Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world and employs millions of smallholder farmers. The small tea growers, in particular, face numerous economic, climatic, and other difficulties. A conference with more than 150 participants from across India and several other countries, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Nepal, was held in Kolkata to discuss and address these challenges.
The inaugural session of the day-long Convention was graced by Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Director, Solidaridad Asia, Ms. Nayantara Palchoudhuri, Chairperson, Indian Tea Association (ITA) & TRINITEA Programme Committee, Atul Asthana, Vice Chairman, ITA, Hemant Bangur, Additional Vice Chairman, ITA, Arijit Raha, Secretary General, ITA, Henry Heyneardhi, Partnership Director, Indonesian Tea Marketing Association, Senaka Alawattegama, Chairman, Planters’ Association of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Shah Alam, Chairman, Bangladesh Tea Association, Suresh Mittal, Chairman, Nepal Tea Producer’s Association, and Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, President, Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association (CISTA), among others. All Assam Small Tea Growers Association and All Bodoland Small Tea Growers Association, Jalpaiguri District Small Tea Growers Association and Small Tea Growers Association of South India along with several other small tea growers’ representatives from Assam, West Bengal and South India also attended the convention.
Through interactive sessions, the participants discussed the role of smallholder farmers in the tea industry and ways to promote their health and well-being and make their businesses environmentally sustainable.
Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhyay, Managing Director, Solidaridad Asia, said, “Over a million small tea growers in India and from other countries depend on the tea industry for their existence. The tea business is critical to rural livelihood as well as the economy of the producing countries. Promoting long-term health, well-being, and environmental sustainability in the tea business should be a top priority, but the sector is facing a crisis because of persistently low tea prices, which are crushing the small tea farmers. Hence, to empower the farmers to turn their business into a purpose-driven brand, Solidaridad is planning to introduce SoliTrace as a part of TRINITEA, a make-in-India sustainability initiative involving smallholder tea farmers and a QR code technology that would allow consumers to interact with the tea producers, as well as learn about the safety and quality standards adopted. More than 92,000 small tea growers have already become members of TRINITEA programme and by the end of 2022, the target is to engage 1,00,000 small tea growers. Such innovation will gradually empower the small tea growers and workers’ associations by helping them build independent, democratic organisations, improve their negotiation position with buyers/employers, achieve economic stability, make joint investments, and increase their collective influence.”
At the conference, Solidaridad also introduced other innovative products specially designed for farmers like SoliProbe, an instant soil analyzer, SoliMet, a hyper-local weather station, SoliBot an interactive chatbot, and Ballotronix, an instant tea leaf reader. Solidaridad Asia wants to connect with more farmers and offer them affordable farmer-friendly innovative solutions. To realize this aim, it has a dedicated team of engineers integrating mechanical, telecommunications, electrical, and electronics systems with robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning for the best results.
Stressing upon the challenges of the small tea growers, Ms. Nayantara Palchoudhuri, Chairperson ITA said, “The tea industry as a whole is being adversely impacted by factors that are detrimental to social development, economy, and environment. These factors include the growing effects of climate change, price stagnation, high input cost which has a bearing on the cost of production as well as the mismatch between demand and supply that results in oversupply. In addition, the industry has to bear high transaction costs while facing difficulties in realizing fair prices. Despite all these handicaps, the industry is committed to pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. Meanwhile, the way the ITA-Solidaridad partnership has been working on and bringing about a holistic development of the tea industry by way of overall improvement in the livelihoods of STGs – is commendable.”
At the convention, Bijoy Gopal Chakraborty, said, “I am extremely thankful to ITA and Solidaridad for organizing the first India International Small Tea Growers Convention and providing an opportunity to the smallholder tea growers from all tea-producing countries to share their experiences and success stories.”
The day-long event also saw technical sessions featuring presentations and talks by captains of the industry and experts including Small Grower representatives about various aspects of value and supply chains as well the innovative digital tools demonstrating their advantages. The event concluded with an award ceremony felicitating 15 small growers for their exceptional achievement in producing specialty teas followed by a cultural programme.
An exhibition of teas produced by the small growers was also organized and inaugurated by the Hon’ble Minister after the inaugural session