- The domestic tea market is worth Tk3500 crore
- In 2020, total tea production in the country was 86.39 million kilograms
- Around 12% of the tea is produced in the plain and the remaining 88% in the hilly areas
- In 2020, some 2.19 million kilograms of tea was exported to 19 countries
- Export target in 2025 is 10 million kilograms
- About 2.54% of the total production was exported in 2020
- About 2 – 3% of the total demand for tea is imported
- There are some 167 tea gardens in the country
- There are around 140,000 tea workers
- 5 new districts have been verified as suitable for tea cultivation
English Playwright Noel Coward once raised a fascinating question, "Would it not be dreadful to live in a country where they did not have tea?" Fortunately, Bangladesh is not such a country and in the last 50 years, the country has seen an impressive growth in tea production.
According to the Bangladesh Tea Board, in 2011, some 59.1 million kilograms of tea were produced in the country which stood at around 86.39 million kilograms in 2020. Despite the increase in production, Bangladesh has not been able to export tea as expected as most of the produced tea was used to meet the local demand.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, Bangladeshis are drinking more tea than ever and to tackle the increased demand, the domestic tea market has grown in line. Currently, Bangladesh's domestic tea market is worth Tk3,500 crore and tea exports are also steadily rising.
But the government wants to fast-track tea exports and to do that, they have set a growth target for tea exports in the international market.
The Ministry of Commerce says that in 2020, Bangladesh exported some 2.19 million kilograms of tea to 19 countries, earning some Tk35 crore. The export accounted for about 2.54% of the total production. By 2025, the government wants to quintuple the export by increasing the amount to 10 million kilograms, the ministry added.
Highlighting the steady growth in tea export, Member of Bangladesh Tea Board (Finance and Trade) Dr Nazneen Kawshar Chowdhury, joint secretary, said that from 2011 to 2019, the average export per year was 1.25 million kilograms which increased to 2.17 million kilograms in 2020.
"We hope to increase tea production in the country to more than 140 million kilograms by 2025. If we can do that, our reach in the global market, as well as the local market, will increase further," she added.
Chowdhury said that currently, the draft of the tea export policy is under observation and the Commerce Ministry is planning to provide cash incentives to the tea industry as well.
To expedite the growth in the tea industry, varieties of quality tea need to be developed, which would add value to the industry and attract both the local and the global tea market, said Dr Md Mozammel Hoque, professor, Food Engineering and Tea Technology, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (Sust).
He added that the innovation process would require government support and funding.
Mahadi Hasan, head of international marketing, Jafflong- Orion Tea Company, believes that Bangladesh produces tea of top-notch quality. But he thinks that due to higher production cost, Bangladeshi teas are priced much higher than the neighbouring countries', which is holding the country's tea back from competing properly in the international market.
Under such circumstances, the government can help the tea industry to thrive in the international market by creating supportive policies and through financial incentives, Hasan commented.
Contemporary tea scenario in the country
Currently, in Bangladesh, there are about 167 tea gardens where some 140,000 workers are involved. Despite the rise in tea production, the daily wages of the workers are still very low, a matter which is widely criticised as well.
About the low wage, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said, "Currently, a tea worker earns Tk120 a day and we will see if it can be increased after consulting with the stakeholders."
The minister said that with the wage, most of the workers also receive monthly ration and are provided with free accommodation, education, and health facilities.
The tea from the gardens is marketed by different companies, such as Kazi & Kazi, Jafflong, Fresh, Ceylon, Finlays, Ispahani Mirzapore etc. Varieties of tea are also found in the market, with an additional demand for organic tea. In the domestic market, tea is available from Tk200 – 2000 per kilogram.
Tea cultivation increasing in the plains
Although tea is usually cultivated in hilly areas, tea cultivation also started in the plains of Panchagarh, Nilphamari, Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat, and Thakurgaon towards the end of the last century.
Tea is currently being cultivated on 10,170 acres of flat land.
According to the Tea Board, around 12% of the total tea production is produced in the plains and the remaining 88% in the hilly areas.
There is a possibility of tea cultivation in Mymensingh, Netrokona, Sherpur, Jamalpur, and in parts of Tangail as well. The Bangladesh Tea Board has submitted a proposal to the government after examining the feasibility of tea cultivation in these areas. But unofficial cultivation has already started in many of these areas.
Tea production has started in Cox's Bazar, Bandarban, and Khagrachari as well.
Shameem Al Mamun, senior scientific officer and project director, Northern Bangladesh Project, Bangladesh Tea Board (Panchagarh) told The Business Standard that the government is giving more importance to tea cultivation in the plains. So, every year, one thousand acres of flat land are being selected for tea cultivation.
First national Tea Day
Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first Bengali to serve as the Chairman of the Tea Board from 4 June 1957 to 23 October 1958.
To commemorate his contribution to the tea industry, a cabinet meeting on 20 July 2020 decided to celebrate national tea day on 4 June on the occasion of Bangabandhu's birth centenary.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi inaugurated the "First National Tea Day-2021" at the Osmani Memorial Auditorium in Dhaka on Friday. Minister for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmed, MP, was also present on the occasion.