CHITWAN, Feb 12: The history of tea cultivation in Nepal is 160 years old. It was initiated by Gajraj Singh Thapa of Ilam, who began cultivating tea by planting tea bushes in 1920. Since then, Nepali tea has become a prominent export commodity for the country.
Bishnu Prasad Bhattarai, the executive director of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, said that the country esports tea even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nepal has not prioritized tea cultivation enough despite its potential to generate substantial income for the country. During the pandemic, Nepal exported 11,920 metric tons of tea, possibly making it the only item exported during this challenging period,” Bhattarai said.
Bhattarai said that tea is cultivated in an area of 20,212 hectares in Nepal. The history of commercial cultivation of tea in Nepal isn’t very old.
"After the then King Birendra declared Jhapa, Ilam, Panchthar, Dhankuta and Tehrathum districts of eastern Nepal as tea regions in 2039 BS, tea cultivation became widespread at the level of small farmers," he said, "Now Nepali tea has access to the world market."
The government had moved ahead with the goal of expanding tea cultivation in eastern Nepal and coffee cultivation in central Nepal’s districts such as Gulmi, Palpa, Parbat, Arghakhanchi. He said that recently tea is expanding in Baglung, Myagdi, Kaski and other districts as well.
More than 15,000 farmers are directly engaged in tea cultivation in Nepal with more than 60,000 workers involved in it in some other way. Farmers produce 26,379 metric tons of tea annually. About 60 percent of the tea produced in Nepal is exported.
According to the statistics of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, Nepal exported 16,594 metric tons of tea worth Rs 3.937 billion in the last fiscal year.
In the last fiscal year, Nepal experienced a notable increase in tea production, surpassing the previous year's output by 4,100 metric tons. Data from the Department of Customs revealed that during the fiscal year 2022/23, a total of 12,494 metric tons of tea were exported from the country.
Despite the export of indigenous tea, Nepal also imports some amount of tea from India. According to Executive Director Bhattarai, affluent families particularly import special tea from Achham. Last fiscal year, Nepal imported 203 metric tons of tea. Nepali tea finds its way to various international markets including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Japan, and others.
He said that it is important to increase the consumption of domestic tea within the Nepali market to mitigate the expanding trade deficit. The board also held a tea exhibition at Narayani Bank in Chitwan considering the same.
Tea exhibition was held on 9th and 10th of February with the main slogan 'Consume locally produced tea, become healthy, prosperous and independent'. Tea production farmers from all over the country showcased their products in the exhibition. Information from tea tasting to tea brewing methods was shared during the exhibition.
Bhattarai said that the promotion of Nepali tea consumption could significantly benefit the overall domestic production of Nepal. “Nepali consumers are not consuming tea as much as desired, with Nepali rupees being diverted towards foreign-brand liquors instead,” he said.
“Tea has the potential to help combat alcohol addiction,” he said, “It is important to focus on the specialized quality of ready-made tea, rather than solely prioritizing numerical production, to meet the demands of Nepali consumers.”
Likewise, Bhattarai said that domestic tea consumption in Nepal is significantly lower compared to neighboring countries.