MANSHERA - Hazara and Malakand divisions are blessed with different ecological zones, salinity free lands and better climate conditions, making it suitable for tea cultivation.

The initial work on tea cultivation was started in 1958 in the country and later a project was launched through Pakistan Agriculture Research Institute in 1976 that led to establishment of (NTHRT) at Shinkyari Mansehra in 1986.

Later on, black tea processing unit was setup in 2001 and green tea factory in 2005 while a modern processing plant imported from Turkey was installed at the national institute spread on 50 acres.

According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, tea imports during July-February 2021-22 was recorded at $423.466 million against the imports of $379.314 million during July-February 2020-21, showing a substantial increase of 11.64 percent.

In terms of quantity, the tea imports increased by 3.62 percent during the period under review as these went up from 171,469 metric tons in 2020 to 177,671 metric tons in 2021. On year-on-year basis, the tea imports increased by 59.56 percent during February 2022 as compared to the same month of last year. The tea imports during February 2022 were recorded at $68.886 million against the imports of $43.172 million in February 2021.

Dr Abdul Waheed, Director National Tea and High-Value Crop Research Institute (NTHRT), Shinkyari said that over 64,000 hectares land in Khyber Pakhunkhwa and Azad Kashmir were suitable for commercial tea cultivation due to its conducive environment conditions, salinity-free land and high rainfalls’ features.

He said the culture of drinking tea had made inroads in subcontinent during colonial era when the commodity was exported from China and was cultivated in Pakistan.

He said Pakistan was heavily relying on import of tea to meet consumers’ demands and had imported 2,58,000 tons black tea worth over $596 million- and 300-tons green tea of $ 60 million in 2020-21.

Dr. Abdul Waheed said that the country’s tea import bill was likely to cross Rs 200 billion mark in next few years if its consumption continued with such large scale.

Dr Naveed Ahmed, research scientist of NTHRT said that per capita consumption of tea in Pakistan had been increased to 1.5 kg per year. He said it was a lucrative business and up to Rs one million profit can be obtained from one-acre production against Rs 0.2 million investment.

Like olives, he said, tea plants give production after five-year of its cultivation and any farmer having 50 to 100 acres land can start this business and reap its financial benefit for 120 years, adding 158,000 acres land were suitable for tea cultivation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 4,000 acres in Azad Kashmir.

He said all those areas with 100mm rainfalls such as Mansehra, Swat and Batagram were suitable for its farming, adding nine different types of teas were being cultivated in Mansehra while about 350 acres land in Khwazakhela, Matta, Duraskhela and Koza Bandai were cultivated in Swat prior to 2008-09.

He said substantial investment was required to start its commercialization. Out of 64,000 hectares potential, he said, only 80 hectares land was under tea cultivation in KP and Azad Kashmir.  “Normally, three to four hours were required for processing after plucking of tea leaves.”

Dr Abdul Waheed said about 95 percent of people’s demands could be met by bringing additional 2, 000 hectare land under tea cultivation. “We have made tea cultivation on 50 acres land and 27 acres was achieved through private sector,” he said. He said 33 acres land in Shinkyari institute was reserved for tea gardens where research was being done on fruits, vegetable, medicinal herbs, olive and tea varieties besides establishment of 10 acres tea processing unit.

He said the institute equipped with experts and necessary equipment had the capacity to produce four million tea plants and process 10 tons of tea leaves per year, adding the institute exported about six tons of tea to Japan and distributed one lakh plants among farmers.

He said the recent floods have also inflicted damage to tea crop in Hazara especially in Ogi, Siran, Bhattal, Shinkyari and the government patronage was needed to support the affected farmers.

Waheed said tea and olive plants should be declared as forestry so that they would not be replaced by other tree species and farmers should be provided financial incentives to bolster its commercial cultivation. Dr Fazal Bhari, Director General Research of KP Agriculture Department said the basic research work on tea has been completed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and emphasized upon encouraging farmers to go for its commercialization.