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Guwahati farmers face hardships due to the pandemic and floods

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Adithi Mohan

21st September 2020

Tea farmers struggle as the situation of the pandemic persists (Source: The New York Times)

Farmers from the city of Guwahati have faced the brunt of the global pandemic. As the country’s economy shutdown — workers have lost their jobs, migrants have been scattered between work and home, and farmers are struggling to harvest their produce.

Guwahati tea farmers are tackling hardships from two different sides. On one side, they have been dealing with the many difficulties caused by the pandemic, and on the other, fighting the struggles due to the state-wide flood. According to The Hindu, the floods in Assam have affected 21 districts and raised the death toll to 71.

An integral contributor to the incomes of the tea farmers is the ‘first-flush’- which is the first plucking of the tea harvests. The lockdown was announced during this ‘first-flush’ period which has caused a chain of events that led to heavy losses. According to a report by the Tea Board of India, the tea production in the country which was at 8.44 crores kg in April 2019, has now fallen to 3.9 crores kg in April 2020. The tea leaves in Guwahati plantations could not be plucked on time as there was a shortage of labour due to the lockdown restrictions imposed.

In a report published by The Print India, Dinesh Bihani, secretary of Guwahati’s Tea Buyer’s Association said that Assam’s economy is heavily dependent on the tea industry and it is now suffering a loss of Rs1000cr-Rs1200cr. The rise in the price of tea produced in Guwahati has resulted in a shortage of demand in the market as well, leading to a further decrease in the farmers’ income. 

Karuna Mahanta, Vice President of the Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers Association told the Economic Times that small tea growers (STGs) are a vital part of the economy, and more than 15 lakh families are dependent on them.

Secretary of the All Small Tea Growers Association, Kaliyan Dutta told The Hindu that the small tea growers are battling unemployment as the educated unemployed had taken up tea farming as a means of livelihood. He also mentioned that the small tea workers have suffered huge losses due to the wastage of tea leaves, which was a consequence of the floods and the pandemic.

The decline in tea exports, unemployment of tea workers in Guwahati and other districts of Assam, manufacturing losses, and the difficulty in repayment of loans of farmers are few of the many struggles that farmers are experiencing.

Tea plantation workers, including farmers, have been allowed to resume work with proper safety measures. According to a report by The Economic Times, many tea workers associations including the Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA) and North Eastern Tea Association, among others, have collectively donated Rs. 19 lakhs to Assan Arogya Nidhi Fund to help fight the financial losses suffered by families.

While such measures have greatly improved the situation of farmers in Assam, this system is not sustainable. In a country which is almost completely driven by agriculture, in a country that has an agrarian economy, it is vital to have a robust system to protect the livelihood of those engaged in this sector. 

Sources:  The Economic Times, The Hindu, The Print

Edited by Varun Paleli Vasudevan

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