About us
Arijit Bhuyan, Small Tea Grower, Assam
Interview with Anjali Pathak
Q1. Tell us about your journey from working with Williamson Magor to becoming a small grower in Golaghat in a nutshell.
 AB: I am a third generation tea planter. My grand father Late Harihar Bhuyan had set up a tea estate in early thirties in Borpathar fifty kilometer south of Golaghat. My father Late Sarat Chandra Bhuyan stepped into his father’s shoes and managed the estate efficiently which had a processing unit. However in the bad days of Tea in sixties the estate was sold as it became economically unviable. Tea always beckoned me as it had always been in our blood. Therefore soon after I post graduated from Delhi University I thought of joining tea. There had been a few vacancies for Assistant Manager with Williamson Magor; I applied and  got selected. The journey amidst the green bushes began as if the almighty had predestined it for me. However all this while I was learning about tea production with chemical inputs which had deteriorated the environment to an almost irretrievable point. I wanted to reverse the trend. After much contemplation I decided to quit and start on my own. A new journey began  to become a small tea grower. A new story began – the story of Bogamati Organic Tea Estate.
Q2. What prompted you to switch to organic cultivation? And what have you gained by becoming an organic grower?
AB: After twenty years of managing large tea estates, I decided to quit the job as I wanted to strike out on my own. Thoroughly disillusioned with the environmental pollution I wanted to start a plantation where I could do my bit to undo these damages. These damages relate to soil, water and air pollution ultimately affect human, animal and soil micro flora and fauna. Bogamati is located in Karbi Anglong district which borders Nagaland. Of the 28 hectares at Bogamati only 12 hectares have been planted with tea. As the land that was brought under tea was virgin land, following organic practices with good results was a shade easier for me. I was also able to get organic certification from CUC within two years time because of this. My major gains have been as follows:
  1. Soil has improved.
  2. Pests have reduced to almost nil.
  3. Cost of production has come down considerably.
  4. Production of green leaf has increased. I now harvest 6000 kg. of green leaf from one acre per year.
  5. Green leaf quality has improved hugely.
Q3. What in your opinion  is the major hurdle facing small growers when they opt go in for organic cultivation?
AB: Adequate government support and guidance for growing and marketing is the major hurdle facing small growers who wish to convert to organic cultivation.
Q4. Marketing Organic Tea is the trickiest part of organic cultivation. What insight can you offer us from your experience?
AB: Marketing is certainly the trickiest part of an organic venture. Unless a good marketing strategy is adopted, the teas which should be ideally sold at a premium would be sold at a lower price which will lower the profit margin to a great extent. This can be a big bottle neck for small tea growers and they play into the hands of middle men and big factories. As a result remunerative prices will always elude them. Forming a co-operative and having your own processing plant is the ultimate solution. A small producer can look at direct marketing which is the best way out but may not be initially possible to do so. To sell the produce to an export house is the second option.

