Just across the border from India’s acclaimed Darjeeling, Ilam is Nepal’s best-known tea producing area. On a clear day, one can see Mt Everest standing hundreds of miles away nestled among the other Himalayan high peaks. Since Nepal was never colonized, all of the tea production in this region has been self-organized, and as a result, Nepal has a higher number of cooperatively run factories than across the border in India.
The Tinjure Cooperative is Nepal’s first cooperatively owned and operated factory. In the early 1990s, local villagers banded together and sold their harvested green leaf collectively to a nearby factory. In 2013 they raised the funds to establish their own processing facility to produce finished tea. Today the Tinjure Cooperative is comprised of 240 members who both grow and process the tea. “Tinjure” itself literally means “3 – Hills” referring to the 3 villages represented by the co-op.
By processing their own teas as a co-op, farmers at Tinjure earn 20 times more than selling the same green leaf to privately run factories. By placing the value of the finished tea back in the hands of those making it, the hope is that youth leaving rural communities for the cities may be enticed to come back and pursue economic opportunities in tea.
Through our Global Tea Exchange program, Young Mountain Tea has brought our partner producer in Kumaon, Desmond Birkbeck, to meet the team at Tinjure and see how a co-op works. Since then he has organized local government officials to learn more about this model and see if it is a viable option for Kumaon growers and producers.