Kazi Azizul Islam and Abdur Rahim . Panchagarh : Small-scale tea growers in the country’s northern most district, Panchagarh, are now facing manifold problems that hinder the expansion of such cultivation, considered the most suitable for the area. Tea cultivation was initiated in Panchagarh in 1999. Seeing the growing tea gardens on bordering Indian land, some retired officials of Bangladesh Tea Board pioneered tea plantations there and found the land suitable. They were hopeful that unlike large-scale tea estate in Sylhet and Chittgong, small holding tea plantations would gain ground in Panchagarh.
After a decade, small and medium-sized Panchagarh tea planters now point out that the dreams remain unimplemented with large-scale tea planters grow well only while small ones face many problems including finance and expansion. Visiting different areas of Tetulia and other areas Panchagarh district New Age also found last week that shortage in the supply of seed tea plants, which have become exorbitantly costly, threatening expansion of tea plantation. ‘Per piece of seed tea plant is now sold at around Tk 5, more than double as against a year ago,’ said Layek Ali, a medium-sized tea planter.
Layek, who and whose relatives own a 33-acre land at the shore of River Korotoa, initiated tea plantation four years back. Land of Layek and his relatives were never cultivated but he started dreaming to be a tea planter. About 15 years back, he began to nourish the dream when he noticed growing tea gardens in the Indian border areas, just on the other shore of Kortora. ‘I dream to buy entire 33-acre plot and turn it as a tea garden,’ said Layek who earns around Tk 50,000 per month from his still immature gardens and reinvest that in extension. Kudrat Ali, a farmer at Tetulia, said he was thinking to turn his two acres of land into a tea garden. Kudrat is now convinced that tea would open scopes for earnings more that he gets from ever fluctuating price of paddy. ‘Really substantial amounts of money that required for first couple of years, during sowing and early growing tea plants, discourage farmers from tea plantation,’ Kudrat said. Many farmers in Tetulia and other areas of Panchagarh told New Age that availing finance from banks was quite difficult. Procedural hassles especially documentations of personal land ownerships discourage farmers from taking loan. Official survey confirms that at least 6,000 hectares of Panchagarh land are very much suitable for tea cultivation. But less than 2,000 hectares, mostly owned by large-estate owners, have so far been planted, said a senior official of Bangladesh Tea Board.
It is officially categorised that farmers having 1-5 acres of tea farming would be termed as “small growers”, above 5 acres up to 20 acres as “small holding” and above 20 acres as “Tea Estate”. An official of the Panchagarh Department of Agricultural Extension said motivation and extension support programmes for potential and small tea planers had been dampened during the past few years. ‘Constant and effective supports to small tea planters are required,’ said the official, seeking anonymity. In the past fiscal year ended in June, Panchagarh tea gardens produced more than one million kilograms which is more than one sixth of the country’s entire tea productions. Moreover, the Panchagarh gardeners and officials hope within the next couple of years, production would be doubled as plants in growing gardens will be maturing, eventually yielding more leaves.