A new tea garden is being built as an initiative of the farmers in the Jiri valley
2002 – From Civil War to Tea Farming
At the climax of the civil war between Maoists and government forces in Nepal, Parsuram Khadka was pensioned from his job as headmaster and English teacher at the Jiri Higher Secondary School. At the same time many farmers left their farms in order to flee the armed violence.
For Parsuram, fleeing to the town was never even considered as a possibility. At the age of 50 he found his new vocation; he became a tea farmer. This work has occupied him every day ever since. He founded the Jiri Tea Development Cooperative Society, of which he is still the chairman. Along with a few like-minded farmers who had also stayed in the Jiri valley, he began to tackle this challenge. They began to invest their time and savings in the cultivation of tea
2007 – The Year of Learning
For five years Parsuram studied anything he could find written about tea. He travelled to tea farming areas in Darjeeling and experimented with various sorts of tea shrub. The tea farmers’ gardens in Jiri lie between 2100 and 2300 metres above sea level; and it was this altitude which was the greatest challenge when choosing between saplings. In winter the frost can be harsh and initially almost half of the test shrubs froze. After the first five years of learning, the farmers were able to determine the hardiest tea variety and the first kilograms of Oolong Hill Orthodox Tea were harvested and prepared.
The tea production project gained pace. It was Parsuram’s aim to bring farming back to the Jiri valley, to begin to cultivate the fallow land again and for the tea to generate a supplementary source of income. The cooperative transferred their much-needed expertise to the farmers, teaching them how to structure their tea gardens and develop the security needed to build this new livelihood in cooperation with one another.
The biggest challenge was to transfer the long-term profits of the tea gardens to the farmers. Many were in urgent need of food that they could prepare and eat immediately. It takes around seven years before the first leaves can be harvested from a tea sapling – a long time!
2009 – Reap what you sow
So far Parsuram’s exemplary pioneering work with his own tea garden has convinced at least 60 farmers that the supplementary costs would pay off in the long term. Parsuram offers them expertise in planting and nurturing the saplings and shows them how to pick the first leaves and work them into delicious Oolong tea. The first tea was sent to friends and relatives before members of the cooperative began to visit exhibitions and markets to sell their tea. Since 2013 they have been exporting their tea to Switzerland.