Major crops and agricultural products: rice, jute, wheat, potatoes, pulses, sugarcane, vegetables, tea, tobacco, lentils, oilseeds, spices, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, jackfruit, spices, fruit, beef, milk and poultry [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Although rice and jute have traditionally been the primary crops, wheat, maize and vegetables have taken on greater importance. Due to the expansion of irrigation network, some wheat producers have switched to cultivation of maize which is used mostly as poultry feed. Tea is grown in the northeast. Jute, and tea have dominated agricultural exports for decades. Rice is grown almost entirely for domestic consumption. Sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, and fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, pineapples and bananas are produced mainly for the domestic consumption. Rubber plantations, lemon groves and pineapple farms are being built on hilly areas, some of them traditionally used to grow tea. [Sources: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002; “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]

Rice is the staple food in Bangladesh, eaten at most meals. Bangladeshis also eat bread made from wheat. The production of rice was just short of 20 million metric tons in 1998-99. The production of wheat that year was around 2 million tons. Both crops play important roles in helping Bangladesh try to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. Because of dicey weather conditions and floods, rice and wheat harvest fluctuate greatly from year, often forcing Bangladesh to import food. In the past it sometimes needed international aid to meet its food needs. In 2000, Bangladesh imported 1.6 million tons of wheat (mainly from the United States) to keep its population from going hungry. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

About 28.8 million metric tons of rice and 9 million metric tons of wheat was produced in 2005-2006. Population and environmental pressure continue to hinder Bangladesh’s ability to reach it full productive capacity, creating a food deficit, especially of wheat. Foreign assistance and commercial imports are often necessary to fill the gap. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]

Crop output in 2004: sugarcane: 6,484,000 tons; wheat: 1,253,000 tons; potatoes: 3,908,000 tons; sweet potatoes: 320,000 tons; tobacco: 40,000 tons; barley: 1,000 tons; bananas: 700,000 tons; mangoes: 243,000 tons; pineapples: 155,000 tons; coconust: 89,000 tons; lentils: 122,000 tons. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Rice in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the world's fourth-biggest rice producer, producing around 35 million tons annually but uses almost all to feed its population of 160 million. Rice is the dominant crop, accounting for about 60 percent of all farmland in Bangladesh. Its maximum production capacity in 2010 was 32.25 million tons but can produce more than that now. Shortfalls are made up mostly with imports from its Asian neighbours, but when floods, cyclones and other extreme weather hit, domestic rice production falls sharply, leaving the country vulnerable to food shortages. [Source: Shafiq Alam, AFP, July 6, 2011; Ruma Paul, Reuters, February 6, 2020]

At one time about 85 percent of the cultivated land in Bangladesh was used to grow rice (22 million acres of 26 million acres). The warm tropical climate allows for three harvest a year. Even so Bangladesh generally can not produce enough food to feed it population. In 2001, Bangladesh produced 25 million tons of rice, a million ton surplus, It way the first surplus in 30 years. Usually there is shortfall of 1.5 million to 2.5 million tons. Now it does better thanks to high-yield crops.

Rice has been grown in Bangladesh's Ganges delta for thousands of years and the country was once home to 4,000 varieties of the grain, Farmers in Bangladesh grow dozens of different varieties of rice that have adapted to the country's unusual conditions. Some deep-water strains stay ahead of the rising floodwaters by growing as much as five inches a day for a week. These strains are harvested by men in boats.

In the 1980s, rice accounting for about 75 percent of agricultural land use (and 28 percent of GDP). Rice production increased every year in the 1980s (through 1987) except FY 1981, but the annual increases have generally been modest, barely keeping pace with the population. Rice production exceeded 15 million tons for the first time in FY 1986. In the mid-1980s, Bangladesh was the fourth largest rice producer in the world, but its productivity was low compared with other Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Highyield varieties of seed, application of fertilizer, and irrigation have increased yields, although these inputs also raise the cost of production and chiefly benefit the richer cultivators. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989]

Importance of Rice in Bangladesh

M. Shahe Alam wrote in the Daily Star: “Cultivation of rice remains a dominant economic activity in rural Bangladesh and is key to sustaining food security. In fact, food self-sufficiency in Bangladesh mostly depends on rice production since rice alone contributes about 70 percent of the agricultural GDP and 50 percent of the total agricultural value added. Cultivation of modern rice varieties has been the main wheel of productivity growth in rice in Bangladesh for the last three decades. [Source: M. Shahe Alam, Daily Star, December 11, 2010,Dr. M. Shahe Alam is Chief Scientific Officer (Agricultural Economics Division), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur.]

