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The North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) has started a new campaign from Wednesday – ‘Say no to kasi (sickles) for tea harvesting’.

NETA chairman Nepul Saikia said this on Wednesday while adding that the campaign has been launched as there is a tendency by the tea growers to harvest the tea using sickles (Kasi in Assamese) due to labour crisis in peak cropping months.

Saikia said the practice is far from being rampant as of now but the NETA wants to make the growers as well as the workers aware about the ill effects of using Kasi — which leads to poor quality of tea leaves affecting the overall quality of Assam tea.

“Assam tea is known worldwide for its quality due to hand plucking of ‘two leaves and a bud’. During the last thirty five years there has been huge increase in the land area under tea. In 1990, Assam’s production was 388 million kgs and in 2018, Assam’s production touched 692 million kgs, an 80 per cent increase in production,” Saikia said.

Also read: Assam MP seeks amendment to Tea Act, Plantation Labour Act

Saikia also added that due to increase of tea plantation area, there has been 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. Tea leaves harvested with sickles are very poor in quality and this is one of the major reasons in deterioration of quality of Assam tea. As per latest Tea Board figures, about 49 per cent of tea produced in Assam is from the green tea leaves of small tea growers,” he said.

He added that although majority of small tea growers do not use sickles throughout the year but the campaign was started before it is too late.

“This campaign is to basically bring awareness amongst the growers on harvesting of quality tea leaves and also to bring attention of policy makers in providing growers with substitutes like shears, battery operated plucking machines and one/two men operated harvesting machines,” said Bidyananda Barkakoty, adviser NETA.

“Tea Board has a field mechanisation scheme of 25 per cent subsidy on plucking and pruning machines for general category and 100 per cent subsidy for SC and ST. This scheme can be further popularised amongst the growers and subsidy amount should be increased to 75 per cent for general category,” said Barkakoty, who is also a former vice-chairman of Tea Board.

“A Guwahati-based investor is developing a plucking machine with an Israeli innovator and we are expecting a prototype of it in October. This plucking machine which is in designing stage now will help in selective harvesting of tea leaves similar to hand plucking,” said Barkakoty.

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