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Addressing misconceptions on agricultural practices in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations

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By Dr. Roshan Rajadurai

The recent move by the government to ensure the availability of fertiliser critical for the country’s agriculture sector is welcomed by all industry stakeholders – including the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), which cultivate tea, rubber and other plantation crops. This is a crucial source of support at a time the tea industry in particular, is facing numerous challenges. Hence, the government’s actions are appreciated and commended by all RPCs.

However, recent discussions on fertiliser have brought to the fore certain misconceptions held by certain critics and members of the public on agricultural practices in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations – which produce the world-renowned ‘Ceylon Tea’, one of Sri Lanka’s largest exports and foreign exchange-earners.

Hence, this article will address such myths and misconceptions and put the record straight on the practices with regard to fertiliser and agro-chemical usage in tea plantations managed by Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs).

At the onset, it should be noted that more than 70% of Sri Lanka’s tea is produced by the smallholder sector, which does not come under the management of the RPCs. RPCs can only comment on practices adopted on plantations managed by Regional Plantation Companies.

Adherence to ‘Integrated Agriculture’

Integrated agriculture practices refer to the use of a combination of traditional and modern methods for cultivation, done with due focus on social and environmental factors (beyond mere commercial considerations), with the intention of ensuring long-term sustainability.

Sri Lanka’s tea plantations have been producing output of the highest quality, meeting highly rigorous international quality standards for more than 150 years, which would clearly not have been possible without the use of integrated agriculture practices.

To provide an example of how this is practised operationally, for weed management, RPC plantations use various biological methods (for instance, predators which consume and control the population of harmful insects) and do not rely exclusively on synthetic/chemical inputs. Similarly, all activities related to cultivation, plant protection etc., use a combination of traditional practices, organic material and recommended agro-chemicals used in prescribed quantities.

International accreditations and certifications

Some appear to be of the view that RPCs apply agro-chemicals liberally in large quantities. Firstly, this would be highly imprudent and would go against the very interests of the RPCs. Agro-chemicals are a notable component of the cost of production (CoP), and over-application would simply increase costs.

This myth is also dispelled by the fact that the tea industry of Sri Lanka is by far the most environmentally and otherwise certified tea industry in the world. RPC plantations have been accredited and certified by numerous internationally-reputed organisations such as Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade International and adhere to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

In addition, Sri Lankan tea has been recognised as the world’s ‘cleanest’ tea since 1975 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

95% of Sri Lanka’s tea production is exported. Shipments of tea produced in Sri Lanka are exported to countries, including European countries, with stringent standards in terms of maximum residue limit (MRL), which refers to the highest level of a chemical residue legally allowed in food and beverages.

Robust local framework on agro-chemical usage

Baseless allegations on high agro-chemical usage by tea plantations are also a disservice to the invaluable contributions of globally respected organisations such as the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Sri Lanka. TRI follows a rigorous testing and approval process in allowing the use of agro-chemicals for tea cultivation.

Following trials, often conducted over several years, agro-chemicals have to be approved for use by an independent professional committee.

While some have claimed in the past that certain chemicals used in tea plantations contributed to health issues in non tea-growing parts of the country, reputed local bodies such as the National Science Foundation has refuted such baseless claims.

Multiple safeguards at the producer, national, international and buyer level ensure strict compliance of the RPCs with best practices in agro-chemical usage.

Niche markets are not a viable option

Some on the other hand, have speculated on the possibility of avoiding agro-chemical usage in Sri Lankan tea plantations by opting for organic cultivation.

Unfortunately, the biggest deterrent to organic tea cultivation is completely beyond the control of growers, as it is the preference of buyers of Ceylon Tea. Ceylon Tea is known and preferred due to certain properties such as aroma, taste and colour. These properties are impacted by the type of plant nutrients applied. When organic inputs are used, the final products tend to differ significantly in terms of appearance, taste, aroma etc. from Ceylon Tea that buyers prefer and are accustomed to. While few plantations have attempted cultivation of organic tea, a number of such experiments have failed due to lack of buyer demand.

There is certainly a small niche market globally for organic tea – which is less than one percent of the total market. However, Sri Lanka’s tea industry, which is already facing severe challenges on multiple fronts, is in absolutely no position to completely re-align itself (including by finding new markets and buyers) to switch and cater to this small segment. An industry which exceeds USD 1.2 billion in value (in terms of total export earnings in 2020) cannot sustain itself by catering to a small niche.

It should be noted that RPCs are responsible for providing employment to 105,000 workers in total and for providing various facilities for a total resident population of approximately one million. Beyond commercial considerations of individual companies, it would be highly irresponsible for the RPCs to ‘bet’ the wellbeing of nearly five percent of the country’s population resident on RPC plantations on a highly niche and a still emerging sector.