“Cultivation of irrigated winter season (boro) rice has increased tremendously after 1970s and at present the area under modern boro rice production is about 4.7 million hectares, covering about 44 percent of the total rice area. Boro is the most vital rice crop for the economy since it alone contributes about 61 percent of the total rice output. In fact, production of this irrigation dependent rice crop has enabled the country to shift from chronic food shortages towards self-sufficiency in the recent years.

In February 2020, Bangladesh offered farmers a cash subsidy worth 15 percent of rice exports in a bid to compete with rivals and protect farmers struggling with low prices, AFP reported: Dhaka has failed to clinch overseas deals for rice since a long-standing export ban on common rice was lifted in May, losing out to cheaper grain from India and Thailand. In May, it also raised its rice import duty to 55 percent from 28 percent to support farmers amid widespread protests by growers over a drastic fall in domestic prices. “This will encourage traders to find rice markets. At the same time, it'll have a positive impact on farmers," , Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak told Reuters. The traders who collect paddy locally and husk that from local mills will be entitled to a 15 percent cash subsidy. In 2017, Bangladesh was forced to increase imports to shore up reserves after floods destroyed crops and pushed local prices to records. Domestic stocks have greatly improved since then. [Source: Ruma Paul, Reuters, February 6, 2020]

Rice Agriculture in Bangladesh

New strains of rices have helped to double yields. Bangladesh now produces more rice than it can consume. Aman rice is the main variety. Aus and Boro rice are also grown. To increase food shortages, output the government of Bangladesh and international aid programs introduced a high-yielding variety of rice called IRRI. The state-run Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is credited with inventing high-yield varieties which have tripled Bangladesh's rice production in four decades. Total rice production in 2004 was 37.9 million tons. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Aman rice can be raised in inundated land and saline soil. Aus rice cannot be grown in flooded fields and is raised mostly in higher areas of Bangladesh. Boro rice is grown in the winter, mainly in the swamps and marshy areas. These areas have been extended thanks to government-supported irrigation projects. Sometimes government intervention has not yieled good results. Before 1992, to help farmers earn more for their crops, the government artificially inflated rice prices by buying over one million tons per harvest. After subsidies were lifted, rice prices fell and there was some instability in rural areas. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The cultivation of rice in Bangladesh varies according to seasonal changes in the water supply. The largest harvest is aman, occurring in November and December and accounting for more than half of annual production. Some rice for the aman harvest is sown in the spring through the broadcast method, matures during the summer rains, and is harvested in the fall. The higher yielding method involves starting the seeds in special beds and transplanting during the summer monsoon. The second harvest is aus, involving traditional strains but more often including high-yielding, dwarf varieties. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Rice for the aus harvest is sown in March or April, benefits from April and May rains, matures during in the summer rain, and is harvested during the summer. With the increasing use of irrigation, there has been a growing focus on another rice-growing season extending during the dry season from October to March. The production of this boro rice, including high-yield varieties, expanded rapidly until the mid-1980s, when production leveled off at just below 4 million tons. Where irrigation is feasible, it is normal for fields throughout Bangladesh to produce rice for two harvests annually. Between rice-growing seasons, farmers will do everything possible to prevent the land from lying fallow and will grow vegetables, peanuts, pulses, or oilseeds if water and fertilizer are available. *

Wheat and Other Food Crops in Bangladesh

Wheat is not a traditional crop in Bangladesh. In the late 1980s little was consumed in rural areas. But now is consumed in breads and bake goods, mostly in urban areas.During the 1960s and early 1970s, however, it was the only commodity for which local consumption increased because external food aid was most often provided in the form of wheat. In the first half of the 1980s, domestic wheat production rose to more than 1 million tons per year but was still only 7 to 9 percent of total food grain production. Record production of nearly 1.5 million tons was achieved in FY 1985, but the following year saw a decrease to just over 1 million tons. About half the wheat is grown on irrigated land. The proportion of land devoted to wheat remained essentially unchanged between 1980 and 1986, at a little less than 6 percent of total planted area. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Wheat also accounts for the great bulk of imported food grains, exceeding 1 million tons annually and going higher than 1.8 million tons in FY 1984, FY 1985, and FY 1987. The great bulk of the imported wheat is financed under aid programs of the United States, the European Economic Community, and the World Food Programme.*

