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Sustainable solution to decline in tea production



Mr. Jayampathy Molligoda, (JM) Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board, in his article on a Sustainable solution to decline in tea production, export revenue and livelihood issues, in The Island of 17 May, concludes that there has been a gradual decline in tea productivity measured in terms of the yield per hectare in Sri Lankan tea estates, partly due to continuous application of chemical fertilizer.

It is correct that there is a gradual decline in the productivity of tea lands during the last few years. But, Mr. JM assumes that the decline in tea production is due to continuous application of chemical fertilizer. This assumption cannot be correct, as the Tea Research Institute (TRI) by the advisory circular SP 10 issued in August 2016, recommends application of mixed fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as urea, Eppawala Rock Phosphate and muriate of potash respectively, for mature tea fields in 2 to 5 splits per annum. This recommendation must be based on field trials conducted by research staff of the TRI. If the Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board assumes that continuous application of chemical fertilizer causes a decline in productivity, it is difficult to understand the above recommendation of the TRI.

Application of inorganic fertilizer is essential for growth of plants. This is adequately highlighted in the publication titled ” Effects of Fertilizers on Tea Yields and Quality: A Review with Special Reference to Africa and Sri Lanka by Okinda Owuorl, Principal Scientist, Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. Ref.

The average tea yields of Sri Lanka are considerably lower than the potential yields. It has been reported that some of the cultivars developed by the TRI had been yielding around 8,000 kg/ha in South India under commercial conditions.. However, the average tea yield in Sri Lanka is much lower. Productivity of tea lands indicated by kg/ha/year has fluctuated around 1,600. In fact it has decreased from 1,736 kg/ha in 2014 to 1,602 kg/ha 2017, possibly due to undesirable weather, soil erosion leading to infertile soils, pests and diseases, etc. A study of the agricultural profile of the Corporate Tea sector was carried out a few years by the TRI. According to the findings of this study, the productivity of tea estates indicated by kg/ha/year, was less than 1500 in 183 estates. It is necessary that the RPCs implement an effective programme to increase the productivity of those estates giving low yields, after a detailed study to determine the reasons for the low yields so that appropriate action could be taken. Low per hectare yields could be due to a number of factors, such as soil degradation, old age of the crop, water shortage, etc

Soil degradation

Soil degradation in tea lands is mainly due to soil erosion, soil compaction, nutrition depletion, and loss of biodiversity, etc. According to a paper presented by Dr. M.A. Wijeratna of the TRI, at the first national symposium on Land Degradation held a few years ago, the loss of topsoil due to water erosion in the mid and up country tea lands could be in the range of 30-50cm, and this alone has been responsible for reduction of land productivity of tea by around 30-50%. If productivity of tea lands is to be sustained, it is essential that appropriate measures are taken to reduce soil degradation.

In view of the importance of soil degradation, the Ministry of Environment, in 2005, established an expert committee on Land Degradation. This committee comprised a number of experts in the field of land management, and its main role was to advise the Ministry of Environment, on issues related to controlling land degradation. This committee has not met since Feb. 2013. There are many ministries, departments and other institutions such as the TRI, which are expected to take appropriate measures to control land degradation. During the last few years a large number of seminars, workshops have been held on this topic. In spite of all these, land degradation continues to take place, evident by the common occurrence of landslides, depleted topsoil, siltation of tanks and reservoirs, decline in crop yields, etc. The Ministry of Environment (ME) needs to activate the already established Committee on Land Degradation, which would make appropriate recommendations to reduce land degradation to be implemented by the ME and other organizations. A land use policy has been formulated, but is not effectively implemented to reduce land degradation, which has serious repercussions on productivity. The land use policy needs to be implemented as an integrated programme in increasing the productivity of the tea sector.

Age of crops

A considerable part of the tea crop is old. For example, about 40% of the tea extent is under seedling tea and about 90% of the seedling teas are over 60 years old, and need replanting. Around 30% of the VP tea is more than 30 years old, and these also need replanting. According to the Ministry of Plantation Crops, during 2010-2012 the average annual replanting in the corporate tea sector was 1.1% , in the smallholder sector it was 0.7%. and the national average is 0.9%. Ideally this should be around 2%. If productivity of tea lands is to be sustained, it is essential that a replanting programme is implemented during the coming years.

Water Management

Rainfall variability is an inherent challenge for farming in tropical and sub-tropical agricultural systems. The variable rainfall also results in poor crop water availability, reducing yields to 25-50% of potential yields. Sri Lanka has been experiencing frequent droughts and floods over the last few years. Climate change prediction studies have indicated that Sri Lanka will experience high variability of rainfall. Some areas will get more rain during some months, and during the rest of the year the soil will be dry, affecting the crop. The simple solution in this case, is to increase the retention of water that is received during the rainy periods to be used during the dry periods. Around 40-60% of the amount of the rain that falls on land is lost due to run off, and only the balance of the total rainfall is infiltrated into the soil profile. Hence, harvesting the rainfall as much as possible would increase the availability of water in the soil, which will sustain the productivity of crops. The water retained by the soil profile is related to its depth, structure and also its organic matter (O.M) content. Hence strategies to increase soil depth and O.M levels would greatly enhance the water retention capacity, thereby increasing RW harvesting. If productivity of tea lands is to be sustained, it is essential that an effective water management programme is implemented in all the tea estates.

A Database on plantation sector

A complete and updated database on the corporate tea sector would be extremely useful in the endeavours to increase the productivity of this sector. Such a database will be of much use in planning, making policy decisions and management practices, such as replanting, diversification and identifying the development needs of the plantation sector; and would enable the relevant authorities to channel investments to sustain productivity of the sector.

