Teatime in Kishanganj

Kishanganj is being promoted as the "Darjeeling of Bihar", and nearly 15,000 acres of land are under cultivation of tea. This has brought a measure of prosperity to the state's poorest district. However, the smaller farmers seek more support from the government.

Rahul JhaRahul Jha   30 March 2022 10:42 AM GMT

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Linkedin
  • koo
Teatime in Kishanganj

All Photos: By arrangement

Kishanganj, Bihar

While tea cultivation immediately brings to mind the rolling hills of Darjeeling or the Nilgiris, it is fact less known that it is also grown in the Kishanganj district of Bihar.

Introduced in 1992, there are about 15000 acres that are under tea cultivation in the district, with many small farmers growing it on their small holdings.

Kanhaiya Yadav from Kanakpur in Thakurganj Block is one such farmer who cultivates tea in three acres of his land. While he has been doing so for four years now, Yadav wished there was more help forthcoming from the government to small farmers like him. He said he is often forced to sell his tea leaves at as little as Rs 2 a kilo. "Sometimes when the Kosi river is in spate, our entire crop is submerged and destroyed," the 33-year-old farmer told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Around 12 lakh daily wagers working in tea estates across India are struggling to survive

"Unlike West Bengal, where the state government and the tea board is a big support to tea cultivators, we have no encouragement by way of subsidies or ration for the farm labourers or the small farmers," he said.

Another farmer, Manoj Kumar who cultivates tea in 15 acres of land in Thakurganj in Kishanganj also felt the same way. To earn profits out of tea cultivation was a long drawn out affair for the smaller farmer, he said.

Photo by: Arrangement

"In order to start tea cultivation, one has to spend up to one and a half lakh rupees per acre. And, it takes about three years for the tea bush to start yielding," the 52-year-old explained to Gaon Connection. According to Manoj Kumar, it is only by the fifth year of cultivation that the farmer can recover his investment and only in the eighth year of the plantation does the farmer make any profit. "There is no real encouragement by way of subsidies from the government. The smaller farmers are often reduced to no more than farm labourers," he complained.

Tea cultivation in Bihar

It was a report by the Tea Board of India in 1992, that set tea cultivation rolling in Kishanganj, said Shankar Jha of the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, Pusa in Bihar. "The report mentioned Kishanganj as being conducive to growing tea. The climate and a soil that drained well suited tea cultivation. Also, Darjeeling, renowned the world over as a tea-growing district, was in the neighbouring state of West Bengal, less than 200 kms away from Kishanganj, was an inspiration," Jha pointed out to Gaon Connection.

According to him, textile entrepreneur, Raj Karan Daftari, saw great potential in the possibility of tea cultivation, and was enthused enough to go to Darjeeling and learn more about it.

Also Read: A village in Bihar goes organic, transforming the lives of its women

"In 1994, Daftari started tea cultivation in Pothiya in Kishanganj on ten acres of land. He gradually bought up more land that was considered barren and soon had about 25 acres of land growing tea. Thanks to Daftari's pioneering effort today there are nearly 15,000 acres of land under tea cultivation in Kishanganj," Jha said. Currently, there are nine private and one government tea-processing plant in the district and nearly 1500 tonnes of tea are processed annually, and sent out to the market.

Impetus to tea cultivation

Tea cultivation got further impetus after a terrible cyclonic storm in 1996 in the state when many farmers took it up. The tea board had already indicated that Kishanganj was suited to growing tea.

"Till 1996, most of us cultivated bananas. But after the cyclone many of the banana farmers changed over to tea," Radhe Krishna, a 57-year-old tea grower from Pothiya block in Kishanganj, told Gaon Connection. Radhe Krishna has a 30-acre tea plantation with 6000 tea bushes. According to him he gets about two kgs of tea leaves from each plant annually. "In the beginning of the season we sell the tea at about Rs 30 a kg and by the end of the season the price drops to about Rs 7 a kg," he explained. "On an average we sell about seven lakh twenty thousand rupees worth of tea every year,"he said. The cost of irrigation, labour, fertilisers, pesticides, etc, comes to about Rs 17,000 per acre, he added.

Small farmers woes

Kishanganj is Bihar's poorest district with 64.75 per cent of the population living below the poverty line according to the NITI Aayog's Multidimensional Poverty Index. However, tea has brought in some prosperity to the region and provided employment to many of the district's inhabitants. But, a section of the tea farming community, the small farmers, are left out of the happy story.

Social activists are of the opinion that the actual number of small farmers who are benefitting from the tea industry, is negligible.

Also Read: COVID restrictions on sale of crops across the border to Nepal has plunged Bihar farmers into losses

"While it is not entirely untrue that there has been some prosperity in the district thanks to tea, only a few people are benefitting from that," Bachchraj Nakhath, a social worker from Kishanganj told Gaon Connection. He alleged that tea was being monopolised by big industrialists and there were a lot of irregularities as they acquired the land to cultivate tea in. Nakhath claimed that there was a nexus of agents, authorities and the rich people that was coming in the way of the small farmer benefitting in any way from the tea business.

"When it became known that Kishanganj had the potential to grow tea, the information was not disseminated to the larger public," Akhtarul Iman, former legislator from Kochadham village in Kishanganj, told Gaon Connection. According to him, it was then that the moneyed people bought up land at very cheap rates. "Nevertheless, there are a whole lot of small farmers who are working hard to cultivate even their small holdings of tea," he added.

The way forward

But there has been some movement to regularise tea cultivation and support farmers who are growing it in their small holdings.

Also Read: The whisper of the world-famous Banka silk from Bihar is being silenced

"Just the tea industry alone in Kishanganj has stopped labourers from migrating away from the state," Rajni Sinha, deputy director, Kishanganj, Horticulture department, told Gaon Connection. According to her, tea has also been included in the Vishesh Fasal Udyaniki Vikas Yojana, a scheme introduced by the state government in 2021 to help small farmers. "Under this, small tea farmers (who own less than five acres of land) will get 50 per cent subsidy from the government," she told Gaon Connection. "We have received 700 applications already," she added.

According to one of the major tea businessmen in the district who wanted to remain anonymous, there is a lot of potential for small farmers to prosper too.

"All they need are good policies to back them up and government support," he told Gaon Connection.

kishanganj #Bihar #Darjeeling Tea tea cultivation #story 

Next Story

More Stories

© 2019 All rights reserved.