Food grains are cultivated primarily for subsistence. Only a small percentage of total production makes its way into commercial channels. Other Bangladeshi food crops, however, are grown chiefly for the domestic market. They include potatoes and sweet potatoes, with a combined record production of 1.9 million tons in FY 1984; oilseeds, with an annual average production of 250,000 tons; and fruits such as bananas, jackfruit, mangoes, and pineapples. Estimates of sugarcane production put annual production at more than 7 million tons per year, most of it processed into a coarse, unrefined sugar known as gur, and sold domestically.*

African Rice Strain Trialled in Bangladesh

In 2011, a high-yield strain of rice developed in the early 2000s for dry areas of Africa was trialled in Bangladesh.Shafiq Alam of AFP wrote: Bangladeshi officials say Nerica — the New Rice for Africa, developed by an institute in Ivory Coast — could boost Bangladesh's food security as global weather patterns make that task more challenging. The country initially trialled Nerica, which is drought-resistant and fast-growing, in 2009 and after better-than-expected field results last year a nationwide trial has been rolled out involving 1,500 farmers, officials said. [Source: Shafiq Alam, AFP, July 6, 2011]

“The state-run Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corp (BADC) imported seeds from Uganda and has distributed them to farmers across the country to test their performance in different conditions, its director M. Nuruzzaman told AFP. “We have high hopes Nerica rice will boost our food security in difficult conditions," he said. "It has amazing qualities that most Bangladeshi high-yielding varieties don't have."

“Nerica, originally intended to raise rice output in African countries, can be harvested in 90 to 100 days, requires limited water — it was designed for Africa's drylands — and is very high-yielding, he said. In contrast, many rice strains now popular with Bangladesh's tens of millions of farmers require a large amount of water, forcing farmers, particularly those in the drought-hit north, to invest in irrigation systems and leading to sharp falls in groundwater levels. Moreover, the highest-yielding rice varieties currently used in Bangladesh take between 140 and 160 days to harvest, according to the BADC, which provides some 70 percent of the rice and cereal seeds used by local farmers.

Nerica's shorter harvest period was what first prompted BADC to turn to the rice strain in hopes that it could solve a key dilemma in Bangladesh: how to make up for crop losses in the event of major natural disasters. “The idea is to use Nerica as a replacement crop in case the country is hit by mid-season or late-season floods or other disasters," said Anwar Faruque, director general of seeds at the Agriculture Ministry. “Presently, we don't have a variety to make up the loss. But Nerica can fill the void because of its short harvest period," he said. “It also only needs a little water, so it can be grown in districts (in the north) where we see persistent dry conditions," he said.

Some local experts have questioned the Nerica trials, however, saying they are being rushed ahead without the involvement of the country's main rice research agency,the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). BRRI chairman Abdul Mannan told AFP that Nerica "looks promising" in Bangladeshi conditions and could help boost food security, but warned it was "too early" to give a verdict. “It is a good attempt by the government. But we need to conduct stability tests across the year and across all weather and environmental conditions to see how good it really is," he said.

Arsenic Threatens Rice Production in Bangladesh

M. Shahe Alam wrote in the Daily Star: “About 57 percent of the total arable land area is currently irrigated through shallow tube wells (STW). However, much of the shallow groundwater in south-eastern and south-western parts of Bangladesh is naturally contaminated with arsenic, exposing more than 40 million people to unsafe levels of arsenic in drinking water and potentially threatening food security as arsenic is toxic to rice. [Source: M. Shahe Alam, Daily Star, December 11, 2010,Dr. M. Shahe Alam is Chief Scientific Officer (Agricultural Economics Division), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur]

“Build-up of arsenic in soil associated with the use of arsenic contaminated irrigation water has been shown to lead to elevated levels of arsenic in paddy soils and eventually to rice grains. Arsenic contamination in water and soil can also adversely affect food safety. The arsenic content of lowland or paddy-rice grain is generally much higher than that of upland cereal crops because of the relatively high availability of soil arsenic under reduced conditions.

