Bangladesh produced 96.69 million kilogrammes 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 per cent, from the preceding year.
Earlier the tea industry was dependent on import to meet local demand. Tea was regularly imported since 2010. Dispersing the apprehensions that Bangladesh may become fully dependent on import, tea production has now surpassed the demand.
According to the tea board, commercial production of tea was initiated in the area in 1854 when the Malnichhara tea garden was established. The record for the highest tea production so far was in 2016 with 85 million kg of tea. The production saw an increase by 11 million in 2019.
Various measures by the government and garden owners have led to the record production, according to the tea board and tea estate owners. Tea plantation areas are increasing at Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur and Bandarban. Cultivation has also been reinitiated at the abandoned tea gardens. The tea garden owners have increased investment too as they are receiving good prices. Technology has also increased.
Bangladesh Tea Board has been stricter in its supervision of the area and production, said deputy director (planning) of the board Munir Ahmed. Subsidised fertilisers were distributed at the proper time last year. Chairman of the tea board regularly visits the fields while the ministry's supervision too has been tighter, 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.
The tea produced in the local tea gardens are sold at two auction markets at Chattogram and Sylhet. The price of tea has been decreasing in the auction markets due to increased production. Price has been falling in the retail markets too. The tea board allowed the local traders to import 2.7 million kg tea in 2019 most of which was approved till June. Import actually dropped after June on the prediction of increased production. The packaged tea companies are only importing tea in some amount to include variation in their product.
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.
Increased production is sending the price of tea down, said Shah Moinuddin Hasan, president of Tea Traders Association of Bangladesh, and managing director of Ispahani Tea Limited. He stressed measures to increase the quality of tea as it is essential if the extra tea is to be exported to the international market.
According to London-based International Tea Committee, China is the top country in tea production. In 2018, China produced 2.61 billion kg tea while India stood second in the list with a production of 1.31 billion kg. Two years ago, the committee ranked Bangladesh ninth in the list.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.