Bangladesh is an important tea-producing country. It is the 10th largest tea producer in the world. Its tea industry dates back to British rule, when the East India Company initiated the tea trade in the hills of the Sylhet region. In addition to that, tea cultivation was introduced to Greater Chittagong in 1840. Today, the country has 166 commercial tea estates, including many of the world’s largest working plantations. The industry accounts for 3% of global tea production, and employs more than 4 million people. The tea is grown in the northern and eastern districts, the highlands, temperate climate, humidity and heavy rainfall within these districts provide a favourable ground for the production of high-quality tea.
Bangladesh produced 96.69 million kilograms of tea in 2019, record production in the region in 166 years. Statistics recently revealed by state-run Bangladesh Tea Board shows production was 10.39 million kg more, an increase by 17% from the preceding year.
Earlier, the tea industry relied on imports to meet local demand. Regular tea has been imported from 2010. Leaving aside the fear that Bangladesh could be completely dependent on imports, tea production is now out of demand.
According to the Tea Board, commercial production of tea was started in the area after the establishment of the Malnichara Tea Garden in the 1854. The highest tea production ever recorded was 85 million kg tea in 2016. In 2019, production increased by 11 million.
According to the Tea Board and Tea Estate owners, various steps by the government and garden owners have led to record production. Tea orchards are increasing in Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur and Bandarban. Cultivation has also been resumed in the abandoned tea garden. Tea garden owners also invested in getting good prices. Technology has also increased.
Deputy Director (Planning) of the board Munir Ahmed said the Bangladesh Tea Board has been stricter in monitoring the area and production. The subsidized fertilizer was distributed at the appropriate time last year. He said that the chairman of the tea board visited the field regularly and the ministry was strictly supervised, he said.
The tea board has a target of 140 million kg tea production by the year 2025. Last year, production was 21 million kg higher than the target 74 million kg. This was grown in 167 tea gardens by 1,500 small-scale farmers in Sylhet, Chattogram, North Bengal and the Hill Tract areas.
Over the last several years, the tea gardens have undergone development, president of Bangladeshiyo Cha Sangsad (Tea Association of Bangladesh) Shah Alam observed. Saplings replaced old plants, he said adding that the owners of the tea gardens increased the area of cultivation and boosted investment. The weather, too, he noted, was favourable. If tea continues to grow at the same ratio, not much import will be required, he said.
Tea produced in the local tea garden is sold in Chittagong and two auctions in Sylhet. Tea prices are falling in the auction market due to increased production. Retail prices have also dropped. The Tea Board allowed local merchants to import 2.7 million kg of tea in 2019, most of which were approved by June. Imports have actually declined since June, predicting growth in production. Packaged tea companies are only importing a small amount of tea to include the variety of their products.
The leftover tea produced at the local gardens is now being exported. So far 600,000 kg tea has been exported. The tea produced last year will be exported till the middle of this year.
Tea-Traders’ Association president and managing director of Ispahani Tea Limited, Shah Moinuddin Hassan said that the increase in tea prices is reducing the prices of tea. He emphasized the steps needed to increase the quality of tea when it comes to exporting extra quality tea to the international market.
According to the London-based International Tea Committee, China is the top country in tea production. In 2018, China produces 2.61 billion kg of tea, India is second on the list, producing 1.31 billion kg. Two years ago, the committee placed Bangladesh at ninth position.