ILAM, June 28: As many as 52 tea processing plants affiliated with Suryodaya Tea Association of Ilam shut operations from Thursday, stating that they were not getting good price for their products.
The association says that tea plant operators are forced to pay farmers the price fixed by the Suryodaya Municipality for green leaves even though they are not getting desired price from the Indian buyers.
The closure of the tea processing plants has affected more than 3,000 farmers of Suryodaya Municipality and Rong and Mai Jogmai rural municipalities.
Tea plants were paying farmers Rs 40 per kg for green leaves as per the 'Green Leaves Quality Standard Work Plan' worked out by Suryodaya Municipality. Though the plant operators had complied with the work plan last year, they have said that they would no longer be able to pay farmers Rs 40 per kg for green leaves.
"As per the work plan, the municipality had to monitor quality of green leaves supplied by farmers. But they are keen on implementing the price only," Gopal Kattel, secretary of the association, told Republica. "We are not finding buyers for our products because the leaves we get are not of good quality."
The association also alleges that the municipality is not helping tea plant operators to find market for their products. "The municipality has fixed price for tea leaves. But it has not felt it necessary to fix minimum price of our products," said Mahesh Aryal, the treasurer of the association. "The municipality should help us in market management. It should provide us some subsidy for marketing and promotion of our products," he added.
Tea farmers say that the plant operators have betrayed them in the middle of harvesting season. They allege that tea plants, which purchased first flush leaves that are considered to be of higher quality, are now denying farmers the right price for green leaves.Farmers, who had gathered at Suryodaya Municipality premises, asked the municipality to strictly implement minimum price provision and warned the plant operators against shutting operations.
Tara Nepal, a tea farmer, said plant operators cannot exploit farmers any longer. "If they cannot pay good price for leaves, they would rather shut operations," he added.
Another famer Shishir Bhandari said closure of factory is not going to help anyone. "Farmers, plant operators and representatives of the municipality should sit together and find solution to the problem," he added.
Meanwhile, Suryodaya Municipality has maintained that price of tea leaves will be as determined by the work plan. "Farmers will not be able to meet even cost of production if they are paid less than Rs 40 per kg," Rana Bahadur Rai, the mayor of Suryodaya Municipality, said.
“The farmers will not meet their cost of production if the price is less than Rs 40,” added Mayor Rana Bahadur Rai “We will create an inspection committee and check the quality. Also, we have to be more careful about and especially monitor the ones who collects the tea leaves from the farmers sells to the industries,” Rai said. "We will form a team comprising of all stakeholders to monitor quality of green leaves sold to factories."
Meanwhile, talks held at the municipality to resolve the issue remained inconclusive on Thursday. Fresh talks will be held on Saturday.