Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the ecological and economic tensions between two temporal registers of tea plantation agriculture: perishability and perenniality. Freshly plucked tea must be processed within hours of picking, and tea workers must pluck and prune bushes nearly year-round. In India, tea industry leaders have long struggled with the question of how to extract capital amid these temporal constraints. This paper links multiple attempts to do so over the last 75 years. These include, first, efforts that began after Indian independence to use new--faster--factory processing methods to create a domestic Indian market for tea. The growth of an Indian domestic market not only changed the temporal orientation of production of tea but also yielded a product that steeped faster and adapted to the rhythms of domestic and working life in India. In recent years, a second temporal concern has arisen. Tea bushes are aging and losing productivity. The problem of aging bushes has led regulators and industry reformers to promote a shift in tea cultivation, from large plantations to smallholder farms. In this paper, I show how technological interventions into botanical, domestic, factory and financial temporalities sustain colonially derived agrarian ecologies, even as they create the conditions for the extension of neoliberal market logics into those same ecologies.