In addition, practically, adoption of entirely organic cultivation would be highly challenging. At Rs. 1,900 per kilogram, the estimated production cost of one kilogram of organic tea would be equivalent to nearly three times the cost of production of one kilogram of tea produced via conventional methods.

Greater possibility of disease under organic methods

Another consideration which cannot be ignored is the probability of greater disease, if 100% organic cultivation methods were to be adopted. Many Sri Lankans would have heard of the famous ‘coffee leaf rust’ which commencing in 1869 entirely wiped out Sri Lanka’s significant extent of coffee plantations at the time.

Due to lack of ability (in terms of availability of agro-chemicals etc.) at that time to treat the fungal disease, the entire industry was wiped out. Now, while thanks to advances in agriculture and technology it is possible to address such challenges, it would be extremely difficult to do so, without the use of agro-chemicals to any degree.

For instance, at times of high humidity in plantations, it can be necessary to apply fungicides. If not, due to fungal diseases 20% to 30% of the crop could be lost within a relatively short period of time. Hence, while the coffee leaf rust example is an extreme scenario, it is not one which can be ruled out. Anywhere in the world where conventional agriculture is practiced, agro-chemicals are critical in dealing with such challenges.

Unlike fungicides, lack of application of suitable fertiliser in sufficient quantities may not be immediately apparent in tea. However, given that tea is perennial crop, with tea bushes being able to produce output for 30 or 40 years or more, once the changes start to manifest within a period of perhaps six months, the impact could potentially be long-term and last throughout the life of the tea bush.

Critics can perhaps make invalid comparisons to dispute the above, such as stating that even in midst of fertiliser shortages, national tea production has increased thus far this year, compared with the previous year. This is simply due to last year being unfavourable for tea production, with the drought resulting in a massive 40% crop loss.

RPCs invested in the industry’s future growth

In conclusion, despite certain claims to the contrary, Sri Lankan tea plantations managed by Regional Plantation Companies adhere to all necessary safeguards with regard to responsible agro-chemical usage at both national and international level. If not, the Ceylon Tea brand would not be as strong and internationally-acclaimed for its quality.

RPCs have actively and voluntarily adopted measures such as integrated agriculture practices, to minimise usage of agro-chemicals and incorporate organic elements and biological methods. However, there is an extent to which this can be done and converting to organic tea cultivation for the industry as a whole is not a feasible solution, considering that organic tea is a small, highly niche sector. In addition, converting entirely to organic creates other risks, including greater prevalence of disease.

RPCs have been part of the Ceylon Tea industry for many decades and are not looking to make a ‘quick buck’ and endanger the industry’s sustainability, our own and the livelihoods of our workers, by irresponsible usage of agro-chemicals. RPCs have made a significant contribution to the development of the Ceylon Tea industry and the long-term growth of the industry is very much in our interest. Hence, I would urge all industry stakeholders and members of the public to not be swayed by myths and misconceptions on the practices of RPCs with regard to agro-chemical usage.



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DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama pawning facility lends a helping hand to those with urgent cash requirements

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DFCC Bank has increased the advances of its “DFCC Ranwarama” Pawning Facility as a solution for families to meet their urgent cash requirements as many families are experiencing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has had a significant impact on the Sri Lankan economy.

Through this scheme, all Sri Lankan citizens over 18 years of age with the contractual capacity to declare themselves as owners of the articles can now pawn gold or gold jewellery. DFCC Bank accepts jewellery made of 18 Karat -24 Karat gold, with the articles being assayed using the latest available equipment. Items of 24 Karate will hold an advanced value of LKR 82,000/-, while 22 Karat pieces will hold an advanced value of LKR 68,000/- at an interest rate of 0.75% per month. Those who engage in these transactions are provided a maximum of 12 months to settle the pawning advances at their convenience.

DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama Pawning Facility offers many other special features including the highest advance amount at competitive rates of interest, confidentiality and guaranteed security for the articles, flexible payment plans with redemption options when required and redemption without prior notification. All of these facilities are available with no hidden charges, offering customers the best service available in the market.

You may visit a DFCC Bank branch closest to you to transact or visit the Bank’s website at www.dfcc.lk for further information. Customers can also contact DFCC Bank’s 24-hour contact center on +94(11)2350000 for further inquiries.

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HSBC Sri Lanka recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank by Global Finance

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HSBC has been recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance at the World’s Best Consumer Digital Banks Awards in Asia-Pacific. While this is the bank’s fourth award win for this year, this also marks the 13th time that HSBC Sri Lanka has been named the Best Consumer Digital Bank, since 2006.

HSBC Sri Lanka is also the only market in Asia Pacific to win the prestigious award this year.

According to Global Finance, the global health crisis accelerated the need for digital and contact-free solutions by banks in helping create safe and efficient banking services for customers. HSBC Sri Lanka was quick to react in supporting customers in providing seamless digital bank offerings in an increasingly demanding environment, while ensuring customers have a secure banking service with a full spectrum of client-centric banking services.