“This arsenic hazard is a great concern for our country since about 25 percent people in Bangladesh are affected by arsenic contamination due to drinking of arsenic contaminated water from tubewells. Moreover, it is suspected that there will be possible reduction of crop production due to arsenic contamination if the issue remains unattended. The country cannot afford these adverse effects since it is already struggling to meet the ever-increasing food requirement for her increasing population.

“Arsenic contaminated groundwater is the main source of drinking water for about 90 percent of the total population of Bangladesh (WHO, 2001), and an estimated 40 million people are at risk. High concentration of arsenic has been found in groundwater from thousands of hand tubewells (HTWs) under 60 out of 64 districts across the country. The groundwater in these districts is reported to be contaminated to various degrees, and several million people may be at some health risk due to the ingestion of this contaminated water (Huq and Naidu, 2001 and Ghani et al, 2004).

“However, the adverse impact of arsenic contamination of ground water has been categorised as being both primary and secondary by Khuda (2001). The primary impact is on the health of individuals who are exposed to arsenic poisoning through drinking ground water laced with arsenic. After several years of low-level arsenic exposure, skin lesions appear. These are manifested through different symptoms — dark spots, white spot, keratoses of hands and feet etc.

“The secondary impact is an outcome of the primary impact and is reflected in the socioeconomic consequences like inability to do productive works, social exclusion, problems of getting married etc. Therefore, it appears from the available evidence that arsenic contamination in water and in crops is going to be a threat to the lives of hundreds and hundreds of the inhabitants in different locations of the country.

“A case study was carried out by the researchers of the agricultural economics division of BRRI on a family at Ashrafpur village in Kachua upazila under Chandpur district. Mrs. Nasima Khatun is about 45 years old. She is a widow with four children. Her husband was a farmer and had 70 decimal lands. He used to be a part-tenant farmer and continued farming through renting other's land. He also used to work as a petty contractor. Nasima Khatun belonged to a well-off family. Her husband was an elected member of the Union Parishad. They used to drink tubewell water, which was identified by the local government engineering department (LGED) in 2000 as being arsenic contaminated. Unfortunately, her husband was affected by arsenicosis in1995, and became very sick due to arsenic related illness.

“Due to prolonged ailment he eventually lost his working ability. His wife sold their assets, including croplands, for bearing the medical expenses. Ultimately, the family became landless. He died in December, 2004 at the age of 50. His elder son is a rickshaw puller, and his second son is an agricultural labourer. The two elder sons have separate families. Two younger sons are working in a shop as salesmen. The widow and her sons are now suffering from arsenicosis. She and her youngest two sons live together. Their livelihood depends on the earnings of her youngest son. She also works as a maidservant occasionally. She cannot work properly due to her ailment. Very often, she suffers from fever and pain. Since her husband was a village leader and petty contractor, she had a solvent family with good social position. But the arsenic related problems made her family helpless and severely food unsecured, and now they are passing their days in a miserable condition.


Bangladesh is the world largest exporter of jute and jute products. At one time approximately 75 percent of Bangladesh's export earnings came from raw jute or jute products. Jute is a strong fiber from a tall tough plant which is used primarily in making burlap bags. The fibrous substance is also used in making mats, upholstery, cheap paper, rope and twine, and carpet backing. Jute is also used to manufacture textiles for clothes. Unfortunately for Bangladesh the demand for jute declined as burlap bags were being replaced by bags made from other materials, particularly plastic.

Jute is produced almost exclusively in eastern India and Bangladesh. At one time Bangladesh produced three fourths of the world's jute. Northeast Bangladesh is a major jute production area. Jute is sold on the international market either raw or in the form of manufactured goods. This so-called "golden fiber" is cultivated on the same land as rice; thus each season farmers must decide which crop to plant. Jute is processed into yarn and then bags are made with huge looms. The world's largest jute mill is in the town of Narayanganj, Bangladesh. At one time it employed 30,000 workers.

