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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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Online education – an alternative



By Dr. Rasanjalee Abeywickrama

Education is a weapon that can improve one’s life. It is a most important tool that helps to spread knowledge in society, which is a most noteworthy benefit of Education. Furthermore, it acts as a medium that transfers knowledge from one generation to another.

Education helps to boost a country’s economy and society; therefore, it is a milestone of a nation’s development. It offers knowledge and skills to the populace, while shaping the personality of the youth of a nation. Education is generally considered the foundation of society which beckons economic wealth, social prosperity and political stability. Economic and social status depends on individual education, since it contributes to individual capability in managing the quality of life. The main purpose of education is to prepare and qualify them for work, to play their part in a country’s economy, as well as to integrate people into society by teaching them the values and morals of society.

Education, for a child, begins at home. It is a lifelong process and determines the quality of an individual’s life. Education improves one’s knowledge and skills, and develops personality and attitude. Students must be equipped with knowledge and skills which are necessary to participate effectively as members of society and contribute towards the development of shared values and common identity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still haunting the human race and it will be completing its horrible journey of two years within another five months. It has changed the whole world and lives of each and everyone around the globe. There cannot be anyone who has not been affected by this virus at least once, economically, physically and psychologically. While man is busy planning to go to Mars, this microorganism is busy taking the lives of millions on earth and taking away all the freedom which man had on earth, including the freedom to breathe. While it has affected all the sectors and trades, education is one of the most affected sectors.

There are several ways this virus has affected education. The loss of livelihoods of thousands of parents has caused a financial crisis and education of their kids has been affected, dramatically. Schools remained closed for much of the time, since March 2020. Kids were unable to go to school continuously, at least for one to two months, for over 15 months now. Physical engagement with peer groups and teachers is completely hampered due to shifting to online education, where kids will only be able to talk to each other and to the teacher through a screen which looks so artificial. It does not provide the actual interaction, which is essential, especially for kids in primary grades and early childhood education.

Some kids are at least fortunate enough to gather some knowledge through online platforms as they have access to relevant electronic equipment and network connections. Sadly, kids in low income families are not fortunate enough to obtain such facilities. Some kids who were supposed to be in Grade 1, during the year 2021, have not yet been to school for at least one day, but applications are already called for year 2022 Grade 1 school admissions, which shows how much time, from their early childhood education, has been wasted. This would adversely affect all of them as early childhood education is not solely about developing learning and writing skills, but about social engagement and social development, via engaging in activities with peer groups.

Education should enhance cognitive, social-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning. It should also ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, wherein no one is left behind. This has become a challenging task with the ongoing pandemic situation. Though online education is not the best option, it is the only option available for kids of this generation. But there are many practical issues related to access to laptops, desktops, smartphones and internet connections. In many areas, kids have to climb trees to get internet connections. Huts have been constructed on tree tops to enable kids to follow online classes. Therefore, we need to look for better and more effective ways to continue the education of kids.

The most effective way to handle this issue of online learning, at the moment, is to telecast educational programmes, in the morning or afternoon hours instead of repeat telecasts of teledramas, TV shows or any other entertainment programmes. If all the national TV channels can work towards this, it will offer a practical solution to the problems associated with online education. Since all children are at home these days, it is an efficient way not only to educate them, but also to reduce the damage caused to their brain development due to watching unsuitable content on TV. Even radio stations can help in this regard.

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The country they saved



Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.  

Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.



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Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket



The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’

Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.

1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.

2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.

3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.

4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.

5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.

6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.

7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.

8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]

9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.

10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.

11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.

12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.

13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.




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