Teatime in Sri Lanka

Hassnain Javed

7/1/2017

The waiters, elegantly dressed in white attire, moved smoothly and erudite between the tables. “Would you like to have another cup of tea, Sir?” It was probably the sixth time the waiter inquires me if I want to refill on my cup of tea, and yes due to strong flavor right in line with my tasted buds, I say yes every time. The table is beautifully set with white porcelain tableware along with delicious sandwiches, mini burgers and tiny cupcakes of all shapes.

I was having high tea at the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya and I felt as I have entered in the era when Sri Lanka was called Ceylon and ruled by the British some 200 years back. The presence of modern gadgets with guests reveals that I am not in the era of British colonists that has once discovered this area by chopping down the jungle in these hills and building the town Nuwara Eliya aslo called “Little England” and started tea plantations here.

The cool hill area of Sri Lanka was once deserted consisting of forest and jungle, located in the shadow of the 2524 meters high mountain Pidurutalagala aka Mount Pedro. This hill area was discovered by the British colonial officer John Davy back in 1819 with aim of building sanatorium. Moreover, Nuwara Eliya town was founded by Samuel Baker in 1846. 

Nuwara Eliya, which means “City of Light” soon became a favourite cool climate escape for the British as well as a home away from home. It was a place where they could grow their native vegetables and fruits. They started off by coffee bean plantation but it was short lived due to spread of crop disease. It led to the turning point of Sri Lankan sustainable economy by tea bushes plantations in the mountains between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. 

This experiment by British was a huge success both in taste and rapid tea bushes growth. It was the time when British started planting tea bushes at vast areas and in no time Nuwara Eliya became the tea Capital of Sri Lanka’s Hill country. And yes British did not plant the tea bushes themselves indeed used the local Sri Lankan labor for this task.

The Tea plantations started by the British were taken over by the Sri Lankan state government in 1960s but then it has been privatised and is managed by a handful of planation companies. The total extent of land under tea cultivation has been assessed at approximately 221,969 hectares. Cyelon tea from Sri Lanka is acclaimed to be finest and highest quality tea with its inherent characteristics. Sri Lanka is second largest tea producer globally and contribute 10% in the international sphere and one of the world leading tea exporter with a share of around 23% of the global demand.

The export revenue has increased over the years but in recent times in the year 2015 it slightly dropped due to economic crisis in few top importing countries. The Sri Lankan tea exports accounts for about 15% for the total exports and about 65% contributes for the total agriculture exports in the country. The tea sector is expected to achieve the export target of US $ 3,000 million in the year by 2020.

Sri Lankan tea sector has the highest growth potential due to host of factors such as diverse climatic conditions which makes soil fertile and helps in planting multiple types and grades of tea. Moreover, large number of skilled and effective labor especially women are available in the economy at very cheap rates. The Sri Lankan tea has unique characteristics in the production such as in flavor and color. Sri Lanka produces tea throughout the year with yearly tea production amounting to 340 million kilograms. Sri Lankan tea industry is maintaining the highest quality in the world marker and ISO 3720 is the minimum standard for their range of tea products. Besides this, Sri Lanka has the capability to produce the cleanest tea in the world in terms of minimum pesticides residues. Methyl Bromide was removed from the production process in 2012. 

Besides this, Sri Lankan tea industry will face serious issues in the near future as there is limited land area and there is no proper planning done to cope with this matter. Moreover, impurities are found in bulk tea processing. There is potential in the sector but there is lack of proper infrastructure especially in plantations. Most importantly, there is high cost of tea production especially associated with packaging, logistics, supply chain and energy. 

In my view, improved technologies on commercial cultivation especially application of fertiliser, crop management, irrigation systems, optimum input applications, pest and disease control, postharvest management, well equipped machinery for processing, quality packaging and improved transportation methods should be practiced to attain low cost tea production and maximization of revenue for Sri Lankan economy. Moreover, research and development facilities should be made available in Sri Lanka to support the industry. There should be proper check and regulations on different development programs for the tea industry that has been initiated by the government. There should be induction of high tech rail-road and high way networks to meet the rising demand of modern age for both local consumption and export trades. Effective supply chain networks and planning will drastically reduce the logistics and transportation costs. 

The Sri Lankan island has the immense capacity and capability for growth only if the proper actions are taken by government authorities for sustainable economy. As the tea production initiative was taken by British in Sri Lanka. It should once again sign bilateral trade agreements with developed and emerging economies to give boost to their respective domestic industry for most effective and efficient allocation of the available resources. Moreover, Pakistan should also establish liaisons with Sri Lankan economy and introduce the tea plantations in geographical areas which are best suited.  Sri Lanka has human resource and material resources in hand it is only limited due to financial constraints in my opinion which could be easily overcome by presenting a better market positing map of their potential tea sector in the world economy by adopting the state of art technology in tea production processes. 

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