Karbi handmade tea

Guwahati: Sip some local handmade tea at Kaziranga while you are about to revel in the majestic wildlife.

Try Karbi handmade tea produced by small tea growers of Karbi Anglong which has been launched by Aaranyak, a well-known biodiversity organisation that is now working on community-based natural resources management with an aim to support and promote products made by communities. 

The three varieties of Karbi handmade tea — Karbi handmade black tea( smoked), Karbi handmade orthodox and Karbi handmade Rosella tea — are available now at Pirbi Ethnic Haat situated by the national highway at Kohora in Kaziranga National Park.

Pirbi, a Karbi word meaning biosphere, implies closeness to the purity of nature. Pirbi-Karbi Ethnic Haat, which deals with local ethnic products, was inaugurated in a solemn function in presence of a group of people who are closely associated with the Karbi tribe, their tradition and culture, and those whose home, hearth, passion, and profession are intricately related to Kohora-Kaziranga basin.

The business ethics of the Pirbi model revolves around the spirit- Fair for People, Fair for Biodiversity. It believes in fair trade with farmers and promotes conscious production and consumption. 

Pirbi is committed to contributing 12 percent of its profit to biodiversity conservation and community development in the same region and an additional five percent profit is shared with the growers, collectors, and artisans. 

“Tea has been grown in the Karbi highlands of Assam since the 1960s, mostly in small homesteads. Generations of families have ensured quality, delicious crops that are highly desirable. In the absence of access to markets, these small homestead tea gardens are leased out to middlemen of large industries at a throwaway price. The tea growers are often exploited and receive a pittance for their hard work,” says Dr. Firoz Ahmed, a senior scientist at Aaranyak.

“Aaranyak believes in the social and financial empowerment of indigenous and marginalised women to protect and sustainably use the natural resources including the culture and the biodiversity,” he says.

He said the initiative gives a fair price to the producers and provides an alternative sustainable livelihood to the marginalised forest-dependent families who grow and process hand-made tea while taking pressure off the forests. “This business model provides economic and social security to the underprivileged families within the Kohora river basin area ensuring ecosystem security and sustainability,” he adds.

Tea is cultivated by smallholder women farmers in their homesteads and is plucked, processed and hand rolled by them before drying under the sun. 

It is at a very small scale now. “Four to six women are involved in the process who were trained by a tea expert working with Aaranyak. The local expert women are now working as peer experts to train the women of their villages,” he said.

Currently, the processing is on a small scale due to the involvement of a limited number of women and the time and effort required in the hand-rolled processing technique. “The current output is 2kg tea per week operating 8 months a year,” he said. 

At present, Karbi tea is available at a few outlets in Guwahati.

“We are not pressuring them at all as we don’t want to disturb their lifestyle,” he said. 

Pirbi is a one-stop showroom of a wide range of Karbi ethnic products with judicious value addition including edibles, handwoven dresses, handicrafts, and mementos that bears the stamp of sublime Karbi ethos. As of date, Pirbi is a one-of-a-kind ethnic haat in the entire landscape of the much-visited Kaziranga National Park. It is a pride of place for the Karbi people who have been guarding the Kaziranga biosphere for centuries from atop the hills that demarcate the southern reach of the UNESCO Heritage Site.

Pirbi is a baby step in the community-owned business model which focuses on community-based conservation and management of biodiversity and allows bioprospecting with value addition and without causing disturbance to biodiversity. A certain part of the profit earned from such business has to be reinvested for biodiversity conservation.

“Pirbi is a fruit of an effort that was initiated way back in 2019 under Aaranyak’s Community-based Natural Resources Management initiatives in Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape. Our entire team along with community members have been working very hard till date to make Pirbi fructify to start with. There are miles to go,” said Dr. Firoz Ahmed

“Pirbi is a community collective for business that aims to support and promote ethnic products that empower communities and create market linkages. The business is owned by the community,” said Jayanta Kumar Sharma, Senior Programme Associate at Aaranyak who has been working with the Natural Resource Management (NRM) programme team of Aaranyak in respect of socio-economic survey and strategic planning.

“The ice-breaking took quite some time. It took our team almost two years to elicit effective and efficient cooperation from the community for the Pirbi initiative. We had to spend a lot of time convincing them that it is for them and to be owned by them,” said Dr. Jayanta Roy and Sarlong Jon Teron of NRM team, the prime mover behind Pirbi.

Inaugurating Pirbi haat on March 11, former MP Dr. Jayanta Rongpi appreciated the Pirbi initiative and Aaranyak for promoting Karbi ethnic products and highlighted the importance of marketing support to the marginalised growers/producers so that the environment is preserved through limited exploitation.

Benting Terang, ex-EM of KAAC, lauded the inception of the Pirbi marketing channel for Karbi ethnic products and urged the local government to support the initiatives. Dhrubajyoti Nath, Addl SP, Kaziranga, Cory Brown, Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service graced the inauguration where Jayanta Kumar Sharma made a presentation on the genesis of Pirbi. 

Also Read | Subsidy, focus on workers in Budget as Assam Tea celebrates 200 years

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