No one would dare to go to the areas a few years ago. It was overrun with wild bushes and trees. This hilly spot was actually a tea garden but with hardly any tea plants. An entrepreneur won it by auction but failed to produce anything over eight years. Now the whole garden is buzzing with life, workers busy among the swathes of green tea leaves.
This is Halda Valley. The garden is at the end of Fatikchhari upazila, 61 kms away from the port city of Chattogram. The hundred-year-old garden recently made its comeback as it was awarded as the best tea garden in 2018 by the tea board. The recognition was made on the basis of its production in the year 2017.
The credit of reviving the abandoned garden goes to the entrepreneur Nader Khan, managing director of Pedrollo Nk. Ltd. Before that, the ownership changed hands of six government and private companies in turns between 1905 and 2002.
This correspondent recently made a visit to the garden. Workers were seen busy plucking fresh tea leaves, tossing these into their baskets and tending to the plants.
The senior manager of the garden Md. Jahangir Alam said the initiative was launched with only one worker in 2003. Of the 1,052 acre lands of the garden, 930 acres are being used for plantation.
Nader Khan took lease of the valley in 2003. He found that the roots of the trees and bushes went deep under the soil. In order to turn the soil cultivable he decided to clear the roots using an excavator. In the very first year, 72,000 saplings were planted in 12 acres land.
Half of the tea plants died after a year due to dehydration. Saline water bottles were attached to save the plants but it was a time consuming process. Later in 2007, after visiting a Thai orchard irrigation system, a permanent irrigation system was introduced at the garden.
The system includes a circulating nozzle placed at the end of the irrigation pipe watering for around 120 feet area. Jahangir Alam said this was the permanent irrigation system being followed at Halda Valley. The whole garden could be irrigated at the same time using a pump under the system.
The fertiliser too is unconventional. Instead of chemical fertiliser, organic fertilisers produced by earthworms are used. The authorities have undertaken a project to prepare 400 tonnes fertiliser from earthworm per year.
In each dry season, water crisis is a common problem faced by every tea garden, but Halda Valley is free of such problems. It produced the highest amount of tea, 3,717 kg, per hectare in 2017 while the average amount across the country was 1,477 kg per hectare. Last year, Halda produced 3,801 kg tea per hectare when the average production in the country was 1,529 kg. Total production was 900,000 kg in last year.
Munir Ahmed, deputy director (planning) of the tea board, said abandoned gardens like that of Halda Valley have started contributing to the production of the country-which is an outcome of the government policy. Its example is followed by others, he observed.
After following the example of the permanent irrigation system of Halda, production at Karnafuli tea garden increased too, said the manager of the garden, Shafiqul Islam.
After yielding black tea, Halda has started producing white tea too. This is an expensive tea processed from the buds of Camellia sinensis. Halda Valley is marketing the tea as 'silver needle white tea'. Specialised green tea is being made from China bush 1 and 2. A 'tea master' from China verifies the tea each year. Such expensive products are being sold at Tk 8,000-11,000 per kg.
Just like the other gardens, the tea of Halda Valley too is sent to auctions. The owners of the garden may also market a limited amount of tea after paying taxes. Halda Valley exported tea for the first time to China. It received a new export order from Kuwait too.
Nader Khan said. "I want this to become an ideal tea garden . Hunting is forbidden here to save the balance of nature. The natural forests too have been preserved. It's a huge achievement that many are following the example of Halda Valley garden."
*This piece, originally appearing in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.