The third option is to seek the assistance of  certifying agencies who normally have a good network of buyers overseas. Moreover one can take part in various expositions which are held in India and abroad. I have got a good response from a few export houses and also from Control Union Certification (CUC). The biggest organic exposition in the world is called Biofach and held in Germany every year. CUC has a permanent stall where they display the organic product of their clients and help them find prospective buyers. In India also various trade fairs and exhibitions are held annually in various cities and the growers can take, showcase and sell their products.
Q5. Bought leaf factories are burgeoning by leaps and bounds in the north-east. How does this affect small growers?
AB: It is true that bought leaf factories are mushrooming in the north-east mostly to take advantage of the ever increasing green leaf produced by small growers. There are a few good things about the bought leaf factories. Firstly, small growers do not need to worry about selling their leaf. They can carry it on their cycle or pull-cart and deliver it to the factory next door, thereby eliminating the middle man and his commission. However there are negative factors concerning the small growers also.
Q6. Many small growers are going in for small processing units, processing their own green leaf and marketing it themselves. What are your observations on this mode of operation for small growers?
AB: True, some growers have gone in for small processing units and after processing their own green leaf marketing on their own. They are only a few and far between.
My observations on this aspect of business are as follows:-
  1. If around 2000 kg. of Green leaf is processed, around 400 kg. of made tea is obtained.
  2. In order to achieve this, the formation of a co-operative amongst the small growers is a must.
  3. Marketing the teas collectively is also a must and this aspect of operation must be entrusted to knowledgeable person in this line. What any consumer wants is an uninterrupted supply of any particular brand of tea.
  4. Therefore branding the teas and marketing this brand effectively by this body of knowledgeable persons is of great importance.
  5. Packing the teas with attractive packaging materials is another important point to be noted.
Q7.You are diversifying now, going in for lemongrass cultivation etc. What impact will this have on your garden.
AB: Small growers in order to generate additional income should always look for ways for diversification into related fields. Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants, fruits and vegetables and making vrikshayurveda products like kunapajal, panchagavya etc. could be undertaken. I for one have gone in for lemongrass cultivation and cultivation of some high value plants like Agar (Acquillaria Malaccensis), Sandalwood (Santalum Album) and also Teak (Tectona Grandis). These will generate good income for my estate in due course of time.
Q8. Conventional CTC is fetching a good price now in the auctions. Is this a major reason for growers to remain stuck with conventional chemical methods of cultivation?
AB: To a certain extent this may be true – but not the main cause. People generally do not like change, be it in their own life style or business. But change is the essence of life. Growers will be forced to change in due course of time because of compulsion and necessity. Orthodox and green teas are fast coming up. There are other speciality tea like white and yellow tea. Connoisseurs generally want these teas to be organic. So a time will come sooner or later, when small growers will be looking to organic cultivation in order to grab these markets.
Q9. How do you foresee the small growers in the tea industry twenty or thirty years from now?
AB: Whatever the initial difficulties, organic farming will be a winner at the end because it is beneficial not only for our health but also for the environment. Organic cultivation is sustainable because it reduces cost of production up to 60% and higher price realization of the produce by 20% to 30% with steadily growing international demand. It is least affected by WTO and has immense export potential. This kind of farming will ensure regular income for all present and future small growers. Employment opportunity at the village level and availability of equal opportunity for poor and rich alike is another boon of organic farming. Patience for 3-4 years is required and miracles should not be expected. Overall I see a very bright future for small tea growers in the years to come.
Q10. Would you like to recount some of your memorable moments of being in the tea industry for the past three decades?
AB: It was my very first day in the Asstt. Manager’s office at Pupajali T.E. – my first garden of Williamson Magor. Suddenly the office boy came and told me in Hindi – “Badasaheb ne apko salam diya hein”. I felt really good thinking that the manager of the estate is a very cultured man and probably wanted me to make me comfortable by sending his compliments. I immediately told the boy that go and tell Badasahab that I am very pleased and I also send my salaam to him. The boy did not move and kept on standing for a while and hesitated to leave. He again repeated what he told me earlier. At that point of time one staff member came into my office. He explained to me that giving salaam actually means that you are being called to his office. I had a hearty laugh to myself and left for the Manager’s office.

The following week the head of the field staff(known as Bada Babu) came to my office to tell me that the next day which was a Wednesday was the ‘Bichar’ day. I was quite intrigued to learn what this ‘Bichar’ was all about. Then he explained to me that the ambit of Bichar is quite encompassing right from a petty theft of hens or eggs to eloping with someone’s daughter or a wife. It was judgment by trial – not of course to confuse the trial of a law court – but quite close to it and the judgment were given very fast – maybe on the same day. The workers had tremendous faith on the managerial staff and judgments were respected and accepted by one and all.

My first ‘Bichar’ was the theft of one hen by a worker from his neighbour’s house. The accused did not accept the charge and maintained that he did not commit the theft. The plaintiff only doubted that the accused had stolen the hen, but he did not have any witness, whatsoever. At that time it suddenly struck upon me that the workers are generally very religious and God fearing. I told the Bada Babu to send both the parties with a line chowkidar to a nearby Shiva temple in order to prove their innocence. The next morning after having bath the plaintiff and the accused were sent to the temple and the accused before entering the temple confessed to the theft and accordingly he was made to compensate the loss incurred to the other party. I also learnt a lesson for future in the course of this bichar.    
Email: arijitbhuyam2002@yahoo.co.in