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History of tea industry in Assam

The discovery of tea in the early part of the nineteenth century was an epoch- making
event in the history of Assam. It was the dawn of industrialization of not only Assam, but
also the entire North-East. Although it was a discovery by the British colonial rulers with
the ultimate aim of exploiting the resources of the area, they opened a vista of future
prosperity of which the local populace was totally oblivious and perhaps would have
remained so for many more years, had not the “colonial exploiters” built it up as a
prosperous industry.

Now Assam is the second largest tea producing area in the world with Guwahati Tea
Auction Centre as the largest CTC Tea Auction Centre. More than 2,30,000 hectares of
the State’s land is under tea with a production of 425 million kg. out of the country total
production of 780 million kg. 6.5 lakh workers are permanently employed in about 850
big, medium and small sized tea gardens in the estate, besides another three lakh
temporary workers employed during the peak season. A large number of people have also
been provided indirect employment in ancillary operations such as marketing, transport,
warehousing, etc.

Ever since its inception the tea industry has seen many ups and downs, but the growth
and prosperity of the industry has not been seriously deterred.

India, the largest producer and consumer of tea in the world, accounts for around 28 per
cent of world production and 13 per cent of world trade. However, the production as well
as export of tea has shown a declining trend in the recent years of the current decade.

Evolution and Growth of small tea growers in Assam

Small or mini tea estates are a modern concept than the general tea industry. The tea
industry continued to grow slowly but steadily during the 20th century. In the 1970s
small scale tea cultivators with farms smaller than one hectare began growing tea. One of
the first instances of mini tea estates in Assam is the Belsiri Tea Estate in Dibrugarh
established in 1979. Cultivation on small farms increased during the 1990s and can be
found in large numbers today. It accounts for over 10% of the tea produced in Assam.
Tea cultivation remains a vital industry in the region employing 17% of the workforce.
Tea plantation was once the domain of the rich and affluent people but tea cultivation in
assam has come full circle as hundreds of small farmers have taken to growing the crop.
The cultivation of tea has now been adopted by several unemployed youths who have
undertaken it as a business venture.

Small planters in Assam grow 25 percent of the state’s produce and 14 percent of the
country’s overall produce Of the estimated 50,000 small tea growers in Assam only 2927
are registered with the Tea Board