Bangladesh’s Tea Industry: History, Production, and Labor

Bangladesh, a country located in South Asia, is a significant producer of tea. It is the 12th largest tea producer globally, with a history of tea cultivation that dates back to British rule. Today, the country has 166 commercial tea estates, including some of the world’s largest working plantations, which account for 3% of global tea production and employ more than four million people. This article explores the history of Bangladesh’s tea industry, its current production, and the labor force involved in the cultivation of tea.


Tea cultivation in Bangladesh can be traced back to the Tea Horse Road connecting the subcontinent with China’s early tea-growing regions in Yunnan. Black tea cultivation was introduced in Bengal and Assam during the British Empire. The Assam Tea Company was established in 1839, and the first subcontinental tea gardens were established in the port city of Chittagong in 1840, using Chinese tea plants from the Calcutta Botanical Garden. Commercial cultivation of tea began in the Mulnicherra Estate in Sylhet in 1857. Tea was a major export of British Bengal, and the Assam Bengal Railway served as a lifeline for the industry, transporting tea from growers in the Surma and Brahmaputra Valleys to exporters in the Port of Chittagong. In the early twentieth century, local entrepreneurs founded their own companies, such as Syed Abdul Majid, Nawab Ali Amjad Khan, Muhammad Bakht Majumdar, Ghulam Rabbani, Syed Ali Akbar Khandakar, Abdur Rasheed Choudhury, and Karim Bakhsh. The Chittagong Tea Auction was established in 1949 by British and Australian traders.


Tea is the second largest export-oriented cash crop of Bangladesh, following jute. The industry accounts for 1% of national GDP. Tea-producing districts include Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sylhet, Chittagong, Panchagarh, Brahmanbaria, and Rangamati. Once a major world exporter, Bangladesh is now a net importer of tea. The rise of the Bangladeshi middle class has increasingly driven the industry to focus on a lucrative domestic market. The sector is dominated by Bangladeshi conglomerates, including M. M. Ispahani Limited, Kazi & Kazi, the Transcom Group, James Finlay Bangladesh, the Orion Group, the Abul Khair Group, the Meghna Group of Industries, and Duncan Brothers Bangladesh Limited. In 2012, Bangladesh recorded its highest production of tea, at 63.85 million kilograms. The country has over 56,846 hectares of land under tea cultivation, up from 28,734 hectares in 1947. The government has begun to promote small-scale tea growers, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The price of Bangladesh tea is determined at the public auction in Chittagong, and in March 2015, the international price of Bangladesh tea was US$2.40.


More than 300,000 plantation workers are employed in Bangladeshi tea gardens, with 75% of workers being women. Many are descendants of tribal laborers brought from central India by the British. They are among the lowest-paid in the country, with a daily wage of 120 taka (about $1.25).


Bangladesh’s tea industry has a rich history that dates back to British rule. Today, the industry accounts for a significant portion of the country’s GDP and employs millions of people. While the rise of the Bang

Leave a Reply