Nepal has a long history of tea cultivation. Planting of a tea plant, that Captain Gajaraj Singh Thapa received as present in China, in Ilam 150 years ago is considered as the beginning of tea cultivation in Nepal. Scientific development and promotion of tea started after Nepal Tea Development Corporation was established in 1966. Commercial tea cultivation spread to Panchthar, Tehrathum, Dhankuta and Jhapa districts within decades after starting in the hills of Ilam. These five districts were declared tea zone in 1981 due to their huge potential. Tea cultivation is not limited to these five districts in Nepal now and has been expanded to around two dozen districts including Taplejung, Lalitpur, Kavre, Lamjung, Nuwakot, Solukhumbu and others. Nepal currently produces around 20 million kilograms of tea a year while there is potential to raise it to 100 million kilograms. The Tea and Coffee Development Board data shows that tea was being cultivated in 182,000 hectares across the country by the end of fiscal year 2068/69. Entrepreneurs claim that around 50,000 workers and 20,000 farmers are involved in the tea industry. Tea cultivation is projected to expand to 400,000 hectares in the next 10 years and around 45 million kilograms of tea is expected to be produced, out of which almost 30 million kilograms will be expected.
Tea produced in Nepal has not just fulfilled domestic needs but is also earning plenty of foreign currency through export. Altogether 9.19 million kilograms of tea worth Rs 1.57 billion was exported in 2067/68, according to the Trade and Export Promotion Center. It dropped to 8.10 million kilograms of tea worth around Rs 1.37 billion in 2068/69 but again rose to 9.27 million kilograms worth around Rs 1.76 billion in the first 11 months of 2069/70. Tea is the sixth most exported goods of Nepal and is supplied to India, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Japan and other countries. Nepali farmers are also producing organic tea, without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in recent years and exporting them abroad. Around 60 percent of tea produced in Nepal is exported, and 58 percent of that is exported to India, according to tea entrepreneurs. Tea has received top priority among the exportable goods identified by the Nepal Trade Integration Strategy.
The whole country can reap benefits if tea cultivation is promoted. It is unfortunate that the government has still not been able to provide adequate facilities and subsidies for tea cultivation despite it being an economically important crop. The Indian government provides grants and subsidies to the tea industry in Darjeeling district adjoining Ilam and Taplejung of Nepal. Many factories in Darjeeling procure tea leaves from Nepal and sell them abroad as their won products. The Indian government has also been providing grants and subsidies for tea cultivation in the state of Assam. Another neighboring country Sri Lanka, like India, has also been providing facilities to the tea industry. It is necessary for the Nepal government to also give special priority to the tea industry.
Source: Editorial in Karobar Daily