KANOKA TEA ESTATE
Our Assam is produced on the Kanoka Estate by brothers Pallab and Pranab Nath along with their families and a small team of workers. This small nine-acre organic tea garden is in Panchnoi Village in the Sonitpur District right in the middle of Assam.
Wishing to remain in their home village, the brothers set up their organic tea garden in 2009 on abandoned paddy fields that had not been cultivated in some time. They now farm a variety of organic crops including oranges, pepper, rubber and vegetables on the wider 22-acre Kanoka Estate.
Planting tea bushes on previously un-farmed land enabled the Nath family to use organic and biodynamic farming practices from the very start, ensuring their tea is truly organic. The garden itself is named after their mother; Kanoka.
Workers on the farm are paid a fair wage in a region that continues to suffer with historically low wages. The ten permanent workers and seven part-time workers also receive bonuses, twice yearly medical checkups and are provided with accommodation on the estate. The Kanoka Village resort, a guest house on site, provides further employment for the tea workers' families, enabling them to further increase their family incomes.
Pranab is also one of the founders of Assamica Agro, an enterprise dedicated to revolutionising the socio-economic conditions of rural Assam. They promote and encourage fair and ethical employment for tea workers and the growing of tea through ethical and environmentally sustainable farming practices. Assamica Agro works with small-scale organic tea farmers to develop their farming practices as well as supporting them to get their teas directly to the customer, both in the domestic and international markets.
Located in the far northeastern corner of India, the flat plains of Assam are fed by the Brahmaputra river, making for an exceptionally fertile environment with high rainfall, rich soils, and tropical temperatures.
Kanoka strives to work with this naturally bountiful environment rather than relying on agro-chemicals. Working with the land, their focus is on growing a range of organic crops, including tea, which increases the biodiversity of the land and environment.
The tea fields are planted with shade trees and fertilised with natural fertilisers. Natural pesticides inducing pepper, chilli and ginger spray are used to control pests and when needed. The fields are weeded by hand.
Unusually for the region, Pallab has chosen to grow his tea plants from seed. Whilst the plants took longer to establish and become ready for plucking than the clonal method more commonly used, it is hoped that these seed grown plants will adapt and settle more naturally into their environment.
The natural, organic farming methods used at Kanoka and amongst other tea farmers working with Assamica Agro are drawn from the ancient Indian Vrikshayurveda (meaning "ayurveda for trees") text on plant life which was compiled some 1000 years ago.
The Assam region sits in the so-called “tea belt” where tea has grown wild for centuries, stretching from Assam in the west to Yunnan in the east. It was the camellia sinensis assamica, the broad leaved variety of the tea plant, found in the jungles of Assam that so confused western botanists in the 19th century when they first came across it.
It took decades before the assamica variety was recognised as a tea plant, despite being grown and used medicinally by native tribes for generations. However, once acknowledged as the tea plant, the British were quick to clear and dedicate vast tracts of Assam to tea growing. Today Assam is one of the largest tea growing regions in the world.
Mass production of predominantly CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea for the teabag market over the last 50-60 years has led to a reliance on agro-chemicals and historically low wages across the region. This has at times led to unrest, and in the early 1990s led to insurgency. Even amongst self-employed small tea growers, there has been a constant struggle as they are paid low value for their picked leaf by bought leaf factories owned and operated by big commercial companies.
For a region that produces such vast quantities of tea, there has been a slow uptake in adapting to new farming and work methods. Pioneers like Assamica Agro are essential in helping to address the imbalance in this region.