TOPICS : Tea production needs a boost

A few decades ago, about 75% of the tea demand in Nepal was met through imports. Presently, nearly 70% of the total demand is fulfilled from indigenous production, and the remaining comes from India and Bangladesh. As per a study, the total tea produce in Nepal has increased about four times in the past decade. This shows growing popularity of tea farming here.

Nepal produces both CTC and orthodox tea. But the tea that is high in demand is CTC because of its set taste among the people even though this variety of tea is limited to some places. About 90% of orthodox tea produced in Nepal is exported. It is in high demand in the international market, particularly in Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. In terms of national requirements, it meets around 41% of the demand. The eastern districts of Nepal are well known for producing good quality orthodox tea. But the export potential of such tea does not seem to have been seized.

The tea industry showed a positive trend during the implementation of past plans and programmes. However, expansion of tea cultivation to feasible areas and naked hills of the Eastern Development Region under the guidance of the Tea Development Corporation took place only after the mid-seventies. At that time, the private sector was encouraged to plant tea through loans at low interest rates.

In 1956, a Tea Board was formed to bring about improvements in tea farming in Nepal. However, it has not been active in promoting tea cultivation here. Today, Nepali tea does not mean only Ilam tea. Over the decades, tea farming has been spread to different parts of Nepal. Although the chief tea growing districts are Ilam, Jhapa, Panchthar, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Bhojpur and Sankhuwasabha, it is now being cultivated in other eastern and central districts like Ramechhap, Okhaldhunga, Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk and Kavrepalanchowk.

Despite available markets both at home and abroad, Nepal’s annual tea production has not been augmented as expected. This is because sufficient attention has not been given by the concerned authorities to promote tea cultivation. Moreover, small landholders, who have been contributing a lot to tea farming, are facing problems like shortage of agricultural loans and marketing facilities. The introduction of the National Tea Policy was encouraging since it brought a new scheme to provide low interest loans for tea farming and processing. But it was not very fruitful .

There is a need for timely reforms in to reap adequate benefits from tea farming. Infrastructure for establishing tea processing sites and helping the local tea gain a firm footing in the international market are other sectors where tea officials could focus their attention. In order to earn more from tea farming, orthodox tea export potential must be fully exploited. For this purpose, it is essential to provide special incentives to farmers to grow orthodox tea, which is exportable. However, this is not to say that CTC tea, which is largely consumed in the domestic market, is not to be encouraged.