JHAPA, Jan 16: Many small-scale tea farmers of Jhapa are leaving the profession due to rising cost of production, a decline in the price of green leaves, and frequent pest attack in a tea garden, among other reasons.
Farmers, who gave up traditional farming with great enthusiasm lured by attractive earnings from the cash crop, are now returning to the traditional food crop farming.
According to a conservative estimate, there are around 3,000 tea farmers in Jhapa. But there is no dependable statistics of how many farmers gave up tea farming and how many are still continuing.
Jhapa is the largest producer of CTC tea in the country.
Local farmers say they have no access to Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board, the agency formed by the government to promote commercial tea and coffee farming.
Tanka Mainali of Huldibari of Jhapa started tea farming in 2 bigaha of land 17 years ago by taking loans from the Agricultural Development Bank Limited (ADBL). But Mainali recently cleared tea plantation in 15 kattha of land to start commercial cow farming. “I will clear plantation in remaining 25 kattha next year,” he said, adding that he was giving up tea farming. “While cost of production has increased manifold, the price of green leaves is not increasing accordingly. Also, we do not get payment from tea factories regularly.
Sometimes we have to stage protest against the factories to get our payments released,” he added.
Despite investing lot of money to tend the garden, buy pesticides, and to arrange irrigation among others, factories provide us mere Rs 12-13 per kg for green leaves, added Mainali.
Pushparaj Niraula, secretary of a tea farmers' union in the district, said about a dozen farmers are giving up tea farming every year. “Some are clearing the plantation to clear bank loans by selling their land plots,” Niraula added.
Until a few years ago, tea plantation area in the district was increasing at a very healthy rate. However, plantation area has remained more or less unchanged over the past three years. Tea plantation was done in 3702 hectares of land in Fiscal Year 2013/14. It increased by only 16 hectares to 3718 hectares in FY 2015/16, according to Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board.
“As low return is pushing farmers away from tea farming, new farmers are also not interested to start tea farming,” Dambar Baral, vice chairman of Surendranagar Tea Cooperatives, said. “If the trend continues, only a few big players will remain in tea farming,” he added.
Baral also said that the government must ensure market for green leaves as well as stop highhandedness by factories and provide technical knowledge to the farmers.
Niraula further said that they have repeatedly appealed to the regional office of the board to address the problem of pest attacks in tea garden. But their request fell on deaf ears.
“Had the new technology called IPM to treat tea plants brought in time, many farmers would not have left tea farming,” said Niraula.