In spite of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, five northern districts in the ‘Kartoa Valley’ ecological zone witnessed an all-time record 10.30 million kg output of made-tea last year.
Officials of Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) said the last year’s production of 10.30 million kg of made tea is higher by 0.70 million kg against the production of 9.60 million kg of the previous 2019 year in the valley.
Talking to BSS, Senior Scientific Officer at Bangladesh Tea Research Institute Dr. Mohammad Shameem Al Mamun narrated the history of small-scale gardening-basis’ tea cultivation on plain lands and its rapid growth in the valley.
“Being directed by the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Panchagarh in 1996, the then Deputy Commissioner Rabiul Islam planted tea saplings on Panchagarh Circuit House premises on experimental basis,” he said.
Getting better results, a BTB team conducted feasibility study in Panchagarh and Thakurgaon districts in 1999 and found 16,000 hectares of land suitable for commercial basis tea cultivation.
“Tentulia Tea Company Limited (TTCL) first started commercial basis tea cultivation on plain lands in Tentulia upazila there in 2000,” said Shameem, also Project Director of Northern Bangladesh Project of BTB at its Regional Office in Panchagarh.
Witnessing continuous success of TTCL, other companies and local farmers started commercial-basis tea farming since 2005 ushering in a new prospect in the agriculture economy also creating huge jobs in the valley.
“For faster expansion of tea cultivation, BTB launched the ‘Expansion of Small Holding Tea Cultivation in Northern Bangladesh Project’ in 2015 to bring more 500 hectares of land under tea farming by 2020 in the valley,” he said.
Owners of 10 registered and 17 unregistered tea gardens and 7,310 small holders cultivated tea on 10,170 acres of lands in Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat and produced 51.28 million kg of green tea leaves in 2020.
The 18 companies operating in Panchagarh and Thakurgaon, processed the green tea leaves and produced 10.30 million kg of ‘made-tea’ which is 11.92 percent against the total production of 86.39 million kg of made-tea in the country in 2020.
“In 2019, the 18 tea processing factories processed 46.90 million kg of green tea leaves and produced 9.60 million kg of made-tea,” Dr. Shameem said, adding that made tea production stood at 8.47 million kg in 2018 and 5.44 million kg in 2017 there.
Tea grower Shahinur Rahman of village Buraburi in Tentulia upazila of Panchagarh told BSS that he started `small-scale gardening-basis’ tea cultivation on his plain land in 2016.
“I am cultivating tea on 5.50 acres of land now and selling green tea-leaves to tea processing companies to earn well,” Rahman said, adding that many male and female workers are working in his tea fields to earn better wages.
Labourers Selina Hembrom, Aleya Khatun and Gokul Hasda of village Buraburi in Tentulia upazila of Panchagarh said they are earning Taka 500 to Taka 600 as daily wages from plucking green-tea leaves.
Labourers Muktara Begum, Aklima Begum and Noor Banu of the same upazila said they are leading a normal life despite the COVID-19 pandemic by earning better wages from plucking green tea-leaves.
Talking to BSS, President of Bangladesh Small Tea Garden Owners’ Association Amirul Haque Khokan said small-scale gardening-basis’ tea farming has changed the fortune of many people in the five northern districts.
“Over 25,000 unemployed people, including 15,000 women, are earning well from farm-activities and plucking tea-leaves to lead a better life even during the COVID-19 pandemic in the valley,” Khokan said.