Lack of rainfall spells doom for tea gardens in hilly Ilam
Ilam, April 30
There has been a sharp fall in the production and quality of tea due to long spells of drought-like situation. At a conservative estimate, the slump in production is pegged around 60 per cent.
“To make matters worse, plantation workers cannot pluck tea leaves at the same alacrity as they would like to. Compare the following figures. Around 1,500 kg was plucked around this time last year. While, this year, only 200 kg could be plucked,” said Dambar Katuwal of Kanyam Tea
Indira Gurung, accountant, Nepal Tea Development Corporation at Ilam Tea Farming, agreed with Katuwal. “There is gross disparity in the volume of leaves plucked,” she said.
The orthodox variety —usually produced in the hilly district of eastern Nepal in April and May — is considered to be of the best quality. It is exported to international markets, including Europe, for a premium.
But this year, a major concern persists due to the alarming fall in production.
Garden hands are complaining of stunted growth of bushes. Consequently, leaves cannot be plucked, leading to a huge fall in volume.
“Had the cash crop been cultivated in damp places, there would not have been any problem. But, as per the geographical location, the plantations are all located in the hills that are directly exposed to bright sunlight. This is one of the major reasons, why the industry has been hit so hard,” explained Dhan Bahadur Yangmali, a plantation worker in Phikkal.
Also, the method of cultivation has undergone a radical change over the years. The concept of irrigation has been done away with. Plantations are now completely dependent on rainfall and lack of it causes obvious constraints.
Gurung pointed that the blight in the bushes could also be attributed to Sindure, a disease, that led to the rampant falling of leaves. Workers insisted that this symptom was new to tea gardens in the hilly district.
No wonder, the gardens on hill tops wear a barren look these days.
Local farmers are also ruing that the shift in trade has not helped them in any way. “We took a conscious decision to grow tea than cultivate other crops. But the low yield coupled with frequent bandhs and strikes have put paid to our ventures,” said Bal Kumar Bhandary of Phikkal. Subsequently, tea processing unit in the region are all lying idle. “Small quantities of green leaves are coming to our factory,” said Hari Timisina, manager, Ilam Tea Producers Pvt Ltd. Though the factory has the capacity to process 8,000 kg of green leaves daily, the factory is now getting only 2,000 kg. The fall in production has also led to the stagnation in prices.
“For instance, the price of organic tea has been fixed at Rs 26-29 per kg. While, the non-organic one is at Rs 21-25 per kg. And, this is the highest in the past five years,” said Katuwal.
However, the factories located in Jhapa, which process the CTC variety, have doubled their prices to Rs 25 per kg.
According to Tea and Coffee Development Board, 7, 593 farmers in Ilam, Panchthar, Jhapa,
Terhathum and Dhankuta cultivate tea in plantations spread over 16,420 hectares. While, in Ilam alone, around 4, 500 farmers are engaged in the trade.