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Mechanical tea plucking causing unemployment.

Updated on August 13, 2016

A tea plantation in China

A tea plantation in China with women picking and sifting tea.
A tea plantation in China with women picking and sifting tea. | Source

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Large tea estates employ a large number of people to pluck, maintain tea shrubs and plant more tea seedlings. These workers are usually assigned free ratios, wood for cooking, electricity as well as a house to live in. Workers are therefore very expensive because they also need to be paid for tea picking labour per kilo picked. Some tea estates build schools and medical facilities within the farm for the benefit of the workers and their families. A tea plucking machine can output as much as 720 kilo per day as compared to 20 kilos per day for a manual picker.

Tea estate


The manual tea picker.

Manual pickers nimbly pick the bright green, new leaves off the top of the bushes. Tea picking machines cannot differentiate between the leaves and the stacks, meaning it collects a mixture of leaves and stacks, in the process compromising quality of tea. Shortage of tea pickers and maintainers of the bushes is driving investors to tea plucking machines. In tea estates workers are closely watched to ensure that they’re always at work, unlike in other alternative jobs. Where there is no close supervision, workers are paid as per kilos plucked. Youths are therefore shunning tea picking jobs for easier work in urban areas coupled with the fact that they are shy to be associated with working in an agricultural estate.

Tea picking

People picking tea in a field.
People picking tea in a field. | Source

Tea plucking machines.

Tea plucking machines causes massive unemployment endangering the social-Economy of an area. Bans of the same are therefore called for. This has always been a pet subject for trade unions representing tea estate workers. We have villages and schools within the tea estates, which end up being closed down with advent of tea plucking machines. However the land is used by the tea estates to grow more tea shrubs. In this way the gap between rich and poor goes on increasing, especially that employment in rural areas is scares and only available in agricultural estates. Trade unions always oppose mass sackings because it contributes to insecurity. Unemployed people may end up engaging in drugs, alcohol and crime.

Plucking Tea

Plucking Tea in a tea garden of Assam, India.
Plucking Tea in a tea garden of Assam, India. | Source

Special advantages of manual tea plucking.

Tea pickers by hand can be asked to pick tea in various specific ways like , one bud one leaf, one bud two leaves or one bud three leaves, to make different types of tea. High-end tea requires one bud one leave while one bud two leaves is good for Black Tea. Lower quality tea is associated with one bud three leaves. Hand picking method results in exceptionally high quality tea. High quality tea makes it possible to compete with countries that produce tea at low costs especially in Africa. Tea plucking machine is efficient and gives high output. However the quality of their leaves is not comparable with the handpicked ones.

Two leaves and a bud tea

This produces Black Tea.
This produces Black Tea. | Source


Research companies have tried to improve the efficiency of tea plucking machines. A two-person tea plucking machine has been found to have greater efficiency than a one-person tea plucking machine. Tea plucking machines are increasingly being favoured by tea estates now that international tea prices have drastically dropped. Trade unions representing tea estate workers are greatly opposed to tea plucking machines being introduced into the estates. They are known to actively agitate the government to impose bans on importation of such machines into the country. Although they emphasise that they don’t oppose technology, fear of their members being rendered jobless necessitates them to threaten or even organise strikes among the estate workers.



Trade unions and tea plucking machines.

Trade unions are scared of technology in a guise to protecting tea estate workers.

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Kenya is a major tea grower.


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