The area around Sylhet is traditional tea growing area. The picturesque Surma Valley is covered with terraces of tea gardens and lush green tropical forests. Srimangal is known as the tea capital of Bangladesh and for miles around one can see the green carpet of tea gardens on the hill slopes.
The area has over 150 tea gardens including three of the largest tea gardens in the world both in area and production. Nearly 300,000 workers are employed on the tea estates of which over 75% are women. Employers prefer to engage women for plucking tea leaves since they do a better job and are paid less than the men.
A visit to the tea plantation in Sylhet is a memorable experience. The gardens are relics from the days of the British Raj. The plantations were started by the British and the manager still live in white timber homes as they did in those days. The bungalows stand on huge beautifully maintained lawns and the service and lifestyle is pretty much unchanged.
A relatively new area that has come under tea cultivation is the sub-Himalayan terrain of Panchagarh. The soil and climate is highly favorable for growing tea here. In fact this area is contiguous with Assam and Bengal in India where tea has been grown for decades. Beginning with only 300 acres of land in 2000, the cash crop is now being cultivated on over 3,500 acres in Tentulia, Sadar and Atoari upazilas of Panchagarh. It can be expanded to ultimately cover about 60,000 acres.
The humus content in the soil here is more than in the traditional tea-growing areas of Sylhet. The tea produced in Panchagarh is supposedly much better in quality than that of Sylhet. Several nurseries have been set up in Panchagarh and Thakurgaon to supply high quality saplings to the tea gardens. This promises to be a good avenue of employment for the locals and chances of increased exports of tea. As of now Bangladesh exports tea to Pakistan and Russia. This may soon reach wider markets and become everyone’s cup of tea.