The novel coronavirus pandemic – coupled with adverse weather like drought, excessive rain and pests attacks – brew trouble for tea production in the country.
Due to this, production of the beverage decreased by 10.22 million kilogrammes in 2020 as compared to November 2019.
According to the Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB), in 2019, Bangladesh's tea production was 96.07 million kilogrammes of yield from 167 tea gardens and 5,000 small farmers. Of those, 89.65 million kilogrammes of tea were produced till November of that year.
However, tea production was 79.43 million kilogrammes till November 2020. The production of the beverage decreased by 10.22 million kilogrammes as compared to the same period of 2019.
Despite the decline in tea production, exports of the beverage increased by 1.54 million kilogrammes with one month left of 2020 – over the previous year.
Tea Association of Bangladesh Chairman Shah Alam told The Business Standard (TBS) that tea production was severely hampered by drought from January to April in 2020. Then, production was disrupted again due to heavy rains coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to these adverse situations, the country's tea gardens failed to produce the desired yield in 2020.
Mozammel Hossain, project director of Chattogram's Datmara Tea Estate, told TBS, "Many gardeners are distraught because of poor production thanks to lack of rain at the beginning of the year, heavy rains in the middle of year and the resulting attacks by various pests – including red spider mites and Helopeltis aka tea mosquito bug. Additionally, the price of tea dropped due to Covid-19 pandemic."
According to the association of tea garden owners, the country has a demand of nine crore cups of tea per day. But the number declined to three crore cups in the beginning of April due to Covid-19. The decline in demand put the tea manufacturers, businessmen and brokerage houses in a fix and raised concern for three lakh workers at different tea gardens over their jobs.
There are 167 tea gardens throughout Chattogram, Sylhet, Habiganj, Moulvibazar, and Panchagarh. As a record amount of tea was produced in 2019, most of it remained unsold in warehouses. The garden owners faced, and continue to face, an extreme capital crisis as they were forced to sell tea at less than the production cost. They also struggled to pay the wages of their workers.
The Tea Association of Bangladesh wrote to BTB seeking financial incentives for the tea industry to deal with the crisis. The country's tea growers want to get loans at a 4% interest rate under the stimulus package to sustain production and offset financial losses.
BTB Secretary (Acting) Lutfun Nahar told TBS that tea production has decreased compared to 2019 due to adverse weather. Covid-19 impacted it further.
The country exported 2.14 million kilogrammes of tea till November 2020 whose market value was Tk327.70 million. In 2019, Bangladesh exported 0.60 million kilogrammes of tea. Its market value was Tk194.26 million.
Regarding the lower revenue earning against the increased volume of export, leaders of the association said a large quantity of tea was left unsold when the Bangladesh Tea Board postponed the last two tea auctions of the 2019-20 auction year. So, the price of tea has come down by 47.31% – Tk98.85 per kilogramme – this year as compared to last year.
However, Bangladesh exported: 0.91 million kilogrammes of tea in 2010, 1.48 million kilogrammes in 2011, 1.56 million kilogrammes in 2012, 0.54 million kilogrammes in 2013, 2.6 million kilogrammes in 2014, 0.54 million kilogrammes in 2015, 0.62 million kilogrammes in 2016, 2.56 million kilogrammes in 2017, and 0.65 million kilogrammes. Bangladesh generally exports black and green tea. Of those, the amount of black tea is higher than the other, according to BTB.
Tasbir Hakim, deputy manager of Ispahani Tea Limited, a tea exporter, told TBS, "Our company exports tea to: Pakistan, the United States, the Middle East, New Zealand, Japan, and Qatar. Due to the [novel] coronavirus, sales on the domestic market have declined against production. However, the volume of exports has increased as compared to previous years.
He also said the price of tea was comparatively higher in 2018 and 2019 than in 2020. In 2019, Bangladesh set a record in tea production, but before the record sale of the produce, the world faced a pandemic. Due to the remaining unsold tea, various companies were forced to sell far below production costs.