Assam is the single largest tea-growing region in India, producing over 700 million kgs annually. Within the tea supply chain, the Small Tea Growers (STGs) have grown exponentially over the last 40 years. In 2022, Assam had 120,000 STGs, whose contribution to the total tea output was 52% – generating livelihoods for thousands of households and contributing significantly to the economy. Despite their contribution, a majority of STGs operate as subsistence farmers who face challenges of aggregation at the farm gate level, are vulnerable to price volatility, and lack the capacity to mitigate climate change shocks. A prosperous STG segment is crucial for the future of the tea industry and for the livelihoods connected to the supply chain.
To create a roadmap for the sustainability of the tea sector, IDH conducted a two-day event in Dibrugarh, Assam, to discuss an action plan for achieving a ‘living income’ through joint efforts. IDH, under its Small Tea Growers’ Sustainability Program (STGSP), is already working with 30,000 STGs in Assam and West Bengal towards closing the living income gap through improved productivity, providing market linkage, and creating access to finance.
The event was attended by sector stakeholders, including the All-Assam Small Tea Growers Association – Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Branch, Tea Association of India, Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association, Action for Food Production, Rainforest Alliance, GIZ, NRB Sustainable Agri, Iron Kettle, Bhartiya Cha Parishad, Indian Tea Association, Cuppa Trade, Agri Entrepreneur Growth Foundation, Trustea, among others. The discussions focused on the current situation and the roadmap towards achieving a living income through joint efforts.
Speaking at the event, Arunita Phukan, Executive Director of Tea Board of India North East Division, said, “The STG movement has developed the entrepreneurial skills of the youth of Assam, and over the last 4 decades, they have come a long way. Yet, they face challenges, and a lot remains to be done, especially in the credit facility. The Tea Board of India hopes to work collaboratively with IDH and other partners to achieve living income for the STGs.”
Harkirat Sidhu from the Rainforest Alliance said, “There was a great amount of cooperation amongst all stakeholders, and it was good to see everyone come to the same page on the need to increase income for STGs, which is important for the future of the industry.”
Adding to this, Rohinton Babaycon from NRB Sustainable Agri said, “We discussed what needs to be done to close the living income gap of small tea farmers in Assam today. The stories of women Agri entrepreneurs on their work and challenges and their expectations from the agencies present to help them further their collective groups and empower them to achieve their goals were insightful.”
By bringing together organizations with expertise in certification, sustainable practices, market access, and advocacy, the event fostered the development of a cohesive approach towards improving the livelihoods of small tea growers, promoting environmental sustainability, and creating diversified economic opportunities in the sector.