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Opinion

Performance of Sri Lankan tea industry: Present and future scenarios

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By Jayampathy Molligoda/ Chairman,
Sri Lanka Tea Board

 

During the last 18 months, we have seen excellent performance by Sri Lankan tea industry, especially due to the efforts by the ‘Ceylon Tea’ promoters, exporters and producers who have taken up the challenges such as stiff competition from low- cost supplies of other origin teas, high Freight charges, difficulties in arranging logistics due to stringent health precautionary measures under COVID-19; even foreign and local media have commended Sri Lankan tea industry achievements. Before this administration took over, the fob prices of Ceylon Tea during the year 2018 and 2019 have been Rs 822/ per kilo and Rs 823 per kilo respectively. It had gone up to Rs 867/ per kilo during the year 2020 and, as a result the average sale price of tea at the Colombo auction had also increased to Rs 627 /- per kilo (increase of Rs. 82 during the year 2020 when compared to 2019).

Performance during the period January to end June 2021:

During the period, January to end June 2021, Sri Lankan tea export revenue has further increased to Rs. 127 billion from Rs 106 billion in end June 2020, whereas the fob price has increased to 932/ per kilo, which is US$ 4.75 compared to US $ 4.60 and UDS $ 4.67 in 2019 and 2020 respectively. This fob price is a substantial increase from 2019 and 2020 same period, where fob prices were only Rs. 839/ and Rs 855/= respectively. The national tea production during the first ‘six months’ has also increased to 160 million kilos, which is a 25% increase compared with the same period,2020. With the substantial increase in tea production, there is a general tendency for auction prices to come down, but it will pick it up by September with winter buying by our tea exporters. Nevertheless, the total revenue at Colombo tea auction level has increased to Rs.98 billion from Rs.82 billion during the first six months ending June 2021, although the sale average was one rupee less compared to end June. 2020. Tea small holders continue to receive good income under difficult conditions thus trickling down the benefits to the farmers.

Tea supply chain-real producers:

The tea smallholder sector is a sig­nificant contributor operates in 60% of the total tea land and account for more than 73% of the total tea produced in Sri Lanka. We could pay tribute for the invaluable service and enormous sacrifices made with the sweat of the toiling workers which ultimately serves the connoisseur to his or her satisfaction. It is a great story on uplifting women’s empowerment from birth to death.

Sri Lanka Tea industry was able to make progress for the betterment of Ceylon tea, through aggressive strategy implementation:

Launching the first ever E- Auction system for tea successfully.

Launching of a social media campaign for the promotion of Ceylon Tea globally.

Initiative for Tea Nursery Programme to produce 30 million quality tea plants.

Implementation of a Subsidy Scheme for Replanting and organic fertilisation

Introduction of Model Tea Garden Subsidy Scheme for dissemination modern technology in tea planting.

Exercising Special Investigations/enquiries to enhance the quality of Ceylon Tea.

Ceylon tea origin verification through ISOTOPE technique to obtain GI registration

Rolling out of programmes/ new initiatives to ensure reasonable price for tea growers.

Conventional plantation economy into green socio-economic pattern:

With the state policy decision to transform conventional plantation economy into green socio-economic pattern thus providing sustainable solutions to climate change and improve soil fertility and product quality, it has become a challenge for tea growers to provide with N, P, K nutrients. This is because there had been an excessive use of chemical fertiliser and undue overdependence, without following integrated balance nutrient management system and soil fertility management strategies by the stakeholders. As a result, the soil quality has deteriorated over the past many years, resulting a gradual decline in national tea production despite increase in cultivated extent and use of chemical fertilisation.

Arrangements have been made to bridge the gap between the requirement of nitrogen, P, K etc. and availability of balanced nutrients through increased domestic production as there is a time lag in putting this into action, both by the private sector and government authorities. In par with the Government’s decision to restrict and ban the import of synthetic fertilizers and agrochemicals and in line with the vistas of prosperity targets that State encouragement to promote organic fertiliser for tea sub sector, SLTB has taken several steps as shown below;

Registration of existing bio-fertiliser manufacturing companies and conducting several knowledge-sharing sessions with them to build a relationship and obtained their willingness to share their technical knowledge and knowhow with new entrepreneurs who wish to enter the fertilizer manufacturing process.

Introducing a Model

Organic/Biofertiliser producing plant with a subsidy scheme covering all Tea Inspector Regions under supervision of regional offices of Sri Lanka Tea Board- under the program – the subsidy amount per plant is Rs.500, 000/=

Other than Model projects, to encourage Organic/Biofertiliser producers by focusing new entrepreneurs who wish to establish Organic/Biofertiliser producing plants, another subsidy scheme to be introduced @ Rs 300,000/ subsidy per unit.

