No decision on tea imports, smallholders to be consulted
The Government has assured producers, particularly smallholders that no decision would be taken to endanger the future of Sri Lanka’s tea industry as per proposals to import cheap teas.
Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, speaking at the annual general meeting of the Ceylon Planters Society in Colombo last week, said any decision on tea imports would be based on consultations with tea smallholders.
This comes in the wake of recent proposals by exporters to increase export revenue by packaging imported cheap teas under the Ceylon Tea brand.
He noted that the smallholders comprise 75% of the industry with approximately 400,000 dependents.
But he pointed out at the same time they should consider this type of proposals in a bid to scale up the ladder in terms of revenue generation.
Mr Samarasinghe observed that they need to work towards ensuring that while maintaining quality they would also be able to penetrate a price sensitive market.
The minister said he was discussing with the corporates to build up on a new outgrown model where about 2-3 acres would be managed by the company and given to the workers on the estate for a 30 year lease. Through this method, he noted the overhead costs would come down since 65% of the cost of production is wages.
This measure has already commenced in about two estates the minister explained adding that “this would ensure the long term survival.” Meanwhile some stakeholders said that the tourism industry boom has led to the conversion of tea estate bungalows for tourist accommodation, which affected accommodation of staff. Ceylon Planters Society President N. S. Jayawardena said shifting the Estate Superintendents into other quarters has undermined the individual’s authority resulting in a difficulty to manage workers.
In this respect, he appealed to authorities to avoid closing down estate managers’ bungalows by Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and stop the conversion of estate bungalows for tourist accommodation.
He also expressed opposition to the recent issue of importing teas from India, China and Vietnam and blending with Pure Ceylon Tea.
This could impact on the demand for locally produced teas, he said pointing out that consumption would drop for Ceylon Tea and “it will be too late to take corrective action.” On the other hand, the sector looked to the government to assist them in increasing production with the provision of a subsidy for its replanting programme aimed at making Sri Lanka the hub for producing the best teas in the world.
He noted that shortage of workers, climatic changes, rising interest rates, resulting in high cost of production and poor yields were areas that required attention of research institutes and government.
The issue of salary anomalies between estates managed by the government and the RPCs was raised at the meeting.
Mr. Jayawardena also observed that the use of minimal technology on the estates was a concern compared to other countries.
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