Transforming tea estates and impacting lives in northern India [part 2]
Oikocredit’s investment enabled Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Private Limited (DOTEPL) to buy three tea estates in Darjeeling, northern India; among them are Rangaroon and Pandam.
Rangaroon is a run-down estate recently bought by DOTEPL, which reveals the conditions tea plantations are left in. The factory is so old and neglected that the tea must currently be processed at another estate. “Some of our biggest challenges are not only rebuilding the estate, but also regaining the workers’ trust,” says Nandesh Rai, the new manager of the Rangaroon estate. “This is a challenge because their wages are long overdue from the previous facility owner, who left them to fend for themselves.”
In contrast, DOTEPL’s fully refurbished estate, Ambootia, is well managed, has a modern factory that is producing the finest tea, and satisfied employees. Seeing Ambootia gives you an idea of the transformation that is about to take place at Rangaroon.
DOTEPL is already going to great lengths to build that trust and ensure all the workers and their families at Rangaroon are supported. For example, when you arrive at the village where the Rangaroon employees live, it looks like a construction zone. This is because Nandeshs’ first set of priorities are paying the overdue wages, building them new homes and providing them with food.
Meeting the tea pluckers of Pandam
While exploring some of the refurbished tea estates, such as the Pandam estate, you will find women doing most of the tea plucking.
One of these women is Priti Thapa, who at 28 years old, cares for a household of six people, along with her husband who is a driver. Upon entering her beautiful – and very colourful – house, you hear a mixture of Nepalese and English since most of the workers descend from Nepal. She plucks tea for eight hours a day, including lunch and tea breaks, while her oldest daughter attends school at the estate.
In India, millions of children are forced to work with their parents as child labourers, so the fact that the estates provide and encourage children to go to school instead of work, is all the more impressive. Priti further supports her family by taking advantage of DOTEPL’s income augmentation programme, which provides her with the tools and resources to grow vegetables and breed cows, pigs and chickens.
Another woman, Yuwana Chettri, aged 38, keeps goats and chickens for additional income. Yuwana’s experience is similar to that of Priti’s, and she is happy to share that DOTEPL pays them promptly and provides them with an additional gratuity, a provident fund, rubber boots, an umbrella (for protection against rain and sun), food and more.
DOTEPL’s strong blend of a solid business plan and commitment to the welfare of its workers, was a key reason that Oikocredit chose to partner with the company and invest in its equity.
“The impact of Oikocredit is tremendous. Its support has had a positive impact on many of the 65,000 people who live on our company’s tea estates. This means plenty of social benefits as well as ecological improvements, because we follow a sustainable model of farming,” says Sanjay Bansal, Chairman & Managing Director of DOTEPL.
Both the owners and the workers benefit from the restoration of the estates. Sanjay Bansal is very clear about this. He says that a businessman – or woman – with a heart will benefit people more than an idealist without strong knowledge or a solid business plan. You can read more about DOTEPL in part 1 of our partner story, here.