A group of women plucking tea leaves in Panchagarh. PHOTO: STAR
Tea growers of Panchagarh are frustrated after being deprived of fair prices. They are compelled to sell green tea leaves to factory owners at a price lower than what was fixed earlier by Tea Leaves' Price Fixation Committee of the current tea leaves' plucking season. Officials of Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) and leaders of small growers association think that the production target will not be achieved in the ongoing tea plucking season as small tea growers are losing interest of plucking tea leaves' in time due to low price. The flourishing tea sector of the district is at risk.
Factory owners blamed the government for this situation, they think this is a result of tax being relaxed on importation of processed tea from abroad. Bangladesh Small Tea Garden Owners' Association of Panchagarh observed different programmes in the district last month demanding fair price of their produce. The President of Bangladesh Small Tea Garden Owners' Association of Panchagarh, Amirul Islam Khokon told this correspondent that before the beginning of the tea leaf plucking season- Tea Leaves' Price Fixation Committee, comprising representatives of small garden owners, chairman and members of Bangladesh Tea Board and Deputy Commissioner of Panchagarh, has fixed price of one kg tea leaves at Tk 25, and its carrying cost has been fixed at Tk 1.5, making the price 26.50 taka per kg set for the current plucking season.
But two major tea factories, who purchase most of the tea leaves from small growers, including Tentulia Tea Company Ltd. and Green Care Agro Ltd of Tentulia are purchasing tea leaves at Tk 18 per kg instead of the fixed price at Tk 26.50 by the committee. The farmers are compelled to sell their produce as they have no other alternative buyers, Aminul Islam alleged. In June 2014, the tea growers under the banner of the association observed different programmes demanding fair price of green tea leaves. Following the movement Deputy Commissioner Md. Salah Uddin arranged a meeting where the leaders of tea garden owners association and factory owners attended. The meeting re-fixed price of green tea leaves' at Tk 21 per kg. But then factory owners of Tentulia Tea Company Ltd. and Green Care Agro Ltd refused to purchase tea leaves for more than Tk 18 per kg saying they cannot afford to pay a price higher than that since market price of processed tea is decreasing.
Tea growers demonstrating on the streets for fair price in front of a tea factory. PHOTO: STAR
General Secretary of Bangladesh Small Garden Owners' Association Abdul Jabbar told this correspondent over cell phone that the price of green tea leaves' is decreasing while the farming cost including labourer's wages is increasing day by day. The small tea growers are losing interest in tea cultivation in the district due to uncertainty of its price. When contacted, Managing Director of Tentulia Tea Company Ltd. and Green Care Agro Ltd Md. Mosaraf Hossain informed that it is not possible to purchase tea leaves for more than Tk. 18 per kg since the companies are incurring losses. Mosharaf said that the domestic tea industry is going through a difficult time as the government has reduced the import duty on processed tea in 2010 and foreign tea imports started to rise since 2011. The uncertainty gripped the country's tea sector including the district's flourishing tea farming as the imported tea grabbed the market. “Government should impose a minimum of 25 percent tax on imported tea for the sake of saving the country's tea sector,” he added. Mosharaf said the production cost of processed tea is Tk. 150-160 per kg while the auction market rate per kg tea was Tk. 147 on 26 June in Chittagong. We have to close the factory if the government does not take steps immediately to save the country's tea sector where hundreds of thousands of people are employed in.
Admitting the matter, Deputy Commissioner of Panchagarh Mohammad Salah Uddin told this correspondent over cell phone that the authorities of two tea factory are not purchasing tea at the fixed price. “I asked the companies Managing Director to buy the tea leaves at the price that was fixed but he informed me that they were unable to buy the raw tea leaves at a price greater than Tk 18 per kg.” Amir Hossain, Tea Development Officer of Panchagarh informed that the small tea growers have lost their interest due to low price of tea leaves and lower income. "Around 3,200 acres of land has been brought under tea cultivation, which include 403 small gardens, 16 medium gardens and 23 tea estates in the district," he added. The district produced 14.65 lakh kg of tea from over 62.56 lakh kg of green tea leaves last year, emerging as the third largest tea producing district in the country, according to Bangladesh Tea Board officials. There are about 16,000 hectares of land in the district suitable for tea plants. "About 16/17-lakh kg of tea is expected to be produced from 72.59 lakh tea leaves this year," said Amir Hossain.
Since the relaxation of import taxes in 2010, import of tea has been on the rise. According to the Bangladesh Tea Board, the domestic demand of tea is about 6-6.5 crore kg. In 2013, about 6.30 crore kg of tea was produced in the country while 66 lac kg of tea was imported from abroad.