tea as it is the first pluck and fetches good amount of money. If the tea leaves are not plucked on time, which starts by the end of March, it will fail to yield the same quality of fresh leaves for the next pluck.
According to Wangnao, his village with around 192 households, yields nearly 3000 kg from one hectare in one round of plucking. He said his brother has incurred a loss of INR 5-6 lakh during the lockdown period.
He said most of the tea farmers are able to make a living from tea plantation but the lockdown has been harsh on them.
Around 70 pick-up trucks come to their village from Sonari in Assam, which is about 22 km from the bordering villages in Tizit.
Another tea garden owner, Thomas Konyak, said that every family owns minimum 3 hectare of tea garden and a farmer yields one lakh kg of tea leaves in a day. During the lockdown, a farmer incurred a loss of INR 14 lakh in a day, ‘that amounts to INR 3 crore losses for the tea farmers/owners’, he said.
“When the market rate is good, the tea leaves are given out at INR 20 per kg, otherwise it is sold at INR 14 to 18,” he said.
Tea garden owners also employ daily wage earners and the tea leaves are transported to Sonari. Konyak said the tea garden owners/farmers spent INR 1 to 3 per kg for the transportation charges.
A tea factory owner said that because of the lockdown almost a month-and-a-half has been wasted, which has affected his business. The factory owner said an advance was paid to the farmers before the lockdown but following the lockdown, factory has been shut.
“Most of the tea garden owners/farmers are dependent on the factory. We do not expect good market after the lockdown because of the disruption in the supply chain. After the lockdown is lifted, it all depends on the market rate for us to recover for the losses,” he said.
A tea farmer from Tsurang Valley in Mokokchung district also told this newspaper that there are not many factories in the state; so most of their produce is sent to in Assam.
“I have sent my tea leaves to the factory in Sonowal only once after getting permission since lockdown because of the sealed borders; most of what I pruned has gone to waste,” said the tea estate owner and added that almost 10,000 kg were wasted.
He shared that labour costs were also very high as a large number of workers are required in the estate measuring around 200 acres.
Apart from the road conditions, which make transportation very difficult, the tea farmer also shared the challenges of paying taxes to Naga groups.
“I pay a few hundred rupees to the underground for every trip to the factory; they also charge business tax,” he informed.
“Mentality is also such that if they know how big your garden is, they will ask more tax not knowing the ground reality,” said the farmer.
He maintained that other plantations, like rubber or even fisheries and others, have subsidies and schemes but not many for tea plantations.