Small-scale tea farming changes the economic conditions of ordinary people: marginal farmers and working women. It speeds up growth of the tea sector in Panchagarh. Officials and experts have suggested further government assistance, setting up more tea processing plants, competitive markets for tealeaves and resolving the power crisis to accelerate further growth of the sector. Hundreds of women, who lived in poverty, are now better off by achieving self-reliance from earning wages as plucking workers in the gardens of the country’s third tea zone. The growing tea sector has raised hope for enhancing the standards of socio-economic life and women empowerment in Panchagarh and adjoining districts in future, the industry insiders said. Over 8,000 skilled and unskilled workers, mostly women, have been working in 246 tea gardens, including 18 big estates, 13 medium and 215 small gardens on about 2,000 acres in Tentulia and its surrounding areas. Small-scale tea growers are now happy as the tea processing factories of Tentulia Tea Company Ltd (TTCL) and Karotoa Tea Garden in Panchagarh area are purchasing green tealeaves at Tk 11 per kg, though the rate was only Tk 9.50 some days ago.
According to a survey, conducted by Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB), there are 16,000 hectares of land suitable for tea farming in Panchagarh and nearly 2,000 acres have been brought under tea farming in the area since 2002. Tea farming is expanding by the year in Panchagarh and its adjoining areas thanks to growing interest among the small-scale and marginal farmers. Although landlords and businessmen have set up many tea gardens and processing factories in the tea farming zones of Sylhet and Chittagong long ago, the situation is quite different in Panchagarh. In Panchagarh, most tea gardens are smaller in size and many have been cultivating tea on their own lands and selling green tealeaves to the processing factories and companies. Most small tea garden owners are local farmers.
On the other hand, the owners are rich people in Sylhet and Chittagong tea zones. BTB has taken necessary steps, including finding newer areas for tea farming to expand tea-farming areas and increase tea output in the country to meet growing local demand and increase exports. BTB has identified huge areas in Panchagarh, Thakurgaon and surrounding areas in the sub-Himalayan region suitable for tea farming because of soil composition, climatic conditions and weather. “It will create huge job opportunities and enhance economic activities in the region,” said Panchagarh Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Iqbal Kaiser Mintu. Bangladesh Small Tea Garden Owners’ Association President Amirul Haque Khokan echoed him. Tea is being cultivated mostly in the area on a “small-scale gardening basis” — a concept that has attracted the small, medium and marginal farmers in signs of bright prospects for tea farming. Hundreds of women workers have been earning their daily wages from the garden owners and tea growers. Tea farmer Mozahedul Hassan said he has been farming tea on seven bighas of land. He lifts 50 to 60 kg of tealeaves a week from the garden. Tea farmers Abdur Rahman, Esahaq Ali Mandal and Mostafa Jamal Raju in Tentulia upazila and Motiar Rahman said tea farming was getting firm footing in the area. Amir Hossain, developing officer of BTB, Panchagarh, said there is wide scope for expansion of tea farming in Panchagarh. BTB is providing training for farmers.