Big hope from small tea:
The National Tea Board eyes small fallow land to grow tea and cause revolution in tea production
The extension of small tea gardens under the National Tea Board in Bangladesh’s Northern region has made dramatic changes not only to the lives of the locals but also to the country’s economy. Thanks to the authorities for taking such a bold initiative.
According to the Bangladesh Tea Board data in 2011, Bangladesh cultivated 1.40 lakh acre land to produce 59.13 million kilogramme of the cash corp.
In 2021, the cultivation areas extended to 1.61 lakh acres while production went up to 96.51 million kg.
Major General Md Ashraful Islam, chairman, Bangladesh Tea Board, said: “If our plan is executed successfully, revolution in tea production is near at hand.”
“To establish a traditional tea garden, a huge land area is needed. Besides, it is almost difficult for a small entrepreneur to bear the establishment cost, but setting up a small garden is easy and cost-efficient. Therefore, I prefer small garden,” added Ashraful Islam.
“I think the main reason behind record production is small tea garden.”
The Business Post correspondent visited Panchagarh and Lalmonirhat recently and found that many tea gardens came into being on the homestead.
The owners of small tea gardens said most of their land remained unused; only a portion of land was used for paddy cultivation; due to excellent production and more profit than paddy, they are now turning towards tea cultivation.
“Tea is more profitable and less risky compared to paddy cultivation. That is why I am cultivating tea in my low-productivity land,” said Jahangir Hosain, a small tea garden owner in Lalmonirhat.
Shorif Uddin, a non-listed tea garden owner in Panchagarh, said he is not a listed grower, but has been cultivating tea in around 15 decimal of his land in the courtyard since 2017.
“The land was fallow. My neighbour established a small tea garden and made quite a good profit that inspired me. My annual net income is now around Tk 20,000,” he added.
Not only North Bengal areas, the tea board authority started cultivation in Fatikchari, Bandarban hill areas on a pilot basis. Sources said there are around 8,342 listed and non-listed small tea garden owners in Bandarban that have generated around 31,000 employment.
How to establish a small tea garden
Stakeholder said when a farmer shows interest in establishing a tea garden they talk to local tea board authorities who test soil quality.
If the soil qualifies for tea cultivation, tea board officials train up interested farmers. Camellia Khola Akash School is the training centre, which is basically an open school, where learning is done under the tree.
“It is totally free of cost and our skilled trainers teach them,” said the tea board chairman.
“We train them on how to take care of tea plants, how to collect tea leaves and how to protect tea garden from insects and pests, etc.”
After training, the eligible gardeners are listed and provided with necessary support. The local officials periodically visit the small tea gardens and provide the cultivators with aid.
Establishment cost and profit
After having listed by the tea board, interested land owners develop their land as per the board recommendation. Then tea plants are provided at a cost of Tk 2 to Tk 10 depending on the quality and variety.
Sometimes the government provides tea plants free of cost in case of small gardens or poor owners. Besides, some garden owners also collect tea plants from private nursery.
According to the tea board officials and garden owners, it needs Tk 1 lakh to 1.2 lakh per acre to establish a tea garden depending on land quality.
After three years, plantations stand completely ready for production, but after one and a half years, tea garden starts production.
Stakeholders claimed that annually it takes Tk 80,000 to Tk 1 lakh per acre to maintain a tea garden, and tea leaves worth around Tk 3 lakh could be produced.
However, many North Bengal garden owners are using unnecessary pesticides which increase their operation cost, business insiders said.
After collecting tea leaves, a third party buys them for Tk 20 to Tk 30 per kg based on their quality and time. Then they make sale to primary leaf-processing factory. Besides, some growers go on direct sale.
Then the factory owners bring the produce to auction centre.
Auction centre to be established in North Bengal
The government has planned to set up an auction centre in the area. Thanks to the high growth of tea garden in plain land in North Bengal.
In this context, Major General Md Ashraful Islam said currently Bangladesh has two auction houses – one in Chattogram and another in Sreemangal. North Bengal primary processing factory owners have to come to Chattogram and Sreemangal.
“To keep the increased production cost and waste of time at bay, there has been a plan to set up another auction house in North Bengal while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will make an announcement about it,” he added.
Kurigram is next target
The tea board chairman argued that his next target is Kurigram where a huge potential for small tea garden is waiting to be tapped.
“There is a vast land unused and primarily we have successes. Our target is to turn unused and tobacco faming land into tea garden. If the quality of soil in there passes test, plain land tea production will be double,” he pointed out.
Besides, by the time farmers will observe that tea cultivation is much more profitable than that of tobacco they will convert their land to tea garden.