Raniban (Darjeeling): The 170-year-old monopoly of tea garden owners could soon change with hill farmers looking to plant tea on small holdings.

Organic Ekta (organic unity) — a cooperative society of small tea growers in the hills — is trying to increase its holdings and sell its product on a commercial scale.

“In 2006 we formed a cooperative and registered ourselves under the name Organic Ekta. At present, over 1,000 hectare of land, covering eight villages from Pokhriabong to Raniban, are under tea cultivation,” said Harish Mukhia, a retired planter, who has helped similar initiatives in Arunachal Pradesh and Nepal.

Though the farmers in the hills have been cultivating tea for the past 50 years, it was essentially produced on hand rolls for consumption at home.

“Last year, we could sell about 40,000 kg of green leaves to other (established) gardens in the hills which was converted to about 8,000 kg of made tea,” said Mukhia.

The move has come as a major boon to farmers from areas like Raniban, 25 km from Darjeeling. Hemmed by the Ghum-Bhanjyan and Senchel wildlife sanctuaries, farmers here could not grow organic fruits and vegetables as marauding animals, especially wild boars, destroyed their crops year after year.

Pannalal Subba, the secretary of the small tea growers’ association, said though the situation seemed promising the new body would need help from the government.

Subba was referring to the recent tea board directive making it mandatory for tea growers to obtain a licence from the board and a Certified Trade Mark.

“This year, we sold tealeaves at Rs 30 per kg through the Darjeeling Earth Group — an NGO working here. We have also obtained licence to plant tea in two villages, Rangbhayan and Risheehat Khasmal. We are now in the process of obtaining the necessary documents and would need government support,” said Mukhia.

Source: The Telegraph