As prices drop, Jhapa tea farmers struggle to break even

Published On: September 21, 2017 08:01 AM NPT By: Raju Adhikari

JHAPA, Sept 21: Tea farmers in Jhapa are struggling to at least get their investment back as the price of tea leaves has dropped in its prime season. They are disappointed because of a steep decline in the price of tea leaves this year as compared to the previous years.

The farmers claim that governmental bodies and entrepreneurs are jointly playing games to make them suffer. But tea entrepreneurs says they have been paying farmers according to the price in the international market. There is ongoing dispute between the two parties, with the farmers accusing the entrepreneurs of deceiving them and the entrepreneurs bringing up the precedent of international market.

Despite tensions regarding the pricing, the fact that the case is under review at the Supreme Court has prevented it from growing out of proportion so far. In the past, there have been incidents like shutdown in the tea factories and highway blockade because of the dispute. Last year farmers had filed a writ against the tea entrepreneurs in the Supreme Court stating they had been cheated in tea price. 

In the writ, the farmers had also accused the government of helping the entrepreneurs in deceiving the farmers. The hearing on the writ registered against Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB), Ministry of Agriculture, and the Office of Prime Minister will be held on October 9. The farmers have said that because the case was under review at the court, they have refrained from hitting the streets in protest. 

However, the farmers have claimed that non-decision on the case has only benefitted the entrepreneurs. Haridev Khanal, a farmer of Haldibari who sold 400 kilograms of green tea leaves to the tea industries, received his payment on Tuesday. They paid him Rs 10 per kilogram of tea leaves. He said that the amount hardly covered his investment. 

“A farmer invests at least Rs 10 to produce a kilogram of tea leaves. The entrepreneurs are paying the same amount,” Khanal said. “They have determined tea prices to range from Rs 10 to Rs 13.5 per kilogram, but they pay only Rs 10 no matter what.”

The farmers claim that the entrepreneurs classify all kinds of tea leaves as low-grade. “There is no procedure and technology to test the quality of tea,” said Purna Karki, a farmer, adding: “The person in charge of the weighing machine determines the grade on ad-hoc basis.” 

“Due to this reason, we are not getting proper return even in the prime season,” Karki said, adding that more than four thousand farmers have fallen victim of the entrepreneurs’ cartel.

On the other hand, the tea entrepreneurs who purchase tea leaves from the farmers claim that the problem has been caused by price fluctuation in the international market. 

“It is true that the amount we are paying is not enough for the farmers to get their investment back,” said Suresh Mittal, president at Tea Producers Association. “But this is not our choice as the price of processed and packaged tea has dropped too.” He said that the price of tea that was Rs 150 per kilogram two months ago has now dropped to Rs 110. 

But a kilogram of tea in the market of Jhapa, where most of the tea is produced, costs Rs 300 to Rs 340. The Tea Producers Association has not been able to give an acceptable explanation, except claiming that the price has been determined according to the international market. 
“We determine tea price on the basis of NTCDB’s study of Indian market so there should be no doubt regarding the price,” Mittal told Republica. 

The NTCDB said that it is not involved in price determination as the industrialists do it themselves. “Until a year ago, we all jointly determined the price,” director of NTCDB, Kendra Kumar Limbu said: “But we are not involved in pricing now. There are complaints that the farmers are getting low price, which is true. But there is nothing we can do about it.” 

An agreement on determining the price of tea leaves according to the Indian market was made four years ago. The practice continued for several months but after that industrialists started determining the price on their own. “The price of green tea leaves ranges from Indian currency Rs 18 to Rs 22,” Dambar Upreti, a farmer, said. “It is a lie that the price is determined according to the Indian market because the farmers in Nepal are paid only Rs 10.”

Due to favorable weather, the production of tea has doubled this year. “But despite the growth in production, we have not been able to get even our investment back,” Upreti said. “Till when will this game against the farmers continue?”

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