Tea growers worried over low prices

Tea growers of Panchagarh yesterday staged a demonstration at Sher-e-Bangla intersection of the Panchagarh-Dhaka highway, demanding a fair price for raw tea leaves in the ongoing harvesting season.

Jointly organised by the Panchagarh District Tea Garden Owners Association and Panchagarh District Tea Growers' Rights Implementation Committee, speakers at the protest threatened to launch tougher movements if their demand is not met immediately.

The growers alleged they are being deprived of fair prices as a syndicate of tea factory owners have been intentionally dropping the purchasing price of tea leaves during the peak harvesting season, between May and October, for the last two or three years.

As a part of the factory owners' ill motive, they dropped the purchasing price of raw tea leaves to Tk 12-14 per kilogramme (kg) from Tk 22-26 per kg within just two months since the harvest began in March, pushing growers into a tight corner.

On various pretexts, factory owners are also curtailing 15 per cent to 40 per cent of the total weight of the tea leaves being supplied by farmers. As a result, growers are getting less than Tk 10 per kg for their tea leaves, which is much less than the production cost.

The speakers also sought government intervention in setting up a tea auction market and state-owned tea factory in the fast-growing area as it would help local tea growers get fair prices for their produce.

They alleged that the syndicate of factory owners also influenced the tea board authority to refrain from setting up a state-owned factory in Panchagarh while a proposal was submitted primarily in this connection.

Md Sayed Ali, president of the Panchagarh District Tea Growers' Rights Implementation Committee, Md Jahangir Alam, general secretary, and others addressed the event.

Earlier on Wednesday and Thursday, local tea farmers organised processions for the same cause in the Tentulia and Panchagarh towns.

When contacted, Mohammad Shamim Al Mamun, senior scientific officer of the Bangladesh Tea Board's regional office in Panchagarh, said that the price of raw tea leaves has not been fixed yet in the district.

Regarding how factory owners quote less weight that what is being supplied by farmers, Mamun said that the practice is completely unethical.

"They may reject the leaves if they are damp, over matured or for other causes but after receiving the full supply, they cannot curtail a certain percentage from the total weight," he added.