GANGTOK, June 13: Patim is a small, shy village one and half hours away from Gangtok, which Lok Nath Sharma calls an organic tea haven. This is one village, which still bears testimony to the Sang-Martam Tea Growers Association (SMTGA) formed in 1998.
People like Mr. Sharma have grown up on these fields of gold. He looks after his lush tea gardens, crops of wheat, maize and other vegetables like they are his family.
Recently, in a joint initiative led by Mr Sharma, a mini tea processing unit was launched after acquiring a personal loan of Rs 10 lakh. The initiative, which can be termed as a bold step towards tea plantation in the region was able to convince a 30 percent subsidy from the Khadi Board.
Until this time, there was no means of tea processing save very few forays into the Temi Tea factory, which is located about 40 km away.
Now there are chances for us to keep aside the CTC bags.
Yes, this is the same tea, which won accolades for its rich organic mountain flavour from the Japanese tea experts when they had first taken the experimental sample in the year 2000. “This tea was well appreciated by the Japanese team who in turn demanded for more tea from this region”, Palden Wangchuk, President of SMTGA told me few years back. The association, however, failed to give assurances to the Japanese then because of the lack of initial infrastructure.
In 2003, as a marketing strategy, the tea was packaged under the brand name “Rumtek tea” and was presented to the high officials of the state.
Now what the association tries to do is to set up its own logo with the name of Sang-Martam Tea Grower’s Processing Unit on the packet. The brand “Rumtek tea”, which is touted to attract buyers, will also find its space in the packet.
When inquired about when the product will be out in the market, Mr Sharma had this to say, “We have at least 200 kgs of processed tea but we are waiting for better quality as well as paper works of our logo to be completed”.
There is no doubt about the organic content of the Sang-Martam tea. The association in the meantime has also applied for an organic certificate from the state agriculture department.
Moreover, until someone like Mr Sharma and his team of tea growers came up with the option of applying for the loan, there was none to rescue the Sang-Martam tea growers. The SMTGA had also written to the Secretary of the State Industries Department a long time back requesting for a second hand machine from the Temi Tea Estate for the tea growers. Apart from the state co-operative department and the state industries department, SMTGA is registered with the Tea Board of India (TBI), North Bengal Branch. Such a lackadaisical attitude of the concerned departments and a number of other reasons had left most of the tea growers who were once “over enthusiastic” about the business abandon and shift to cultivate food crops.
Initially, about 119 growers were registered with the association where in few of the villagers had planted more than 40, 000 saplings in their respective plots.