Sri Lanka’s tea production is taking a hard hit due to international competition and falling domestic industry standards.
Sri Lanka’s tea industry takes a hard hit from international competition and domestic deterioration.
Sri Lanka’s finest teas have their own individual characteristics of aroma, color and flavor. Tea production in Sri Lanka is of high importance, having a direct impact on the local economy and the world market. Its tea industry is one of the main sources of foreign exchange and an important source of income for laborers, providing jobs to millions around the country and serving as a source of pride for the Sri Lankan people and their export industry.
Sri Lanka has an established status as a leading producer of the best tea in the world. In recent years, however, a marked difference can be observed between reputation and performance. The export-oriented business is under increasing threat. Complex domestic issues have severely affected productivity and efficiency. Increasing international competition has also had a direct impact on product price and profitability.
Sri Lanka initially led the way in tea exports and was successfully meeting global demand. According to researchers, two main issues are connected with tea production: the vast area of land required to grow it and the intensive labor needed to harvest it. Human rights violations have also occurred at plantations in all major countries involved in tea production. Furthermore, tea plantations have a profound effect on the local environment.
One of the main issues faced by Sri Lanka is the poor wages paid to plantation laborers. Plantations do not give enough wages to pull these laborers out of poverty. Housing conditions are poor and medical care provided on the estates is limited. Over
the past few years, severe economic, industrial and political problems have reduced Sri Lanka’s standing as the premiere tea producer in the world. Today, Sri Lankan producers are facing major decisions regarding production methods, export markets and product range.
The price rise has affected the situation of working class families to a much greater extent. Most families do not have access to electricity and are unable to use kerosene oil for lighting and cooking. On the other hand, fuel hikes have increased bus fares and prices of other essentials.
According to a female tea worker, in the cold climate, they always have to heat water and meals. At the same time, they use kerosene oil for lamps because there are frequent power cuts. Some plantation workers have no electricity at all. Most workers are already shifting to firewood for cooking because of the high price of kerosene oil. She also says that a new burden has come as the price of wheat flour, rice, lentils and other essentials are skyrocketing.
According to reports, tea plantation workers from Hatton and Bandarawela, in Sri Lanka’s Central Hills district, recently spoke about the forthcoming plantation workers’ congress. The congress has been convened by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Hatton and is expected to discuss and adopt a socialist program to defend wages, living conditions and the democratic rights of estate workers.
Aislaby Estate and Farm is still owned by the last remaining British planting family in Sri Lanka. After the Aislaby management increased the actual rate of tea plucking, the workers at the estate visited the local Ceylon Workers Congress office in Bandarawela to have a meeting with the area union leaders and demanded that action be organized to fight the measure. Aislaby Estate has been a significant centre in the fight waged in defense of plantation workers by the SEP.
Besides, the Government of Sri Lanka, with the support of UNICEF, is trying to solve the problems of poor diet and malnutrition in the tea estates across Sri Lanka. Special care is given to the children to promote good diet and educate them on the benefits of such practices.
In the long run, the market and the sector will have to adjust themselves to meet equilibrium again. The government has a responsibility to set up a system to take immediate and necessary steps in times of a crisis like the one Sri Lanka is currently experiencing. Options like forming a government-controlled company are available. But such measures have intrinsic problems as past experience illustrates. Currently, the best mechanism is the Stabilization Fund and there is an urgent need to restore it. More importantly, it is critical that such measures be discussed, keeping in mind the grave situation, and the best alternatives be enforced through informed and committed policies.
The Government is in a stronger position to double per capita income in the next six years. The Northern and Eastern Provinces that hold rich resources for agriculture, livestock and fisheries as well as tourism, are economically active areas at present. These valuable resources were previously denied to the country. Even though there may be a pressing need for high investment to generate higher growth, the real benefits can be reaped from the new space that the government has liberated. Even with a lower rate of investment, Sri Lanka can generate more growth as the current capacity will reach full production in the near future.