By Ashis Biswas
In Bangladesh, the tea industry is thriving on the strength of rising income levels within the country. Apparently, because they earn more, people tend to drink more tea. Average per capita consumption has risen according to some estimates, almost five fold, from around 90 to over 500 grammes during the past decade. As a result, many people consume several cups a day, a habit they share with their Indian counterparts, especially those living in the E/NE states.
In recent months, the production as well as prospects of tea have been hit hard by the ongoing Corona pandemic, along with the effects of global warming. Because of generally higher summer temperatures, longer rainless spells and the uncertainties of the monsoon, the longevity as well as yield from standing plants have been affected. Only plantations/gardens located at comparatively higher altitudes fare relatively better. There are over 160 plantations covering around 62,000 hectares, where nearly 700,000 workers are employed. Some 7000 smaller plots are also cultivated.
According to Dhaka media reports, the provisional estimate for this year’s production (figures up to Dec 2019) is around 86.39 million kilos, which is 10 per cent less on a year to year basis. Industry circles had expected a greater decline because of the Covid 19 pandemic impact. To a certain extent, the situation was saved because of unusual winter rains in 2020.
While global tea industry expects a $44.3 billion turnover in 2021, the share of Bangladesh, at around $2.5 billion seems small. However Bangladesh Tea Board plans to reach a big step up in production figure by 2025 — not least because the growing domestic market demand has to be met.
In the1990s, Bangladesh was among the top five tea exporters, before home consumption and sales rose. The country has to import certain varieties from abroad, to meet specialized local demands. Green tea is mostly imported from china, but most of the ‘black’ tea comes from India. Viet Nam and Indonesia also export some varieties to Bangladesh. An intriguing factor is that a few imported varieties cost less than some homegrown products. Till recently, around 19 per cent of the domestic consumption had to be imported, but the figure is reducing currently.
Among emerging trends, there is growing interest in the use of tea bags. At home too, a few plantations are experimenting with the specialized production of organic environment-friendly teas, keeping in mind the new demands from developed countries. There are interesting trends among major tea importing countries as well. For instance, in recent years, orders from the major UK/Russian markets have declined. On the other hand, there has been greater demand from the Middle East and nearby regions. Iran is a major buyer of tea . Bangladesh has also been exporting to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan of late. On average however, home demand has been rising at a steady 3 per cent annually.
Curiously, contrary to popular perceptions, there has been some increase in demand from the US especially from the younger generation, according to some reports. Among the new/first generation tea drinkers, there has been a tendency to blend/mix different types of green and other tea with other liquids/beverages by way of experimentation. Clearly good year or bad, the cup that cheers is not about to go out of fashion anytime soon. (IPA Service)