Amid labour shortage, Tea Board to promote labour banks through FPOs, SHGs

A tea plantation worker. Photo: Special Arrangement

Nilgiris: Increasing the income of small-scale farmers by increasing the efficiency of farm management and cost-cutting through collective farming methods and techniques through mechanisation are the only ways to make tea farming sustainable, said Dr M Muthukumar, executive director, Tea Board India.

Labour banks are the key to future of tea as the sector faces acute manpower shortage, he told Onmanorama on the sidelines of the launching ceremony of 'Rs 62 Lakh Labour Bank Project' in Kayunni on August 13, a pilot project initiated by Kayyunni Small Tea Growers' Association (KSTGA), a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) affiliated to Tea Board India.

Hinting at a paradigm shift, Muthukumar, who's in charge of the southern region at the Tea Board India, noted: “The issues faced by the small-scale farmers will be addressed by the organisation as they constitute 52 per cent of the annual tea production of the country.” 

He called for unified efforts of farmers and farm labourers for a synchronised movement of mechanisation which would ensure quality tea and cost-cutting.

‘Join together and grow together’ is the only way to overcome the price crunch and to utilise the government funding as more funds would be pumped into the tea sector through agrarian collectives, he said, adding that whether it is Self Help Groups (SHGs), Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), and the societies, the aid to the tea sector would be routed more through farmers’ collectives in order to improve the farm maintenance practices and harvesting patterns.

“In groups, there are better learning possibilities and easy sharing of information which would result in better production and improved harvesting mechanism,” he pointed out.

It is the concept of ‘labour bank’ that attracted the Tea Board as acute labour shortage is wrecking the entire farm sector, he noted. Such collectives should act as customer care centres for farmers in areas of planting, farm maintenance and harvest. 

"Initiatives if implemented well could become a model for the entire nation,” he added. Answering queries on the low price of tea leaves in south India, Muthukumar said serious interventions are on to ensure better price for tea leaves by setting up a foolproof and regular mechanism which would be in place within a couple of months. 

According to a market source, efforts are on to fix a pre-bidding bench price for tea dust at auction centres for which a series of discussions were held between brokers, buyers, farmers’ organisations and officials from the Tea Board and from the Ministry of Commerce to which the Tea Board is attached.

As per the records of Tea Board India, Nilgiris-Wayanad region has 50,650 small-scale farmers, 292 green leaf factories collecting tea leaves from small-scale farmers and hundreds of thousands of daily wagers in the sector.

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