Through its wealth of digital capabilities and offerings, HSBC allowed customers to adopt a mobile-first approach, and provide them with faster, easier and more secure banking services 24/7. The bank introduced a virtual on boarding capability for account opening, loans and credit cards supported by Adobe Live Sign, eKYC and virtual PINs to provide a seamless on boarding experience for customers. HSBC also offers credit card activation through SMS and an e2e virtual registration process for online banking, offering a virtual banking experience.

In Sri Lanka more than 90% of its personal customers now use digital channels including mobile banking, e-wallets, real-time cash deposit machines and other digital services.

Nadeesha Senaratne, Country Head of Wealth & Personal Banking said, “We are truly honoured to be named the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance in recognition of our digital capabilities, and delivering important everyday services and features that customers need and expect. As a leading international bank, we are putting the power of our bank in every customer’s pocket, with easier and more secure digital banking. We want to take the hassle out of everyday banking, and enable customers to easily manage their money online, from opening a new account in a few clicks, to making real time payments and accessing credit.”

Senaratne added: “We’re also blending the power of technology with the expertise of our people and empowering our frontline teams with the latest data and insights tools, to be better-equipped to check customer satisfaction in the moment, to understand, and respond to their evolving needs and give customers excellent service.”

Winners were selected by a world-class panel of judges and entries were judged based on the strength of strategy for attracting and servicing digital customers, success in getting clients to use digital offerings, growth of digital customers, breadth of product offerings and evidence of tangible benefits gained from digital initiatives.

Earlier this year, HSBC Sri Lanka was also named International Bank of the Year by Asiamoney and Finance Asia respectively, and International Retail Bank of the Year by Asian Banking & Finance.

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BoardPAC appointed Strategic Partner of Commonwealth’s Business Network – CWEIC

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BoardPAC, the Sri Lanka-based multinational Board meeting automation solutions company, has been appointed a Strategic Partner of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), the organisation officially mandated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to promote trade and investment between the 54 Commonwealth member countries.

This prestigious appointment will see CWEIC relying on BoardPAC’s award-winning solutions to conduct board and committee meetings with members and maintain relationships across the Commonwealth network at a time when the global pandemic’s complete disruption of business activity has resulted in a surge in the demand for efficient board meeting automation.

The Company said the partnership will also effectively promote the BoardPAC platform to new users and facilitate its expansion into new territories and focus markets. BoardPAC already has a global user base in excess of 50,000 and a presence in more than 40 countries.

Noting that BoardPAC’s latest partnership serves as yet another testament to the quality of its solutions, BoardPAC Co-Founder/CEO, Lakmini Wijesundera stated: “Our growth plan includes expanding our worldwide network, and our strategic alliance with CWEIC will strongly help us extend our presence into Commonwealth territories. The strategic cooperation between CWEIC and BoardPAC is especially relevant in light of the worldwide pandemic, and the emerging need for secure remote working and filling the void in virtual board meetings.”

CWEIC Chairman, Rt. Hon. Lord Jonathan Marland said: “We are looking forward to work closely with BoardPAC. The alliance will not only help CWEIC to conduct virtual board meetings securely and safely, but also align ourselves with all governance, risk and compliance as well as environmental, social, and governance frameworks.” Echoing this sentiment, CWEIC Deputy Chair, Sir Hugo Swire stated: “We are excited to partner with BoardPAC and extend modern digital governance and compliance solutions to organisations operating in the Commonwealth.”

Disclosing that BoardPAC’s excellent track record inspired confidence within the CWEIC to implement its solution on a global scale, CWEIC Chief Executive, Samantha Cohen CVO added: “We’re delighted that BoardPAC, one of the most renowned virtual board meeting automation providers in the world, joined our network of Strategic Partners. BoardPAC will add significant value to our board and committee meetings, allowing the CWEIC to conduct meetings with its members throughout the Commonwealth more effectively. The partnership also demonstrates the opportunities within the Commonwealth, and the confidence businesses have towards the Commonwealth and CWEIC.”

A commercial, not-for-profit membership organisation, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council’s network includes around 100 business and government Strategic Partners (members) including Standard Chartered, Zenith Bank, Trade & Investment Queensland and the Government of the Maldives from 30 countries and territories. Every two years, CWEIC hosts the Commonwealth Business Forum in association with the host country of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

BoardPAC is an award winning, multinational, paperless board meeting automation solutions provider, recognised for driving simple, secure, sustainable and experiential communications for Board and Executive members. Leading corporates such as Petronas, Deloitte, EY, Mercedes Benz, Prudential, Hong Leong Group, Stock Exchange of Malaysia, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Bombay Stock Exchange, Bank Negara, Maybank, Power Grid Corporation of India, Colombo Stock Exchange, and Sri Lankan Airlines are just some of BoardPAC’s success stories, and the Company said the partnership with the CWEIC will pave the way to several more high-profile additions to this list.

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