Despite costly tea imports, no plan to capitalise on domestic production

LAHORE: Despite skyrocketing tea prices, the dependence on costly imports continues to expand as the country’s policy makers fail in devising a plan to capitalise on domestic tea production.
Pakistan has topped among tea importing counties in the world in spite of a huge potential of domestic tea production in the country. Owing to low imports on the back of liquidity crunch, local tea prices have jumped by Rs300 to Rs500 per kg in recent days.
As stocks plummeting due to shrinking imports as a result of stranding of about 250 containers that have been stuck up at port since December, it is learnt that another 250 containers scheduled to arrive in near future.
The low stocks may hinder availability of tea in coming days and scarcity of the most admired drink to aggravate in the holy month of Ramazan, which is to commence in the third week of March.
Pakistan is the world's largest importer of tea, buying more than $600 million worth of commodity last year. However, imports have lately been hit hard by dearth of foreign exchange reserves. The country's dwindling forex reserves- currently enough for fewer than two weeks of imports have necessitated the need to generate funds or restrict its use like the incumbent government did by imposing curbs on imports.
Despite facing huge challenge, it seems that no plan being made to reduce dependence on food imports. Being an agricultural country, increased reliance on imports of pulses, wheat, edible oil and tea necessitates foreign exchange worth billions of dollars. Augmented import-driven consumerism has been proved detrimental to national economy. Being an agrarian economy, there is vast scope of local production of tea and other crops.
Trail-cultivation of tea succeeded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but its area could not be expanded on commercial basis due to reasons better known to policy makers. According to a survey, Pakistan currently has approximately 158.000 acres of potential area for tea planting. If the forest area is included, tea can be produced on approximately 180,000 acres.
Locations like Mansehra, Batagram, and Malakand are excellent for tea cultivation. Mansehra has an abundance of land that is ideal for growing tea and is available for cultivation. Additionally, there are more areas up to Swat valley and beyond.
In order to attract farmers for its cultivation,the government needs to provide incentive to growers for initial five to seven year of plantation. Farmers are not taking interest in the crop as tea plantations process takes six to seven years. The growers can’t wait that long and they step back to grow things that can pay back immediately.
However, if farmers are engaged with incentives for planting tea, they will get more benefits than other competing crops since tea plants will continue to produce for 100 years with far better returns.It may be noted that Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal during his visit to Shinkiari, Mansehra where trails have been successful, stressed the need for local tea production to save the foreign exchange.