High tea imports push Pakistan to enhance local production

Farmers reluctant to grow tea as it takes 5-6 years for first picking


“Pakistan has huge potential to become self-sufficient in the tea sector. If we plant tea on an additional 2,000 hectares of land offered by the government and invested by private companies, we can meet 95% of our national demand,” said Dr Abdul Waheed, Director of National Tea and High-Value Crop Research Institute, PARC in an interview with China Economic Net (CEN).

“In collaboration with China, we have done much research, including the National Tea Research Institute, which was built upon the recommendation of Chinese researchers and was later renamed National Tea and High-Value Crop Research Institute. After this, commercialisation should be followed,” he suggested.

Pakistan’s heavy reliance on import of tea is calling for enhanced production capacity. During 2021, Pakistan imported 2,258,000 kg of black and green tea, costing $596 million.

In the first three quarters of fiscal year 2021-22, Pakistan’s tea imports increased 11.95% as compared to the corresponding period of previous year.

“We have 64,000 hectares of land suitable for tea plantation. But now less than 80 hectares are devoted to tea plantation. In the first year, at least we should start from 2,000 to 10,000 hectares under public-private partnership,” he said.

“We have the capacity of 4 million plants per annum, rather than import, we have the capacity. If you look at olive, people wait for three or four years before they get the fruit, but then the oil extracted can be sold at a very high price. The same case applies to tea,” he said.

Regarding legislation, Waheed suggests tea plants be declared as forestry so that they won’t be replaced by other tree species.

“Farmers are reluctant to grow tea because it took at least five to six years for the first picking,” he explained.

“Tea planting can be promoted through cooperative farming and government subsidies. For private farmers, they have their own land and need incentives from the government,” he told CEN.

Providing incentives such as loans free of interest to growers during the gestation period is also a practice adopted by China, a major tea exporter to Pakistan, to motivate new tea farmers.

“The natural law determines the long growth period of tea trees. Through modern technology, we can shorten the period from 7-10 years to 3-5 years, but once the tea leaves are picked, the trees can be in use for several decades,” said Professor Hu Bo from Zhangzhou College of Science and Technology, China, located in a famous city of tea, Zhangzhou.

“But most important of all, when farmers find that growing tea brings much more benefits than other crops, they will choose it. This relies on benign development of the industry,” he added.

Currently, tea growers in Zhangzhou have earned over 35% of their income by selling tea leaves. The local tea industry spans the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors with a wide range of products and services provided, including tea leaves, tea-made food, tea sets as well as tea-based tourism, education and culture.

“In Pakistan, there is also need for a complete link chain for plantation, production, processing and then marketing,” said Waheed, a frequent visitor to China’s tea production bases and universities.

Exchanges with China

Zhangzhou College of Science and Technology, the only foreign aid training base in China that focuses on tea, has trained over a dozen Pakistani participants over the years.

“Pakistan used to have very limited tea varieties. It is through such training that Pakistani participants brought back the technology to grow and process Oolong Tea and red and white tea,” revealed Cai Shiwen, Director of International Department of the college.

China is among the top 10 tea exporters to Pakistan. In 2021, it exported $5.32 million worth of tea to Pakistan and provides 42% of the imported green tea. Meanwhile, it is surprising to find that Pakistan is also exporting tea to China.

According to the General Administration of Customs of China, Pakistan exported over 5,000 kg of red tea and other fermented tea in the first four months of 2022. Not a large amount, but it is still inspiring.

Guangzhou Quality Import and Export General Manager Furqan Mawani told CEN that his company imports over a hundred tons of green and red tea from Pakistan.

Through e-commerce platforms, the products reach wholesalers and end-consumers all over the country.

“Pakistani teas are known for their strong flavourful taste and rich aromas. But another reason why Pakistani tea products have a place in the Chinese market is because of the relationship and bond the two countries share,” explained Mawani.

“People of China and Pakistan are willing to share and get to know about each other’s cultures. As tea is an integral part of Pakistan and China culture, it is inevitable that they are attracted to Pakistani tea.”

As the concepts of milk tea and health preservation are gaining traction among the young population in China, he expects more export of green and red tea from Pakistan.

“The commercial value of Pakistan’s tea, once fully tapped, can be beyond imagination,” Mawani said.




Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2022.

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