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Assam Bought Leaf Factories likely to stop production due to lack of quality green leaves


Guwahati, July 26: Bought Leaf Factories (BLFs) in several districts of Assam are likely to stop production in absence of fine quality green tea leaves as stipulated by the Tea Board, and all such units in Biswanath district have already halted their operation, an industry official said on Monday.

The development might hit small tea growers hard as BLFs procure and process green tea leaves produced by them. All 22 BLFs in Biswanath district have been closed since Saturday. They are not getting the required fine quality green leaves, Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association President Chand Kumar Gohain told PTI.

As the small tea growers have not been able to provide the fine quality green leaves as stipulated by the Tea Board, BLFs have also been unable to pay them the minimum benchmark price, Gohain said. Now, the Association on Sunday decided to accept only 'fine quality' leaves from the growers and pay them the minimum benchmark price. More BLFs in districts like Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Golaghat will also have to stop production as there is a shortage of fine quality green tea leaves, he added.

While the Tea Board norms say that fine quality leaves' should form 65 per cent or above by weight, such leaves form only about 25-30 per cent at present, according to Gohain. He put the onus of resolving the problem on the district administrations, the state's Industry and Commerce department and the Tea Board. There are over 260 BLFs in the state. A senior member of the All Assam Small Tea Growers' Association, however, denied that they provide inferior quality green leaves.

In this age of competition, one cannot sustain without maintaining the quality of the produce. It is wrong to say that the small tea growers provide poor quality green leaves as it will put us out of competition, said Hemanta Gohain, a former general secretary of the organisation. He suggested that District Price Monitoring Committees be strengthened and policies be framed and implemented so that they benefit both the growers and the factories. Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association General Secretary Gautam Beria said that about 50 per cent of the green tea leaves produced by small tea growers are bought by BLFs, while the remaining part is procured by estate factories - owned by companies that have their own gardens too.

Meanwhile, at a meeting at Dibrugarh on Sunday, the Association decided to pay the growers the minimum benchmark price for green tea leaves and accept only fine quality leaves as per stipulations laid down by the Tea Board. The decision will come into effect from Tuesday, Chand Kumar Gohain said. All the member factories have been requested to abide by the Tea Board norm of strictly accepting fine quality leaves which should form 65 per cent or above by weight, he said.

While Sunday's decision was expected to provide succour for the small tea growers, the issue of quality estimation has emerged as a problem, industry sources said. They said that earlier a system of paying the rate as per the quality of green leaves was followed by both sides (small tea growers and BLFs), but with the quality specification now laid down by the Tea Board circular, the flexibility is no longer there. The small tea growers, who have been claiming low price realisation of their green tea leaves, are unlikely to have their problems sorted out by enforcing this circular alone, the sources added.

A minimum fixed rate cannot be the solution. A concerted effort is needed and a more scientific approach has to be adopted for fixing the minimum rate for green tea leaves, a source said. The low price realisation of green tea leaves supplied by the small tea growers to the BLFs has been a persistent problem for the growers, which was placed before the Assam government at a meeting with the state's industry minister on Friday. The green leaves price which was around Rs 40 per kg in April-May this year dropped to Rs 15-20 per kg this month, tea industry sources said and claimed that the prices fluctuate without any apparent reason.

The BLFs, on the other hand, allege that the leaves provided are of inferior quality which leads to low auction rates and drop in prices for procuring the green leaves. There are about 2 lakh small tea growers in the state, who account for nearly 50 per cent of the state's annual tea production.

Out of 618.20 million kg tea produced in the state in 2020, small tea growers accounted for 285.19 million kg and big growers/ gardens for 333.01 million kg, as per Tea Board India data.

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