The export of tea has slightly increased in recent times apparently for quality enhancements, focus on retail packs and production being higher than domestic consumption.
Manufacturers are expressing optimism, saying that if the amount of investment in gardens increases in the coming days, Bangladesh would be able to attain its export target. Darjeeling Silver Needle White Tea
But state-run Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) has exorbitant expectations, saying the export target for 2025 was anywhere from 15 million kilogrammes (kgs) to 20 million kgs.
It is a far cry from trends in the past two decades or so.
The highest amount of tea exported in a year was 13.65 million kilogrammes (kgs), but it was way back in 2002, according to the BTB.
The annual export figure has since greatly fluctuated, reaching as low as 0.54 million kgs in both 2013 and 2015.
It hovered at around 0.6 million kgs in 2018 and 2019 before spiking to 2.17 million kgs in 2020 and then falling to 0.68 million kgs in 2021.
Till November this year, around 0.75 million kgs have been exported.
Exports depend on production which has mostly catered to domestic consumption.
The highest amount produced was 96.50 million kgs in 2021. Domestic consumption for that year is not available.
But it is available for 2019, when production stood at 96.07 million kgs, slightly higher than the domestic consumption of 95.20 million kgs.
The amount left after local demand is met is exported and the BTB is working to increase that figure, Ashraful Islam, chairman of Bangladesh Tea Board, told The Daily Star recently.
Tea testing and quality control courses were introduced earlier this year, he said.
"For this reason, we are getting some tea of better quality than before. The auction price has also increased a bit. Some incentives are being given in case of export which was not there before," Islam added.
The quality of tea should be enhanced alongside production as only then can an upward trend in export can be maintained, said Shamim Khan, managing director of the Halda Valley Food and Beverage.
Bangladesh has potential in future export and also some challenges, he said.
Many gardens lack proper management and investment, for which production is quite low compared to that in neighbouring countries, he added.
"…there are many other things that are being worked on. If we succeed there, it will be possible to produce one and a half times more tea than what is being produced in the current year," Khan added.
The Halda currently exports tea to four countries -- China, England, Kuwait and Oman -- and talks are ongoing over sending products to three new destinations.
Bangladeshi manufacturers say China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Japan and India currently control the global tea market.
India, China and Sri Lanka are far ahead of Bangladesh in terms of pricing in the competitive market, exporting tea at a far lower price, they said.
The cost of production in Bangladesh is high due to various reasons and for this Bangladesh is still lagging far behind, they said.
Earlier Bangladesh used to export tea in bulk packs of 20 kgs or 50 kgs, said a top official of a company associated with tea exports, on the condition of anonymity.
There was no drive on the consumer pack whereas in retail the focus is on the packs or bands, he said, adding that at present, exports were increasing due to focus on these aspects in some companies.
He went on to say that some companies have recently focused on tea exports and new markets were also being created.
These include Cyprus, Hong Kong, Solomon Islands, Mauritius, France, Greece and Lebanon. Tea is currently exported to 25 countries, according to the BTB.
Bangladesh was the world's fifth highest tea exporting country back in the 1990s, when international demand was high considering the good quality of local blends, it said BTB.
Bangladesh is currently listed as the world's ninth largest tea producer, accounting for around 2 per cent of the world's total production, according to Bangladesh Tea Association, a platform of tea garden owners.
Silver Needle White Tea Organic The 166 tea estates in the country cover almost 2,80,000 acres of land, it said.
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