ISLAMABAD: Cash-strapped Pakistan has urged its countrymen to cut down the consumption of tea to help reduce the import bill eating into the country's depleting foreign exchange reserves. to bring in the commodity, mostly from Kenya.
The appeal from Federal Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal came after it emerged that Pakistan consumed tea worth Rs 83.88 billion (USD 400 million) in the fiscal year 2021-22, The News International newspaper reported. The federal budget document for the outgoing fiscal year showed that Pakistan imported Rs 13 billion (USD 60 million) worth of more tea than the last fiscal year.
The country is suffering a long-brewing economic crisis, however, with dwindling foreign reserves used to pay crippling debt.
Iqbal said that Pakistan, one of the biggest importers of tea in the world, has to borrow money to import it. "I appeal to the nation to cut down the consumption of tea by 1-2 cups because we import tea on loan," Iqbal said while speaking to reporters here on Tuesday.
In the fiscal year 2020-21, Rs 70.82 billion (USD 340 million) was spent on the import of tea, the News Network International news agency reported.
The planning minister said the traders' community has also been asked to close markets by 8:30 PM to conserve energy. Iqbal said this will help the country cut the import bill of petroleum products.
Recently, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail warned that Pakistan's economy could be in a similar position as that of Sri Lanka if tough decisions were not taken.
Pakistan is the world's biggest importer of tea -- known locally as 'chai' --- with the latest government figures showing it pays over $515 million a year to bring in the commodity, mostly from Kenya. Pakistanis drink tea in many forms -- black, green, hot, cold, sweet, salted and spiced -- but the most popular is made by brewing the leaves in boiled sweetened milk.
"Chai" usually sells for around 45 Pakistani rupees (20 cents) a cup at stalls across the country.
People react to 'request'
Iqbal's appeal to cut down the consumption of tea by one to two cups did not go down well with people as they started criticising him on Twitter.
Pak Minister asks Pakis to reduce drinking tea as Pak cannot affort to import tea now #JagoKashmir #Truth about #Pakistan @SheikhSaba14 @rjvraina @World_is_1_home @News18Kashmir @nasiralikhaan @adv_sadaat @Abhi_Sheikh5064 @Junaid_Mattu @AtharAamirKhan pic.twitter.com/6F1w0XO7L7— Dee Ess marathon man (@divyesh56891499) June 15, 2022
"Why should we reduce the use of tea... we drink at our own expense, we don't drink with government money," said Jan Muhammad, 45, a truck driver who says he drinks between 15 to 20 cups a day. "When you drive and you can't see the road... then there is a risk of an accident. That's why 20 cups are compulsory," he told AFP.
At a tea stall in Islamabad's Aabpara market, baker Muhammad Ibrahim said he drank 12 cups every day. "I take three, four cups in the morning, then three in the afternoon and three, four late night," he said. "This is my addiction."
At the same restaurant, Tanveer Iqbal agreed that people should cut down -- even as he and his four children sipped piping hot cups of the drink. The university professor noted tea was routinely served at almost every meeting -- especially those held by government officials. "How will we reduce the use of tea when tea is the main drink in all the official meetings?" he asked.
"The government has increased its expenditure. They travel in big cars with protocol but we only enjoy tea," said driver Muhammad.
(With inputs from AFP and PTI)