Reviving the tea industry

THE tea industry must have a new lease of life to expand both in acreage and also in per acre output to increase the total annual yield to supply the expanding demand of the domestic market. This industry which used to fetch huge foreign earnings in the past is not enough now to meet the domestic demand and a news item published on Monday said the country now imports four to five million kg of tea instead of exporting it to the global market. There was a time when around 80 percent of local production used to be exported. Now it is imported the report said pointing out that the existing tea estates had been suffering from continued stagnation in the recent past. Now the country’s population has doubled over the past 40 years but the industry has only declined. It is heartening that Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) has taken a 12-year development plan from 2013 for developing the tea industry and specially its plantations. Under the plan tea plantations will be expanded to over 6,440 hectare of lands in 106 tea estates.
We believe the government move is a right step but it could have come much earlier to boost the tea plantation output which flourishes in our country due to our unique weather. The move by the Bangladesh Bank (BB) to give low cost loans at five percent interest to owners of tea estates under a refinancing scheme is also a positive step. Under the refinancing scheme the central bank will provide Tk 205.45 crore to tea estates to help them expand in size and achieve improvements in productivity.
They will get the loans from Bangladesh Krishi Bank. The low cost loans are now available to farmers at six percent interest but since tea estate owners are rich people the question remains as to why they should have low cost loans. The existing agriculture credit policy does not allow the tea estates to benefit from low cost credits and as a result, many of the tea garden owners now take loans at 13 percent interest. And the high cost of financing has stalled the growth of the industry. We think the government has rightly identified the high interest rate as the biggest impediment to modernizing the industry and the industry owners should also bear in mid that it is not a charity; they will have to repay it. We also hope that the low cost loans may bring about the much needed change.
Bangladesh has around 163 tea estates mainly located in the Sylhet region, in addition to some gardens in the Chittagong region. Panchagarh in the north has come into the limelight as a tea growing area in the recent past. Tea cultivation needs adequate and uniform rain and sunshine to achieve optimum yields which are available in both the regions. Bangladesh still exports tea now to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UK. It fetched US$ 2.44 million from tea exports in the last fiscal year 13 compared to $ 3.95 million in the previous fiscal only to show how the country is turning from an exporter to an importer. We believe the new move will be able to revive the moribund tea industry and there should not be any impediments in the execution of the scheme.