POTONG ist der 1. Teegarten in Darjeeling der Mehrheitlich der in der Plantage wohnenden nepalischen Bauern auch legal gehört. Die eingetragene POTONG WELFARE SOCIETY produziert gute Darjeeling-Qualität sowohl für Schwarze als auch Grüne Tees.
Promote A New Participatory Approach To Management
POTONG TEA GARDEN
(Organic and Fair Trade Certified Darjeeling tea growers)
Potong Tea Garden is situated on the slopes of Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling in north-eastern India. It is spread over gross 411.93 hectare of land and tea is cultivated in 138 hectares. It employs 343 permanent workers, of which 54 % are women. These workers own 51% of ownership shares and manage day-to-day affair in a participatory approach. The garden produces black and green orthodox Darjeeling teas of high quality. It is Fair Trade certified Bio-Organic garden, certified by FLO CERT on 11.5.2009 (FLO certification ID 18224)
Potong tea garden was established some 150 years ago by the British. Until the independence of India in 1947, almost all tea gardens of Darjeeling, including Potong, were owned by the British. In the decade following the independence, the British owners gradually evacuated selling tea gardens to the local entrepreneurs.During this period, it became fashionable among the high echelon of the local society to own a Darjeeling tea garden. Many novice enthusiasts with money ventured this new business for prestige, along with the romantic notions of making quick money. Successfully managing a tea garden and producing good quality tea is highly technical business requiring experience, skill and technical knowledge of the highest standard. Those new owners who lacked these traits obviously soon failed and consequently ownership of these gardens changed many hands in short period of time. Potong was one of the unfortunate victims of this phenomenon.
During the1950s and 60s, ownerships of Potong tea garden changed hands frequently, resulting in rapid destruction of the established management system and adversely affecting garden’s economy as well as physical conditions. The consequences of bad management accumulated over two decades started to evince in the early seventies. The garden started heavily suffering from financial crunch causing difficulties even in the normal day-to-day functioning of the garden.
The garden was eventually abandoned by the owner in 1978, instigating a period of uncertainty, degradation of social, economic and environmental values and untold suffering of its 343 permanent workers and their 2500 family members. Many people died of starvation and in want of medical care. The most affected were the children and lactating mothers, who suffered from lack of food and gross malnutrition. Local schools were closed depriving children of basic education.
The garden workers are mostly fourth or fifth generation employees, many of them descendants of the first batch workers. They live in shacks provided by the garden and own no land. They are solely dependent on the garden work for their livelihood. They know no other skill except to tend tea bushes and make tea. Their education level is very low, many of them illiterate. Thus, finding jobs outside or earning money for basic sustenance is very difficult for them.
Compelled by fast deteriorating socio-economic conditions and ensuing affliction of workers and their families, the Government of India (GOI) stepped in and took over the garden in 1985. The Tea Trading Corporation of India (TTCI), a central institution of the GOI was made responsible for running the garden. Unfortunately, TTCI suffered from its own chronic problems of gross mismanagement, unavoidable government bureaucracy and lack of professional approach to running gardens. History repeated itself; TTCI could not run the garden and thus abandoned it in 1990. Potong remained closed from 1990 to 2005. This again resulted in further degradation of the garden and untold socio- economic hardship to the workers and their families.
UNX Takes Over the Garden
In 2005, TTCI was liquidated and under the auspices of Kolkata High Court, all its assets including Potong were auctioned. As the highest bidder, UnitedNaturex DotCom Pvt Ltd (UNX), a Kolkata based company became the new owner of Potong. Since the beginning of 2006, UNX, together with the workers, is running the garden.
UNX AND TPI Join Hands of Co-Operation
Right from the beginning, UNX was fully aware of the graveness of the situation and the herculean task that required bringing the garden up to functioning level. It therefore sought co-operation with Tea Promoters (India). TPI is known for its pioneering initiatives in and towards successfully rehabilitating sick and abandoned tea gardens. It specializes in promoting and supporting small tea growers in the region who are economically disadvantaged due to dependence on uneconomic and un-remunerative traditional agriculture practices.
