Calamity in the gardens
ILAM/JHAPA, JUL 14 -
The ongoing year has been marked by grievances pouring in from all over Nepal with regards to the rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns that most of the country has witnessed of late. Among the sufferers are the tea-producing districts of Ilam and Jhapa, where complaints to do with the impact of extreme weather conditions on production have been especially pronounced this time. High heat and inadequate rainfall means that tea-production has fallen drastically in comparison to the year before.
“It’s gone down by more than half,” says Uttam Pradhan of the Gorkha Tea Estate in Fikkal VDC, Ilam. He explains that despite a decent yield during the first flush—the harvesting carried out in mid-March following spring rains—production set to decline soon after. “Temperatures in the region were constantly high, the rains didn’t come in time, and the crops remained thirsty,” Pradhan adds.Another tea garden at Godak VDC produced only 22 kgs of
tea leaves and buds this year—a sharp downtrend considering the harvest was close to 700 kgs last year. And the situation is reiterated in more than 85 percent of tea gardens in these parts of Ilam, where massive declines have been recorded.
Aside from lack of moisture, the hot weather has caused pests and plant diseases to thrive in the gardens, and tea-growers in both Ilam and Jhapa have recently been grappling with vermin infestation. “Pest invasions are very damaging to crops,” says SK Pradhan, an expert on tea cultivation. “Once the tea plants have been taken over by pests like looper caterpillars, red spider mites and thrips, it greatly impacts their growth throughout the year.”
An instance of this was seen in the Ilam Tea Factory in Panchakanya VDC, where this season, only 15,000 kgs of tea-leaves were processed per day, compared to 26,000 kgs in previous years. “Unfavourable weather conditions and persistent pest invasions have caused our output to slump dramatically,” says Dharma Dahal, a representative of the factory.
Farmers seek government support
Given that farmers themselves do not possess much knowledge or information on pesticides, and there are no experts available to guide them, it has become increasingly difficult to control the endemic, leaving many feeling helpless against the forces of nature.
A tea farmer from Pathariya in Jhapa says that he, along with other tea-growers, generally buy pesticides according to the kind of symptoms exhibited by the crops. “Sometimes, in trying to get rid of the vermin, these pesticides end up ruining our plants instead,” he says.
Tea producers are demanding that the government provide them with necessary technical assistance in times of crisis such as this. “At least one technician should be appointed in every tea estate across the country if the industry is to survive,” says Chattra Bahadur Giri, who owns the Giribandhu Tea Estate in Birtamod, Jhapa.
A sense of desperation has come over tea farmers in Ilam and Jhapa, as the calamity has begun to hit the quality of the tea and consequently, the market itself. Factories that have been exporting tea outside the country are also found struggling to maintain quality and compete in the international market.
The government’s inaction in bailing out the tea industry is pointed out bitterly by growers as being responsible for the waning market and profits. Gobinda Kumar Agrawal, who bought nearly 15 hectares of land near Prithvinagar in Jhapa a decade ago to start a tea farm is today straining to keep his business afloat. “We’ve been hit by both pestilence and the effects of climate change in recent times, but the authorities don’t seem to care.”
In defence, Indra Adhikari, chief of the Nepal Tea and Coffee Development Board Regional Office at Birtamod, says that demands made by tea producers in Eastern Nepal—particularly regarding the appointment of technicians—are unreasonable given the understaffed and under-resourced state of the office at the moment. “We’re unable to offer the technical services called for by the tea farmers for the simple reason that we don’t have enough resources or experts.”
Farmers, however, aren’t buying what they believe is a cop-out, and are already predicting the death of a once-thriving industry if support isn’t immediately provided. According to Parwat Dangi of the Parakhopi Small Tea Farmers’ Cooperative, many tea growers have now switched to paddy farming so as to eke out a living. “It’s high time the government stepped in and rescued the tea market before it goes completely bust.”
Posted on: 2012-07-14 08:25