Almost 3 million farms are involved in jute production in the late 1990s. In 1999 Bangladeshi export earnings from jute reached US$55 million. Production that year was 720,000 metric tons, about one-third of the jute production of the middle of the 1980s. The decline in jute production was attributed to a decline in demand and world prices for jute and farmers switching to other crops. Jute production was approximately 800,000 tons in 2004. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest jute producer after India. It produced about 28 percent of the world’s total jute supply of in 2004. Most of the rest came from India. Combined total export of jute and jute products represented about 13 — 15 percent of Bangladesh's annual export earnings in the earnings in the early 2000s. Jute was at its peak in the 1970s. Mismanagement of the nationalized jute industry, labor strikes, and a drop in the use of jute for packing all played a role in jute’s decline. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

History of Jute

During the colonial period, when East Bengal was used by the British to produce primary goods for processing elsewhere, raw jute was the main product. Calcutta became the manufacturing center where jute was transformed into twine and rope, sacking material, and carpet backing. The partition of British India in 1947 put an international boundary between the source of the basic commodity and the manufacturing center and imposed a great burden on Pakistan to compensate for the disruption of the industry that was its greatest source of foreign earnings. Between 1947 and 1971 jute mills were constructed in East Pakistan, but industrialization proceeded slowly. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

In the 1960s, petroleum-based synthetics entered the market, competing with jute for practically all of its uses. The upheavals culminating in the emergence of independent Bangladesh drove many traditional buyers of jute to shift to synthetics. World trade in jute and jute goods declined absolutely from 1.8 million tons in 1970 to 1.5 million tons in 1982. Despite some major year-to-year swings, prices fell precipitously through the mid-1980s. Prices were too low to cover the costs of production, but the government nonetheless deemed it essential to subsidize growers and industry and ensure the continued existence of as large a foreign market as possible. Ironically, Bangladesh's indispendable foreigh exchange earner was thus itself a drain on the economy.

There have been enormous year-to-year fluctuations both of producer prices and of production. An extreme example occurred between FY 1984 and FY 1986. Carry-over stocks had been run down since the previous production surge in FY 1980, and serious floods in 1984 resulted in unanticipated production losses. The price doubled to US$600 per ton at the export level, which triggered the traditional response of farmers; they planted much more of their land in jute, and between one year and the next production rose more than 50 percent, from 5.1 million bales in FY 1985 to 8.6 million bales the following year. History proved true to itself yet again when export prices then fell by 50 percent at the export level and by more than 30 percent at the farm-gate level. The drop would have been even greater had the government not intervened. It bought 30 percent of the crop through the Bangladesh Jute Corporation and persuaded private mills to buy more raw jute than justified by their own projections of demand.

Jute Agriculture and Production in Bangladesh

Jute is grown in most parts of Bangladesh, particularly the northeast, and is harvested from July to September. Jute is considered to be the second most important natural fibre after cotton in terms of cultivation and usage. It is mainly grown in eastern India, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.

Jute is a highly labor-intensive crop, much more so than rice, but the yield per hectare is also higher than is generally achieved for rice. When the farm-gate price for jute is 50 percent higher than the price for rice, farmers respond by planting more land in jute at the expense of rice. With the expansion of irrigation facilities in the 1980s, the economic incentives to stick with rice have increased, but there may be scope for increasing jute production by substituting it for the low-yield broadcast aus rice grown on unirrigated land during the same season as jute. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

The fact that jute production is so labor intensive has played to Bangladesh's strength, given the country's large rural underemployment. Because wage rates in Bangladesh have been lower than in other jute-producing countries and because Bangladesh has the ideal growing conditions for jute, the country has benefited from encouraging its production even when world price and demand projections have offered bleak prospects. High as Bangladesh's share of world trade has been — in 1985 it amounted to 77 percent of all raw jute trade and 45 percent of jute goods — there are realistic possibilities for expanding the share still further. The World Bank has estimated that Bangladesh's share could rise to 84 percent for raw jute and 55 percent for manufactures. *