Birth of a New Concept - An Alternative Business Model:
The UNX-TPI management team realized that the established mainstream colonial ownership model of management was obsolete. Keeping pace with the rapidly evolving trends in socio-economic development and respecting new aspirations and expectations of the workers for equity, ownership of assets and profit sharing, a new revolutionary management model was conceived. In this model the erstwhile workers were provided with an opportunity to collectively share ownership of the garden, thus, heralding birth of a new era in tea garden management system.
Formation of Potong Tea Workers Welfare Committee
The workers were enabled and facilitated in forming a legally registered body under the name Potong Tea Workers Welfare Committee (PTWWC). This committee was awarded fifty-one per cent share at a value agreed by both the parties to be paid in long term installments. UNX transferred the ownership making the committee legally co-owner and partner in the management of the garden.
Managing Committee and Work Plans:
For efficient functioning of the PTWWC, a Managing Committee (MC), comprising 12 members from among the workers, and one each from UNX and TPI, has been constituted. The committee manages day-to-day affairs of the garden, records all daily activities, takes decision of policy matters, and monitors socio-economic activities of the workers.
TPI as a promoting and supporting body provided professional support to develop long term plan as well as on day-to-day management. It provides financial support for day-to-day running of the business and assistance in sourcing financial support for development activities; technical support for quality control and marketing; and professional support by making available its organic tea processing facility at Singell Tea Estate for processing the green leaf of Potong,
a)TPI has placed a competent representative in the Potong MC for coordinating and facilitating day-to-day activities, providing technical support and guidance on tea husbandry and management, organic practices and research etc., and on matters of major technical and organizational nature in consultation and co-ordination with TPI and research stations etc
b)Sourcing and mobilizing financial resources from financial institutions, organizations, donors and well wishers for capital intensive developmental activities, important for sustainable development of the garden.
c)Ensuring quality control and accessing fair-trade market worldwide
d)Conduct workshops and interactions regularly for capacity enhancement and motivation on tea husbandry, maintenance and management; conduct campaigns for awareness creation on socio-economic issues affecting the communities, especially empowerment of women.
Since the new “ownership-sharing” management model was launched in early 2006, the garden has improved significantly. Workers’ morale has been uplifted and the garden is functioning without much hindrance. However, the prolonged bad management followed by years of abandoning has damaged the garden so profoundly that it will take years before it becomes a completely healthy garden.
Tea Area and Production:
The total area of Potong is 411.93 hectares, out of which tea is grown in 138.44 hectares, leaving over two-third area for forest cover, community habitation, and roads. Potong produces organic black and green orthodox teas. The made tea production rate is around forty tons annually, very low compared other garden in the region.
The reason for low production is that the tea bushes are more than hundred years old, way beyond their prime production age. Moreover, the bushes are unhealthy and sparsely populated due to prolonged neglect. An estimate indicates as much as sixty per cent tea area vacant of bushes. As a result, one hectare tea area yields approximately 300 kg green leaves, which is less than half compared to other gardens in the vicinity.
In the winter of 2011-12, a devastating fire broke out burning 80 percent of tea bushes in 17 hectares rendering the area totally unproductive and unviable. This aggravated the situation further.
In order to sustainably address this problem, a long term “uprooting and replanting” plan needs to be implemented.With support from TPI, a strategic time-bound plan has been developed and the initial activities commenced. However, this intervention is capital intensive and requires external assistance for timely completion.
Tea growing practices
The garden is now fully organic and Fair Trade certified. Organically cultivating tea plants is highly capital intensive and challenging. For constant monitoring and ensuring organic certification practices, three hamlet-wise Internal Control System (ICS) committees have been established. The committee members are trained and updated regularly by experts from a local NGO.
For professional approach towards socio-economic revival of Potong and its people, the management team sought assistance of Fair Trade, who champion in the cause of economically and socially disadvantaged small producers, workers and farmers. Following the principles and practices of Fair Trade, and with active support from Alternative Trading Partner Organizations, Potong is changing gradually and surely.
The Fair Trade Premium scheme has been very effective to boost community spirit and healthy feelings among neighborhood. With the premium fund they have initiated a number of social activities such as literacy, vocational training, stipends and scholarships, health and sanitation, capacity building, micro credit facilities to create self-employment opportunities etc. Discussing social and economical issues in groups has added values to empowerment and decision making process. It has boosted self confidence and sense of belonging.