The project would further boost the total tea industry Organic/Bio fertiliser requirement and solid compost/Bio char/Liquid fertiliser and related pesticides are planned to produce under the project. The good news is there has been a greater awareness and active participation by stakeholders to manufacture organic fertiliser stemming from conventional composting, bio liquid fertiliser, vermi composting, fish tonic liquid fertiliser, request for importation of need seed and humic acid/sea weed without having harmful ‘micro- organism’. The reality is that we are reluctantly compelled to import single source nitrogen extracts to meet the demand during the transitional period in order to meet the nutrient deficiency. One important aspect is, as a country we need to enhance laboratory testing capabilities for both organic and conventional teas and fertilizer samples- as currently ‘organic’ exporters send samples to Germany before they are used in production.

Focus on Ceylon Tea quality as perceived by discerning consumer:

Towards quality improvements, SLTB has given strict instructions and actively involved with stakeholders, where there had been some malpractices committed for a long period of time by few unscrupulous tea producers adding sugar and other chemicals during manufacture, which the authorities have detected and stern action has been taken by SLTB to arrest the situation. It had improved the prices, consistency in the products and overall quality, thus maintaining Ceylon tea image with purity, naturalness and freshness. We have repeatedly stressed that we need to maintain the momentum by offering quality Ceylon tea packaging to discerning consumers world over without compromising quality. However excessive residues of agro-chemicals have been detected recently in few isolated invoices produced by RPCs -as a result some sophisticated markets such as Japan and EU have expressed concerns, and stringent action is being taken by SLTB to arrest the situation.

In line with the targets set under CTRM strategic plan-2030 drawn up by CTTA and Tea Board in consultation with all the stakeholders, one of the objectives set by the private sector stakeholders’ is the glowers, manufacturers and value- added marketers jointly deliver a pure, healthy beverage that is environmentally friendly and ethically sustainable. During the last 18 months, Sri Lanka Tea board implemented many promotional activities in the overseas markets. As a result, it increased the Ceylon Tea awareness and facilitated the exporters to increase the exports in terms of value and volume as explained above.

The exchange rate policy of the government also would have contributed to the increase in rupee fob tea prices. In real terms, the US $ price of teas have gone up to US $ 4.75 due to efforts by our tea exporters, Ceylon Tea promotion campaign by Tea Board. Obviously, the naturalness and purity of Ceylon teas have also helped to improve these price levels. The large plantation companies have now reported net margins and profits during the year 2020 and up to first quarter 2021 partly due to these government actions. We have also been receiving favourable responses from international agencies, discerning tea consumers who really appreciate engaging responsible business of marketing Ceylon Tea under ‘sustainable food’ concept. The government policy shift from use of agro-chemicals and artificial fertiliser to organic /bio fertiliser should be viewed in that perspective in order to realise true potential of our tea marketing efforts gaining higher revenue. In other words, this should not be construed as a directive to immediately produce and market organic tea, but start the journey of offering pesticide free Ceylon tea in the niche markets and eventually moving towards adhering to organic farming of tea. It is true that organic tea market is around US &$ 900 million only and it’s growing around CAGR of 11.2 %. Let us start marketing 30-50 million kilos.

Conclusion:

Ceylon Tea is considered the “Best in Class” orthodox teas in the world tea scenario, stemming from the high quality of our tea leaves and unique characteristics of Ceylon tea, enriched by diverse micro-climatic conditions of our tea estates. SLTB has commenced “Ceylon Tea Global Promotional Campaign” in the overseas markets after consulting private sector stakeholders within the overall tea strategy- road map 2030. The promotional campaign has specifically planned through social media, with the use of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), public relation activities as well as strong digital presence and e commerce platform, search engine optimisation etc. following three unique characters will discuss through the campaign

1. Authentic Product – Sense of Realness

2. Wellness – Drinking natural healthy stuff

3. Premium – because of that, high price.

 

In view of the foregoing, it is important to pay tribute to the stakeholders of Sri Lankan tea industry which is a vital sector for the progress of our economy. The involved people need to be recognized. The global value chain players in the tea value addition cycle from the farmers to pluckers, manufacturers, brokers and right up to the exporters /brand marketers along with the government regulators/ facilitators must be given due recognition. What is needed today is a shared understanding. So, this is a fascinating story where all the stakeholders in the tea industry could bravely “walk the talk and demonstrate sustainable credentials.

Challenges are there but this will separate men from boys.



