Rasel Khan: Bangladesh produced 96.07 million kilogrammes of tea in 2019, its highest in 166 years, on the back of favourable weather round-the-year and supportive measures. But the ongoing virus pandemic has hit the tea sector as the auction is not conducted in Chittagong. As a result, huge quantity of tea stuck up in the gardens.
“The good yield was the outcome of some initiatives taken in the last few years,” said Munir Ahmed, deputy director for planning of the Bangladesh Tea Board.
There was also no major natural calamities like floods, said Mohammad Ali, director of the Bangladesh Tea Research Institute, adding that steps taken to keep diseases under control through regular monitoring of the gardens were also a factor.
“Whenever we got information about disease outbreak in any garden, we sent our teams and the producers also followed our guidelines,” Ahmed said. In 2019, yield grew 17 per cent from a year earlier, when 167 tea gardens across the country produced 82.13 million kilograms of tea, according to state-run Bangladesh Tea Board, which released the data recently.
The output also comfortably exceeded the annual production target of 80 million kg.
Before the latest spell of increased production, annual output had actually declined compared to local demand, prompting the country to turn to imports in 2010.
Production started increasing in 2016, when yields hit a record high of 85.05 million kg thanks to favourable weather. However, it fell to 78.95 million kg the following year.
The government took a roadmap in 2016 for the development of the tea sector, setting a target to produce 140 million kg by 2025.
Some steps like expanding tea production area and replantation were taken as per the roadmap. Garden owners went for investment and took up expansion projects on the back of good prices.
For the last one decade, tea growers have been investing a lot to expand production areas in their gardens and replant in old areas replacing years-old plants, said Md Shah Alam, chairman of the Bangladesh Tea Association. “This has been yielding positive results for the last couple of years,” he added.
History of Bangladesh Tea
Bangladesh is an important tea-producing country now 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 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 percent 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.
Chittagong is the birthplace of the Bangladesh tea industry.
Historically, Bengal was the terminus of the Tea Horse Road connecting the subcontinent with China’s early tea-growing regions in Yunnan. Atisa is regarded as one of the earliest Bengali drinkers of tea.
Black tea cultivation was introduced in Bengal and Assam during the British Empire, particularly in Assam’s Sylhet district. In 1834, Robert Bruce discovered tea plants in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and other hilly areas in the northeast. This led to the Assam Tea Company being established in 1839 and many businessmen were actively involved with this company such as Haji Mohammed Hashim, Dwarkanath Tagore and Mutty Lall Seal. The company was associated with Calcutta’s Bengal Tea Association. European traders established the first sub continental tea gardens in the port city of Chittagong in 1840, when plantations were set up beside the Chittagong Club using Chinese tea plants from the Calcutta Botanical Garden. The first home-grown tea was made and tasted near the Karnaphuli River in Chittagong in 1843. Commercial cultivation of tea began in the Mulnicherra Estate in Sylhet in 1857. The Surma River Valley in Sylhet region emerged as the centre of tea cultivation in Eastern Bengal. Plantations also flourished in Lower Tippera (modern Comilla) and Panchagarh which in North Bengal. Panchagarh is the only third tea zone in Bangladesh and most demanded teas cultivated here.
Tea was a major export of British Bengal. The Assam Bengal Railway served as a lifeline for the industry, transporting tea from growers in the Surma and Brahmaputra Valleys to exporters in the Port of Chittagong.
Syed Abdul Majid was a very notable pioneer in the native tea industry.
In the early twentieth century, many local entrepreneurs also started founding their own companies such as Syed Abdul Majid, Nawab Ali Amjad Khan, Muhammad Bakht Majumdar, Ghulam Rabbani, Syed Ali Akbar Khandakar, Abdur Rasheed Choudhury and Karim Bakhsh.
The Chittagong Tea Auction was established in 1949 by British and Australian traders. British companies such as James Finlay and Duncan Brothers once dominated the industry. The Ispahani family also became a highly prominent player in the industry.
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