The proposed database would mainly include data related to Land Use ( extent of uncultivated land, extent under forest and different crops, extent under nurseries) total annual production, YPH during the last five years, age categories of the crop, extent replanted during the last five years, source of water and degree of soil degradation etc. for each estate. I hope that the Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board will get the RPCs to develop an appropriate database, which will be extremely useful in sustaining tea yields.


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One of best development administrators SL ever had



Mr. K. Thayaparan (KT), who retired from the government service after serving as a development administrator for more than thirty years passed away on Jan 05 at the age of 86. He was born in 1937 in Malaya, which was then under the British rule; his father had migrated there in 1916 for employment. His father was employed in the Malayan Railways, and the family was living a happy life. In the late 1940s, there erupted a terrorist movement launched by Communists of Chinese origin. To fight with the terrorists the British Government had issued a conscription order for all school leavers above the age of 17 years to join the military. Many families with male children over 17 years fled to Ceylon to avoid conscription. Since KT’s family also had a male child who had been noticed to report for military duty, his family members too other than his father left Malaya in 1951 and came to live in Ceylon. In Jaffna, KT resumed and completed his school education. In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya to undertake studies in geography, economics and history.

During the university days, KT had won university colours in badminton. He graduated in 1961, and served as a school teacher in the Matara district. In 1962, after sitting a competitive examination, KT joined the Government Divisional Revenue Officers’ service. In 1963, together with the other officers of the DROs’ service and comparable services, KT was absorbed into the Ceylon Administrative Service that had been created in place of the Ceylon Civil Service, which had simultaneously been abolished.

Till 1975 KT served in the district administration in the northern districts, first as DRO, then as Asst. Government Agent and as Addl. Government Agent. From 1976 to 1979 he worked in the Ministry of Fisheries as Deputy Director Planning, and contributed to the development of the National Fisheries Development Plan 1979 – 1983. The Fisheries Development Plan, among other activities had concentrated on exploitation of the fish resources in the Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, which was proclaimed in 1977, and utilisation of irrigation reservoirs and village tanks for development of inland fisheries. The Government made a policy decision to implement an accelerated programme to develop inland fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, a new Division called the Inland Fisheries Division was set up in the Ministry, and KT was appointed its director.

The accelerated development programme had a number of activities to perform. Establishment of fish breeding stations in different parts of the country, recruitment and training of scientific and technical officers to serve at fish breeding centres, import of exotic fish species suitable for culture in Sri Lankan inland waterbodies, training of youth in inland fishing and aquaculture, promotion of investments in shrimp farming, etc. Funding agencies like UNDP, ADB and individual countries on bilateral basis came forward to support the accelerated inland fisheries development programme by providing funds for development of infrastructure, providing technical assistance, providing foreign training for the scientific and technical staff who were mostly young people without experience, and providing advisory services. It was heavy work for KT, but he managed the Division and its work smoothly.

KT was a firm believer in team work. He knew workers in all outstation inland fisheries or aquaculture establishments by name. He distributed foreign training slots offered by donor countries or agencies to every scientific or technical officer on an equitable basis. He listened to everybody, and was quite loved by his staff. KT was quite neutral in politics. However, in spite of his hard work to develop the inland fisheries sector, he was transferred out of the Ministry in 1985 to the SLAS Pool.

In 1979 when KT took over the responsibility of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture in the country, the total national inland fish production in Sri Lanka was 17,400 tons. During his tenure of nearly six years, the national inland fish production steadily increased and in 1985, the year he was transferred it had increased to 32,700 tons, showing an increase of nearly 90%. Also, there were 4,500 inland fishing craft operating in reservoirs, and the number employed as fishers, fish collectors, fish traders, etc. was over 10,000.

After leaving the Ministry of Fisheries he served different assignments such as Director Regional Development, National Consultant or the World Bank funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and Secretary to the State Ministry Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Addl. Secretary Development of the Ministry of Fisheries, but his stay in this post was brief since the then Minister replaced him with one of his political supporters. His last government assignment was as Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, National Integration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1997, he retired from the government service, but continued in a few foreign funded projects as institutional development consultant. He once told that his most productive period in the government service was as Director Inland Fisheries. After retirement he authored several books, Reminiscences of Malaya 1937 – 1951, Stories of Some Brave Men and High Achievers, and Introduction to Some Known High Achievers.

Although he was quite suitable to be appointed the Secretary to a Ministry, he was never considered for such a post. In the final years of his career, he was compelled to serve under his juniors. But he carried on regardless and did the best in whatever the capacity he served.


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It was not Central Bank bond scam



I was surprised and sorry to read a journalist attached to The Island writing about a central bank bond scam: surprised because, the editor of The Island, in his inimitable editorials, consistently refers to a treasury bond scam; sorry, because it is simply factually wrong. I have driven home that point several times in The Island and assumed that that canard was dead. Would you permit me to flog a not-so-dead horse?

There never was a central bank bond scam; there could not have been, because there was no market in central bank bonds. The central bank has not issued its own liabilities at least since 1967. The currency notes issued by the Central Bank are liabilities of the government (aanduva/state?) of Sri Lanka. (Should you not clear up that mess confusing ‘state’ with the ‘government’?  It is one thing to have faith in the state of Sri Laska and quite another to have faith in the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.)  The Central Bank issues those bills (it does currency) on behalf of the state/government of Sri Lanka and they are not the liabilities of the Central Bank or the Monetary Board. There was a scam in government bonds in 2015 as well as in 2016.

As became clearer in the course of the Chitrasiri Commission, the then-governor of the Central Bank and a few other officers of the Central Bank were parties to that financial fraud involving government bonds. The Central Bank is simply the agent of the government/state who markets government liabilities. Those liabilities do not become the Bank’s liabilities. When you carry Sri Lanka currency, you carry liabilities, much like government bonds, of an entity whose credit is low. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka is not in the picture.


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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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