"Pakistan can grow its tea in good quality and develop tea export," said Mr Hu Haibo, who, once in the 1980s, led a Chinese mission to Pakistan to investigate and designate suitable areas for tea cultivation and open up the first modern tea garden for the country.
"It's been more than 30 years since I left Pakistan. Had I got the opportunity, I would like to visit Pakistan again to see the tea garden we cultivated from scratch and visit my old friends there. I miss them very much," Hu Haibo told media.
Pakistani people love to drink tea, especially black tea brewed with milk. It's the most popular drink across every household of Pakistan, whether the ordinary or the privileged. However, before the 1980s, there was barely a tea garden in Pakistan and the demand for tea could only be met with large imports, which was quite a burden on Pakistan's foreign exchange reserve. In this condition, planting and producing tea became an urgent task for successive Pakistani governments. In early May 1982, at the request of the then Pakistani government, the agriculture department of China's Zhejiang Province organized an expert team to carry out the tea investigation in Pakistan. Hu Haibo, then an associate researcher of Tea Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), served as the team leader. "I was excited when knowing I was chosen for the mission. Pakistan is our 'iron brother,' and it means a lot to help them with my humble efforts."
Pakistan is extremely hot and dry in May and June. The temperature in most areas can exceed 40 degree Celsius at noon. It was in these very scorching days that the experts went to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a northern province of Pakistan to conduct the mission.
During their stay, the team carried out field surveys in the outskirts of Mansehra, Azad Kashmir, Swat, Butgram, and Malakand, where they found the traces of wild living tea trees and measured the altitude, soil value, and the growth condition of branches, leaves, and roots of the tea trees.
After the three-month investigation, Chinese tea experts provided a summary report on the feasibility of tea planting in Pakistan, confirming that 64,000 hectares of land are suitable for tea growing in Mansehra and Swat districts. In Hazara, the area is located in districts of Mansehra, Battagram and Abbottabad.
In Malakand, Swat is a promising area for tea cultivation. Three years after the 1982 investigation, the PARC once again invited Chinese experts from the Tea Research Institute to assist Pakistan in the trial planting of tea. In January 1986, Hu Haibo, together with other experts, embarked on the journey to Pakistan and started the task of tea planting. Hu recalled, “In more than three years, we have done everything from tea garden planning and design, tea garden reclamation, nursery establishment, seeding, to transplanting, drought-resistant irrigation, inter-cropping shading, weeding and fertilization, etc.