Indian Women Break New Ground as Tea Growers

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A handful of women in northeastern India are joining the tea-cultivating ranks of small growers. They've left behind their jobs on large plantations and are plucking tea leaves and income from their own gardens.

TINSUKIA, India (WOMENSENEWS)--A handful of women in this northeastern city of India could be signs of something brewing in India's tea industry.

They have stopped laboring on someone else's plantation, planted businesses of their own and are happily uprooting family expectations of how to earn a living.

"My grandmother, or even my mother for that matter, wouldn't have imagined doing anything other than tea plucking for a living," says 30-year-old Onjoli Komar. "But they are proud of what I have dared to do, in my own small way. I am proud of myself too!"

Small tea growers in 2009 provided about 30 percent of total tea production in this northeastern state of Assam, with sales of 500 million kilograms, according to the state's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

"It always helps to have some extra earnings," says Komar. "That was the only reason I got into tea cultivation. And while it was a new experience, I had the comfort of having knowledge in this field."

In recognition of the rise of small tea growers, the federal government in September announced a separate category for them under the Tea Board of India, the Kolkata-based industry regulator that has begun offering technical-assistance workshops to small growers.

Women, however, are still a nominal part of this shift, says Raj Kamal Phukan, deputy secretary of the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association, a Kolkata-based trade group. "Their land holdings are not large… So as a trend, tea growing among them has not yet come into its own."

But they could be early shoots.

"There is a lot more awareness among tea-garden laborers today than earlier," Phukan says, "especially about land rights and better livelihood opportunities."

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