To ensure the overall quality of Assam tea, the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) has started a 'No sickles' campaign among the tea gardens of Assam.
Although Assam tea is known worldwide for its quality due to hand plucking of 'two leaves and a bud', some of the gardens have resorted to harvesting tea leaves with sickles (which is popularly known as kasi) affecting the quality of the tea.
Chairman of NETA, Nepul Saikia said this on Wednesday while adding that the organization has started the campaign "Say NA to Kasi for tea harvesting" from today and added that the campaign is basically to bring awareness amongst the tea producers not to use sickles during harvesting of tea leaves.
He said that during the last 35 years there has been a huge increase in the land area under tea cultivation. In 1990, Assam's tea production was only 388 million kgs which has grown to 692 million kgs in 2018.
"There has been an increase of about 300 million kgs in 28 years which is about 80 per cent increase in production in 2018 compared to 1990 figures. However, there is a shortage of workers in peak cropping months - July, August, September and October. To overcome the shortage of workers some growers have resorted to harvesting tea leaves with sickles," he said adding that the tea leaves harvested with sickles are of very poor quality and this is one of the major reasons for the quality failure of Assam tea.
"As per the latest Tea Board figures, about 49 per cent of tea produced in Assam is from the green tea leaves by small tea growers. Though a majority of small tea growers do not use sickles throughout the year we have started this campaign before it is too late", said Saikia.
"This campaign is to basically bring awareness amongst tea growers on the harvesting of quality tea and also to bring the attention of policymakers in providing growers with substitutes like shears, battery operated plucking machines and one/two men operated harvesting machines", said Bidyananda Barkakoty, Adviser NETA.
The Tea Board has a field mechanization scheme of 25 per cent subsidy on plucking and pruning machines for general category and 100 per cent subsidy for SC & ST. "This scheme can be further popularized amongst the growers and subsidy amount should be increased to 75 per cent for general category", Barkakoty added.
"A Guwahati-based investor is developing a plucking machine with an Israeli technique and we are expecting a prototype of it in October. This plucking machine which is in the designing stage now will help in selective harvesting of tea leaves similar to hand plucking", he added.