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Opinion

Another mother and son to be admired

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It was with a sense of awe, admiration and joy that I read the piece by Capt. Elmo Jayawardene in The Island of 25 Oct. 2021, on the achievements of Dr Pahalagedera Jayathilaka, a handicapped youth from almost the wilderness in a village called Dandu Bendi Ruppa in Nuwara Kalaviya who had achieved almost the impossible, gaining a super First Class from the University of Moratuwa and a PhD in Fluid Dynamics from the National University of Singapore. Thereafter he has been attached to the University of Oxford as a Research Scientist. All credit for his achievements has to go to his mother, Pahalagedera Dingiriamma who did everything within her means to enable her son to achieve the almost impossible, by cultivating vegetables to feed, educate and raise eight offspring.

Dr. Jayathilaka is a person we Sri Lankans have to be proud of and also get children to emulate his achievements. The most important thing about this patriotic son of the soil is that he wants to return to Sri Lanka and give something back to his motherland in return for the free education he has had. This is when most of the youth are clamouring to go abroad.

There is another mother and a handicapped son who have to be admired. The boy is Brian Eaton who had just received his Ordinary Level examination results and he has got A grades for all nine subjects. He was featured in the Sirasa TV programme Lakshapathi, which is the local equivalent of Who wants to be a millionaire. He lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, in Mattakkuliya. He is blind. He has read over 200 books in braille. The mother had to take him by bus to the Blind School in Ratmalana. It used to take about two hours to get to the school and another two hours to return home. As the mother had to wait till school is over, she used to take the material and cut same while waiting for her son. She does the sewing after returning home.

Though they are Christians, Brian had wanted to study Buddhism and seemed to know more about Buddhism than most Buddhist youth.

Brian was accommodated as a special case on the Lakshapathi programme without his having to face the “fastest finger first” selection process. His knowledge of all subjects was such that he was able to answer many questions without any assistance. He came up to the Rs. 2.0 million penultimate question without much difficulty and answered it correctly. Then it was the final question for the jackpot prize of Rs. 3.0 million. Brian decided to withdraw from the programme without attempting to answer the final question as he was not very sure. He withdrew securing Rs.2.0 million. Before he stepped down from the hot seat, the quiz master asked him what would have been his answer. And to everybody’s dismay the answer he gave was correct and he missed out on another Rs. one million.

Brian is an exceptional child who has successfully overcome all disabilities, with the untiring efforts of his mother, to reach the top of the programme which had evaded many of the normal children who had participated in this programme. We wish him success in all his future endeavours.

MH Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Warnapura: A colourful cricketing giant

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Bandula Warnapura secured his name in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket as the country’s first Test Cricket Captain. As Sri Lanka’s opening batter, he faced the first delivery bowled by Bob Willis during the inaugural test match played between Sri Lanka and England on the historic day of 17 Feb. 1982, at the P Sara Stadium (previously known as Colombo Oval), in Borella. Further, he scored the first test run for his country. Records are usually meant to be broken as it happens regularly in the sports arena world over. But Warnapura’s feats will never be disintegrated. What a privileged position to be in! It is an exceedingly rare combination of persistent commitment, endurance, and of course, luck, over a long period of time.

My happy memories of Bandula Warnapura were linked with our school days about 12 years prior to the country’s first test match.

I vividly remember his exceptional achievements during his school career at Nalanda College between 1968 and 1972. Towards the latter part of this period he rose to fame of an exceptional degree. His name became a common household one; in fact, no other school cricketer at the time received such media attention. Two other contemporary school cricketers who came close to him were Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; a wonderful triumvirate who dominated school cricket in the early 1970’s.

In 1971, Warnapura everyone expected the batting machine to break the existing batting record of the Ananda – Nalanda annual cricket encounter (popularly known as “Battle of Maroons”) when he captained the Nalanda cricket team. However, he only managed to score half a century (53), which brought much disappointment to many cricket fans.

As a grade 9 student of Ananda College at the time, I still treasure fond memories of his record-breaking epic innings of 118 not out in 1972 at the big match. He broke the 44-year-old batting record (111) held by another Nalandian P M Jayatilaka in 1928. I was in the Ananda (rival) pavilion; the overwhelming expectation of the other boys of the Ananda pavilion was against him reaching a glorious century. However, I was quietly feeling happy for him and honestly wanted him to achieve the century and surpass the existing record. After breaking the then batting record, the Nalanda pavilion was ecstatic and Bandula Warnapura became a school cricketing legend. I remember well, the legendary cricket commentator Premasara Epasinghe staunchly supporting Warnapura throughout his career.

