Bangladesh tea growers harvested a record 97 million kilograms last year. Production increased by 17% compared to 2018, according to the Bangladesh Tea Board. The previous record of 85 million kilograms was set in 2016.
The results are evidence of a renewed emphasis to expand by 2.5% per year tea cultivation on 279,439 acres.
Munir Ahmed, the tea board’s deputy director (planning), told Prothom Alo, “The chairman of the tea board regularly visits the fields while the ministry’s supervision has been tighter. Subsidized fertilizers were distributed at the proper time last year.”
Tea is grown on 167 smallholder gardens in Moulvibazar (91 gardens), Habiganj (25), Sylhet (19), Chattogram (22), and the Hill Tract. New plantings in Panchagarh (7), Rangamati (2), and Thakurgaon (1), where downturns in pricing previously led to the abandonment of several gardens. Factories have since benefitted from investment, and mechanical harvesting is more widespread.
Ten years ago, Bangladesh annually produced 60 million kilograms of tea, a total that has steadily risen. Last year the tea board set a target of 140 million kilograms by 2025. In 2019 the country exceeded its 74 million kilogram target by 21 million kilograms. Tea Association of Bangladesh (Bangladeshiyo Cha Sangsad) president Shah Jahangir Alam credited good weather and owner investment. January 2020 rain showers bode well for the current year.
“The country’s current weather condition has supported tea production. As a result, the production has marked a significant rise,” Alam told the Financial Express.
Bangladesh’s domestic tea consumption is now at 95.2 million kilograms.
“If tea continues to grow at the same ratio, not much import will be required,” he said. Recently Bangladesh turned to India’s Tripura, a newly designated tea growing region north of Bangladesh, as a supplier of Tripureswari tea. India’s Tripura Tea Development Corporation is seeking a free trade agreement that will increase trade.
Imports from India totaled 1.1 million kilograms in 2017-18, according to the Chattogram Customs House.
The volume of tea from Bangladesh imported to the United States has increased significantly since 2010, with the most significant spike being in organic black tea—up 300% in the past year. In 2018 the U.S. imported slightly more than 103 metric tons from Bangladesh, a total that increased 106% to 192.4 metric tons through November 2019, according to the latest available statistics from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
Note the average unit price per kilogram has steadily increased as the volume of black and green imports has increased. Organic tea imports (all types) were valued at $91,000 in 2010, rising to $234,000 in 2018 and then surging to $636,000 during the first 10 months of 2019, an increase of 221%. Teatulia, the international brand name of Kazi & Kazi (K&K), which has offices in Denver, Colo., is one of the few growers producing export-grade tea that is certified organic by USDA and sustainable by the Rainforest Alliance.
Teatulia Chief Operating Officer Tim Bradley told World Tea News “the 106% increase in U.S. tea imports from Bangladesh is not surprising to us in the least; the Teatulia brand has seen high year-over-year sales growth sourcing tea from our own growing operations in the region.”
“With our regenerative farming, fair labor practices, and community-building on the ground in Bangladesh, increasingly U.S. consumers are responding to the unique and attractive story behind Bangladesh tea and the Teatulia brand,” said Bradley. “For the Teatulia brand and beyond, as the quality and (especially organic) production capacity in the country grows, Bangladesh is increasingly seen as an attractive supply source,” he said.
The agricultural sector employs 40% of Bangladesh’s workforce. Agricultural products contribute 13% of the nation’s wealth, which was estimated at $317.5 billion in 2019. The US is the second most important export partner at 12% after Germany (12.9%) and ahead of the UK, which accounts for 8.7% of total exports.