Around 8000 small farmers in Ilam district of Nepal are facing hardship

Ilam’s orthodox tea output has dropped this year with farmers blaming unfavourable weather conditions for the fall. Annual production could plunge to 2,500 tonnes from 3,500 tonnes last year, said tea processing factories and tea growers.

Farmers have also cited falling prices of green tea leaves for the reduced output. The tea factories, meanwhile, say that the current prices are the best they have been able to get in the Indian and Western markets this year. The factories plan to halt production within a few days after the onset of the cold season.

According to the farmers, production has been hit by inadequate rainfall during the main season of green tea leaves. “As the tea farms did not receive sufficient rainfall, the tea plants have not produced enough blossoms,” said the growers.

The fall in output has also affected tea factories as their number has increased but the supply of raw materials has shrunk. Ilam Team Producers, which maintains factories in Shree Antu and Panchakanya, has had to slash production to 850 tonnes from 1,100 tonnes last year.

The manager of the company’s Panchakanya factory Om Kafle said they had been forced to cut production due to inadequate rainfall. He added that they had been unable to operate their factories since the beginning of the season.

Tea production fell sharply due to insufficient rainfall during the main harvesting season which lasts from mid-June to mid-July. For this reason, most of the tea factories remained closed for up to two weeks during this season.

Around 8,000 small farmers in the district are facing hard times due to the low prices and drop in output. Dambar Katuwal, a farmer from Kanyam, said they were given less than half of what they received for their green tea leaves last year. According to him, farmers sold their products for Rs 18 per kg while prices last year were as high as Rs 40 per kg.

The farmers complained that the factories did not raise prices of green tea leaves although the tea leaves harvested during the autumn season are considered to be of high quality.

Tea growers said they had been hit by a double whammy this year. While the tea business has suffered due to fertiliser shortages, high interest rates on farm loans and labour shortages, market prices have plunged at the same time.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s tea markets in a number of Western countries have also shrunk in recent days. Exporters to Europe, China and the US have been complaining that large stocks are piling up in their warehouses.

According to the Mechi Customs Office, exports of both orthodox tea and CTC tea have swelled compared to last year. However, Indra Adhikari, regional manager of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, said that exports to both India and third countries were down this year.

Similarly, Himalayan Shangri-La, a factory in Sankhejung, said its exports had plummeted to 15 tonnes from 25 tonnes a year ago. “Both the climatic reason and a reduction in demand from Western countries should be blamed for the situation,” said the company’s manager RC Nepal.

Likewise, Gorkha Tea Estate in Sundarpani, Fikkal said its exports had fallen 30 percent. Proprietor Udaya Chapagain, however, blamed the fall in shipments to the delay in creating a collective trade mark for Nepali tea. “Failing to adopt it as an agricultural product has also created problems.”

Due to the fall in both production and exports, a number of local entrepreneurs are reported to have leased out their production plants to Indian entrepreneurs.

- Courtesy Kantipur.com