After spending 15 years of her life in Thimphu, raising children and trailing her husband, 58-year-old Rinchen decided to return to her village in Samcholing, Trongsa in 2003.
The following year she decided to commercialise tea plantation. With the community with her, the Samcholing green tea cooperative was formed.
While the young people in the community are unaware of how the tea plants appeared in the community, those like Richen claim that it came during the time of the Second King. She believes that there happened to be a palace of His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck in Samcholing, where three tea plants were planted.
Of late, she said that the ministry of agriculture nurtured some saplings and distributed to the community. Rinchen was the first to initiate a mass plantation.
Today, there are 27 registered members of the cooperative and more wanting to join. Plantation area from the members alone covers 47 acres of land. Rinchen has more than an acre of land, which was lying fallow until 2003.
The chairperson of the cooperative, Yangden, said that it takes at least three years to raise the plant and harvest.
However, she said the first harvest yielded only three packets of green tea amounting to Nu 4,000. The yield increased the following years. “Last year I earned Nu 35,000,” Yangden said.
The gewog office buys saplings from Rinchen’s nursery and distributes to the community. She sold saplings worth more than Nu 80,000 last year.
While the plantation is becoming popular, the government, according to the villagers, has ceased its support to fund and procure the packaging materials.
Yangden said that whatever packaging resources are available have been exhausted.
She said that the gup was sent to Kolkota, India, to get a deal with the suppliers, which is taking time.
Yangden said that the advances have already been paid but the cooperative is yet to receive the materials. “We heard that the cooperative Act will be reviewed and once this is done we will bring in more members who are interested.”
Until the new packaging resources arrive, she said that the cooperative has to adjust with normal plastic packaging with stickers attached. “Within the country, there is more demand but outside I don’t think people know about the product.”
She added that she was nominated for a trade fair of sort in Kolkata, where she could only sell more than 20 packets of the 533 she carried along. “Tea varieties from Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim are more popular and our organic tag is not selling because we have only one variety to sell.”
The chairperson said that familiarisation tour of farmers in tea cultivating states like Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim would be relevant. “We would learn how to manufacture different varieties of tea.”
The green tea cultivated in Samcholing is different because the harvesting season starts from April and ends in September. In the winter months, suja tea leaves are produced fetching around Nu 30 a packet.
Villagers cultivating tea say that they weed the bed about four times a year. With no manpower in the village, Rinchen said she has to pay Nu 400 a day per worker.
While the government has built a processing and packaging unit, the chairperson said that there is only one roaster and one roller, which is inadequate. “Should we get an additional unit of each we will be able to supply more.”
Tshering Dorji | Trongsa