Jute Production in Bangladesh in the 1980s

Jute production appeared in the late 1980s to be an essential part of the long-term development plan because, for all the troubles and struggles associated with its planting and marketing, no alternative activity offered any promise of being more profitable. Many economists believe the key to preservation of the viability of jute as an international commodity lies in maintaining price and supply stability. That has proved a difficult task. Of thirty major primary commodities traded internationally, only about six have as much price and supply instability as jute. Demand is highly sensitive to price increases, but not nearly as sensitive to decreases; once a portion of the market is lost to synthetics, it is very difficult to win it back through price competition. For example, in FY 1986 export sales remained low despite a 35-percent decline in export prices; the fall in world oil prices had also resulted in declines in the prices of polypropylene substitutes for jute as well, and most buyers that had switched to synthetics chose not to return to jute. In the late 1980s, there was nothing in the offing to arrest the trend of several decades of decreasing global demand for jute and declines in the value of jute relative to the goods Bangladesh must import to meet the basic needs of a desperately poor economy. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

The government has an ongoing responsibility to monitor the jute situation, to intervene when necessary, and to preserve the economic viability of the commodity responsible for one-third of the nation's foreign trade earnings. It sets floor prices and becomes the buyer of last resort. In 1986 buffer-stock operations were extended through the Bangladesh Jute Corporation and resulted in the government's buying 30 percent of the entire crop. These stocks then become available for use by the government-owned Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation or for sale to private mills or overseas customers. But in this case, the limitations of this government tool were demonstrated the next year, when the jute crop was of normal volume but the price of raw jute fell a further 35 percent, to the lowest levels in a decade. The government could not arrest the decline because its financial resources and storage capacity were already stretched to the breaking point. *

Some hope for a better future has been placed in cooperation among jute-producing countries through the International Jute Organization, based in Dhaka. Member countries in 1988 were the producing countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Thailand and more than twenty consuming countries, including the United States. The goals of the fledgling International Jute Organization were appropriately modest to begin with, centering on better dissemination of basic information, coordination of agricultural and industrial research and of economic studies, and steps toward coordination of marketing. It remained to be seen in mid-1988 whether this poorly financed new organization, representing the first feeble effort at a coordinated approach to the problems of jute, would be effective in arresting its long decline as an important international commodity.

Jute Making a Comeback as Green Alternative to Plastic?

Anbarasan Ethirajan of the BBC wrote: Jute “used to be the 'golden fibre' of Bangladesh. It brought much-needed foreign income but it lost its luster in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced. Now the natural fibre has made a spectacular comeback. Exports of jute and jute products from Bangladesh this fiscal year crossed a record billion dollars as demand for the natural fibre is steadily increasing. [Source: Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC, September 6, 2011]

“With growing environmental awareness, jute, which is bio-degradable, has become the preferred alternative to polluting synthetic bags. Until recently the fibre was used mostly as a packaging material. With a diversification of jute products, the demand for jute has increased. “By processing the fibre mechanically and by treating it chemically, now jute can be used to make bags, carpets, textiles and even as insulation material," says Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a scientist at the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute in Dhaka.

Tea in Bangladesh

Bangladesh produces about 90 million pounds of tea annually (a about 2 percent of the world's tea). Most of it is grown on 150 large plantations in the Sylhet region. Tea is also grown Chittagong Hill Tracts. Tea is the second most important agricultural export for Bangladesh, accounting for 11 percent of agricultural export earnings in 2004. Much of the tea is consumed domestically; total production in 2004 was 55,600 tons. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Top Producing Countries: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons in 2008, FAO): 1) China, 1380615 , 1275384; 2) India, 871615 , 805180; 3) Kenya, 374331 , 345800; 4) Sri Lanka, 344995 , 318700; 5) Turkey, 214386 , 198046; 6) Viet Nam, 189331 , 174900; 7) Indonesia, 163297 , 150851; 8) Japan, 104462 , 96500; 9) Argentina, 82270 , 76000; 10) Thailand, 66636 , 61557; 11) Bangladesh, 63868 , 59000; 12) Malawi, 52112 , 48140; 13) Uganda, 46340 , 42808; 14) Iran (Islamic Republic of), 45842 , 42348; 15) United Republic of Tanzania, 37671 , 34800; 16) Myanmar, 28686 , 26500; 17) Zimbabwe, 24139 , 22300; 18) Rwanda, 21612 , 19965; 19) Mozambique, 18257 , 16866; 20) Nepal, 17493 , 16160;

The worlds top producers of tea in 1988 were: 1) India, 2) China, 3) Sri Lanka, 4), Kenya, 5) Turkey, 6) Indonesia, 7) the USSR, 8) Japan, 9) Argentina, 10) Bangladesh. The worlds top exporters of tea are (1988): 1) India, 2) Sri Lanka, 3) China, 4), Kenya, 5) Indonesia, 6) Malawi, 7) Argentina, 8) Bangladesh, 9) Tanzania and 10) Vietnam.

