Fall in tea prices hits small farmers

Small growers in Nilgiris have been realising prices that are less than the cost of production; Farmers in Tamil Nadu’s main tea growing region have been staging a hunger protest for more than two weeks now demanding ‘reasonable prices’

Small tea farmers in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district have been hit by a drop in tea leaf prices over the last few months.

Small and micro farmers in the Nilgiris harvest almost 40 crore kilogram (kg) of tea leaves annually and this year the production has risen by almost one crore kg, said H.N. Sivan, promoter of Nilgiris Nectar Organic Farmer Producers’ Organization.

Growers got on average ₹20.99 for a kg of green leaf during the COVID pandemic (August 2020). But the prices started declining gradually and in August 2022, their crop fetched on average ₹14.38 per kg. The base price fixed by the Tea Board India this August for the Nilgiris farmers was only ₹14.54 a kg, said K. Manivannan, secretary of the Naaku Betta Badagar Welfare Association.

Growers who supply to a couple of INDCO factories received ₹11 - ₹15 a kg. And the average price that they got in the market was about ₹12. The small growers had been staging a hunger protest for more than two weeks now demanding “reasonable prices”, Mr. Manivannan added.

Mr. Sivan and Mr. Manivannan said small tea growers, numbering almost one lakh in the Nilgiris, were realising prices that were less than the cost of production for almost two decades now. But, the situation was getting worse, affecting farmers’ livelihoods. The average cost of production was estimated to be ₹22.29 a kg.

“Labour and input costs are increasing every year. But the price for tea leaves is not,” observed Mr. Sivan.

C. Shreedharan, president of the United Planters Association of Southern India, said that globally and in India there was excess supply of teas, with output growth outpacing growth in consumption. He said it was important to encourage exports by promoting value addition and access to emerging markets.