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TEA & TEA prices ?

Badagas have been associated with the plantation crop TEA in a big way in the Nilgiris, ever since it was introduced in India by the British. Some pioneers like Rao Bahadur Bellie Gowder planted tea in a large area of his land holding [at one time he owned about a thousand acres of land around the Nilgiri Hills].From traditional crops like potatos, Badagas took to tea in a big way. They planted, protected and preserved their ‘thotta’ [estates], being it a small holding of one or two acres or slightly bigger ones of ten / twenty acres, with their sweat and blood.

Whenever two Badagas met from different areas, one of the ‘greetings’ would invariably be, ‘ Ele (soppu) bele ella ethe? - how about the prices of tea? ‘ Since most of them were and still are ‘green leaf’ suppliers that is to say, they would pluck the green leaves from their gardens/estates and sell them to tea factories on a price per kilo determined by the latter. The people from Kotagiri area were real hardworkers and took special care of their crops.The tea factory owners, in turn, would fix the price of green leaf tea based on how much price they would get when they sold their made tea [ready to drink] in the ‘AUCTION Centres’ in Coonoor, generally through BROKERS.

This is where the problem started. As long as the made tea was sold at a decent price, the factory owners gave a good or ‘comfortable’ price to the green leaf suppliers who formed a majority.But, the brokers, sensing the great weakness of BADAGAS for all the ‘Ws’ and their extravagance in spending money without the thought of saving, started lending money to the factory owners under one pretext or other. Thus the gullible came under their stranglehold and had no choice but to sell the made tea to only these brokers from whom they had borrowed money.

They had to meekly accept whatever price was offered by these unscrupulous traders who formed ‘CARTELS’. Since, most of the small tea factory owners could not stock their produce or demand a better price, they had no choice but to either offer a much lower price to the green leaf suppliers or pack up and close their factories.Since tea, at least in the earlier days, took about five years to become a fully developed crop and is considered as perennial, destroying and switch over to other vegetable crops was nor an option due to a variety of reasons. At the same time, tea being a plantation crop and needs to be plucked after every fortnight or so, could not be left to become ‘mudhi’. Low prices means no incentive.

The economy of Badagas depend on tea prices to a great extent. And, hence, the small growers are caught between the devil and the deep sea.

The ‘brokers cartel’ attributed the low prices to the ’quality’ of made tea produced. Though to some extent it was true that a few factory owners indulged in ‘adulteration’ etc, a large number of them were and are still caught in the vice grip of the brokers.

This is where, the initiative [described below] taken by young social activists and concerned citizens like Mrs. Anitha Gokul, wife of DFO of Haveri [Karnataka] Mr.Gokul, needs everybody’s immediate attention and action.

Will we wake up?

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