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Why these Karbi women turned from tea pluckers to tea producers





Watch: Why these Karbi women turned from tea pluckers to tea producers

Grassroots Tea Corporation (GTC), acting as a technical partner in the Udyamini-Rural Women Enterprises Program, provides technical inputs to women in small tea growers’ households.


by Team EastMojo May 20, 2024


Grassroots Tea Corporation (GTC), acting as a technical partner in the Udyamini-Rural Women Enterprises Program, provides technical inputs to women in small tea growers’ households.


The next time you visit a tea shop, look around you. Look at the tea prices and ask yourself a very simple question: ‘How much of the price I pay goes to the grower?”

Why? Because while tea, and especially specialty tea, fetches a high price in the market, the same does not translate into a higher income for those who give their life to growing tea. Given that even today, tea plucking and packaging is mostly a women-run affair, is it not time that the women see the benefits too when their tea fetches a higher price. 

This is where the Grassroots Tea Corporation, as part of the Udyamini project, is trying to intervene. 


Everyday a new lesson

Speaking about the project, and how it had helped her, Lalita Rangpipi, a tea grower from Ra Rangpi village under the Karbi Anglong district, said that GTC and its interventions had helped her increase her income up to 300%. “Earlier, we could get up to Rs 20 per kg for the tea leaves,” she said. “Now, however, after we started making green tea, we can get up to Rs 60 per kg,” she said.


Of course, this change did not happen overnight. “Earlier,” said Rangpipi, “we had no idea about green tea. GTC personnel trained us, assisted us, and taught us how to process tea leaves to make Green Tea.” The training is part of GTC’s efforts to ensure that the rural women entrepreneurs receive a holistic education when it comes to tea, helping them not only increase their income but also learn how to better market their products. 

As alluring as it may sound, growing tea and selling it for a higher price is not the only aim of the GTC. An equal amount of focus is paid to ensuring that the tea is grown without any chemical fertilisers, ensuring that the tea tastes and feels as natural as possible. 



Grassroots Tea Corporation (GTC), acting as a technical partner in the Udyamini-Rural Women Enterprises Program, provides technical inputs to women in small tea growers’ households to cultivate chemical-free tea, manage operating  tea processing units and market ethical, traceable Premium Karbi Handcrafted Tea. 


This not only supports the women in generating sustainable income but also promotes environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices in the tea industry.


A truly holistic system

Talking about the programme, Arindam Ghosh, programme manager for the GTC, says the work with STGs begins with the ‘nature of the soil’. “We start with the land and how it can be made chemical free. From teaching about land isolation to create buffer zones to using organic substitutes for chemical fertilisers, we show the local rural women entrepreneurs how they can grow high-quality handcrafted tea. GTC also provides marketing facilities.”


GTC’s intervention, and the course of intervention, was dictated by their baseline survey, which showed that women in this region only knew how to sell their tea leaves, but not process it. “Women here were selling tea leaves to the agents or tea gardens at anything between Rs 15-20 per kg. Sometimes, they would even be forced to sell them at Rs 7 per kg, especially during the end of the season. There was a monopoly on the pricing.”

But what if the women could find an alternative? “We were sure that we did not want to completely replace the existing system,” says Ghosh, adding, “we are working with women so that they can allocate a part of their land for growing chemical-free tea, which, through the help of GTC, they will process to sell as high-quality, handcrafted tea.” If they find this idea interesting and believe that they can sustain it, they can always increase the land allocation for chemical-free tea, he added. 


The process of making green tea begins, of course, after the women entrepreneurs have picked the best tea leaves. The tea leaves, once plucked, are steamed in a bamboo tray for ten minutes, after which they are let to cool for around two minutes. After the first steam, they are hand rolled to ensure the maximum extraction of flavours. Then, they are let to rest for a few minutes and after that, they head to the drier, which resembles a large oven, where it is ‘cooked’ for up to 40 minutes. 


Getting the right ‘drier’ was a challenge too, and it is only now, after a couple of iterations, that the right machine was made available courtesy Tea Engineering Works, a Tinsukia-based company. Since the machine will be operated in an area where electricity is erratic at best and can be absent for weeks during inclement weather, the machine is equipped to run on LPG too. 


After this, the tea is packed and is ready to be sold in the market. For now, the GTC is planning to sell the tea mostly to other businesses (B2B), but plans to sell the tea in the retail market are also being discussed. 


The GTC is also working on launching a digital app to ensure that the women can keep track of their work. “Our app will help women keep a daily track of how much they are working per day. Let us say 9 women work over three days to process the tea; the app will help them track their progress, the days they work, etc. The app will keep records of how much tea leaves a rural women entrepreneur is bringing in and how much green tea is being made out of it. We plan to launch 20 collection centres for 1,000 RWEs, which translates to a cluster of 50 women. Women will bring the tea to the collection centre and sell their produce, most of which will go to the vendors and a small portion will go for retail sale too,” Ghosh added. 


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