Bangladesh produces tea leaves, mainly for export even though these exports only account about 11 percent of the country's foreign currency earnings. In the late 1990s Bangladesh produced about 56,000 metric tons of tea leaves annually but was capable of producing twice that amount. The main reason it didn’t were falling international tea prices and mis management and regulation obstacles in the domestic tea industry. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Flowers Help Bangladesh’s Poor Escape Poverty

Anis Ahmed and Azad Majumder of Reuters wrote: “Flowers sell cheaply on the streets of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, adding fire to the efforts of Aleya Begum and several other children nearly begging for sales at a stoplight. “Sir, buy some flowers,” the tall, slender 14-year-old said. “I need to sell all my flowers before I go (home). Next morning they will all become trash.” Ten roses fresh from the garden cost 5 taka (six cents), and Aleya said her average daily income is about $4. [Source: Anis Ahmed, Azad Majumder, Reuters, September 27, 2011]

Yet flowers are becoming an important source of income for many in Bangladesh as demand for blossoms for everything from social occasions to national holidays soars. The new interest is helping many slowly inch their way from poverty. “The flower business is growing fast and becoming more popular every day,” said Montu Miah, a 50-year-old flower seller in the northern town of Bogra, 300 kilometers (180 miles) from Dhaka. “Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine any occasion such as birthday, wedding anniversary, a state function or even Eid celebrated without flowers,” he added, referring to the festival that ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Ten years ago there were no flower market in the town, but now it has one with over a dozen stalls, and several more stalls on sidewalks. When Montu began his business 15 years ago as a flower vendor, he earned at most 100 taka ($1.35) a day. Now his daily income is 30 times that, allowing him to pay for a home of his own and put his son and daughter through a local college. Similar success stories abound from around the country, with flowers being used to wish someone well, congratulate students over success in exams or in finding a job.

People now take flowers on hospital visits, instead of the traditional fruit, and flowers are also popular as presents at weddings “I think this change started about 15 years ago when going abroad by Bangladeshi people for work and other purposes increased significantly,” said Imdadul Haq Milon, a lifestyle commentator and editor of a leading Bengali newspaper. “They saw how people in other countries use flowers to celebrate important occasions and have incorporated it into our culture, resulting in the use of flowers increasing here.”

“As a result, people in the Bangladeshi countryside now cultivate flowers on land previously used to grow rice and other crops, because it is more profitable. Grower Abu Salam said he earned 50,000 taka ($675) through selling flowers last year, up 30 percent from crops a year ago. Production has grown so sharply that the country, which once imported flowers from places such as India or Thailand, is now an exporter. “At present, Bangladesh exports $8 million worth of flowers a year, mostly to the Middle East, and sales are increasing,” said Babul Proshad Dasharath, general secretary of Bangladesh Flower Society. “We cannot meet export demands as domestic use of flowers is also rising very fast.”

“Flowers are commercially produced in Bangladesh’s northwest, mostly in the district of Jessore. They come to the cities on trucks before dawn each day and are sold at shops and key roadside spots. Street vendors like Aleya grab some from friendly flower shop owners. They also collect local species of flowers grown in the city’s parks and municipal gardens. The most popular among these are jasmine and the jasmine-like white and yellow shefali, rich in fragrance.

Though Bangladeshis always liked flowers, the cost put them out of the reach of many in the past. One traditional proverb said, “Buy food if you can manage some money, then go for flowers if you can spare any of it.” But a greater supply of flowers has lowered the cost, in turn sparking purchases by people keen on giving them instead of more costly presents. The costs also prompt many people to treat themselves to flowers if they want to. “Flowers are a lovers’ delight among both the young and old,” said Tabassum Nahar, a student at Dhaka University, who spoke at a flower shop surrounded by smiling friends.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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