W arnapura’s subsequent cricketing career was remarkable and by accident in 1979 he captained SriLanka and won a World Cup match against the star-studded Indian team (Gavaskar, Kapil Dev et al.). Most believe that as an ICC associate member, beating an ICC full member was the precursor state for the elevation of the Island nation to the test status in 1981. It was a dream come true for all cricket fans in Sri Lanka. However, at this time around, Warnapura’s cricketing career was on the decline and ended abruptly after the ill-advised rebel South Africa tour in 1984.

Bandula Warnapura’s sad demise at a relatively young age is indeed extremely sorrowful news.

Thank you Bandula for giving us fond memories with great nostalgia during our school days. May you have a fruitful journey of sansara and finally attain the supreme bliss of nibbana!

Prof Ananda Jayasinghe

University of Peradeniya

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Opinion

Ali Sabry’s equation

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by Rohana R. Wasala

Justice Minister Ali Sabry is reported to have said the traditional brand of Islamism which has been practised by Muslims in Sri Lanka for centuries has to be preserved while the religion should not be practised according to the likes of one group. He reportedly made this remark after taking part in a religious ceremony at the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo. (This architecturally impressive place of Islamic worship is a proud national monument situated at the heart of the commercial capital; it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with Sri Lankans of other faiths.) The Minister is reported to have added that unity among Muslims in Sri Lanka should also be preserved just like preserving unity among various religious and ethnic groups.

Sri Lankans of all beliefs interested in the early restoration of the externally disturbed customary religious and communal harmony subscribe to that laudable view with the necessary alterations. But will his equation of Islam with Islamism work in the current context.

(CAVEAT: There is no way to check the authenticity of the news report in question unless Minister Ali Sabry confirms or denies what is claimed in it about him. It has not been indicated in which language he expressed these ideas. Did he actually use the words Islam and Islamism speaking in English or their equivalents speaking in another language, or has the media arbitrarily translated into English, using those two terms, what the speaker said in another language?)

But for the purpose of this essay, I assume that the Minister’s words have been reported accurately. I don’t know whether Muslims in Sri Lanka have started using the words Islam and Islamism interchangeably, which, of course, I’d have thought, is a near impossibility, given the universally recognised difference in meaning between the two terms. Google.com defines Islam as ‘the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah’. Islamism on the other hand, is generally taken to mean Islamist fundamentalism associated with violent militancy, which is purely a religiopolitical movement. The Wikipedia defines Islamism thus: “Islamism (also often called political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism) is a political ideology which posits that modern states and regions should be reconstituted in constitutional, economic and judicial terms, in accordance with what is conceived as a revival or a return to authentic Islamic practice in its totality”.

(By the way, the Wikipedia is no longer regarded as an easily available smart tool for the amateur researcher for the reason that the entries are made by voluntary editors at various levels of scholarship and academic authority and authenticity. The Wikipedia user must be sufficiently educated and well informed to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. In this case, the definition given is sound enough.) Explaining the relation between Islam and Islamism, the Wikipedia says:

“The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement. Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the conception of ‘political Islam’” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and (that) apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”, and it is quietist-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.

“Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic “by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century”. Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as “Islamiyyoun/Islamists” to differentiate themselves from Muslimun/Muslims. Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian ideologies and “isms” than to traditional Islamic religion.”

When Ali Sabry reportedly made the particular remark, he probably had in mind what the Wiki quote refers to as ‘quietist or political Islam’ (which, in common parlance, is called ‘moderate Islam’). Moderate Islam is not regarded as a problem, but Islamism definitely is. It need not be reiterated that the problem of Islamism affects the whole world. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism came to prominence relatively recently, although it has been smoldering since the mid-20th century as some commentators have pointed out. Given this background, responsible speakers do not use the two words (Islam and Islamism) as alternatives. I believe that minister Ali Sabry speaks as a responsible person. That is why I am sceptical about what has been reported of his speech. But these are strange times. Anything is possible.

However, it is somewhat inconceivable that Ali Sabry, who has been entrusted by the President with such a great responsibility or an array of responsibilities as he bears in a government that sought election on the main platform of “One Law, One Country” and that is poised to bring in a new constitution, made this thoughtless identification of Islam with Islamism.

The President wanted to assure the Muslim community that they were safe and would not be subjected to discrimination under his rule, particularly in the face of incursions into Sri Lanka of rampant Islamist extremism, although most Muslims did not vote for him at the presidential election in November 2019. It is conceivable that the President’s more important aim in appointing Ali Sabry to that key post was to enlist the participation of the Muslim community in governance despite their implicit initial refusal of his goodwill. It is unlikely that Ali Sabry has forgotten this.

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