White tea for sustainable growth and prosperity for Sri Lanka’s poor rural areas

OUR IDEA: New crops and sustainable technology for development.
White tea is a non-traditional crop in Sri Lanka with a significantly higher sales price than the traditional black tea.
We will introduce a cultivation method of white tea, which is:

  • inexpensive and do not require large investments in production facilities
  • sustainable and without the use of pesticides and fertilizers
  • a zero energy production without the use of polluting energy sources

At the same time we will ensure that the increased value of the tea harvest will benefit the rural workers and peasants. The new white tea crop and the new methods will be used for prosperity and empowerment for tea farmers and tea workers in Sri Lanka’s impoverished rural areas.

We want to start an exhibition and knowledge center, where we can pass our knowledge of plants and technology on to our partners and inspire sustainable growth in an area that badly needs development.


In 2009 more than 30 years of war between government forces and the Tamil guerrillas LTTE – Tamil Tigers ended.
The island’s Tamil minority migrated under British colonial rule as labour for tea plantations. The conflict has cost huge amounts of money and many lives, and at times part of the population were internal refugees within the Sri Lanka fleeing from the war.

The war destroyed the possibilities of developing the country’s economy, and today the island’s main source of income is tourism and tea exports. The country is developing once again but growth is mainly in the big cities and tourist areas.

Tea production in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is one of the former British colonies and, like in India and Kenya, Sri Lanka produce black tea and strive to provide a good product at a reasonable price. In black tea the raw material quality is harder to taste and not as clear as in green tea.

In Sri Lanka the tea price is decided by the Government and the local factories receives a price per kilogram according to the state tariffs, which is currently 60 rupees, or about DKK 2,- / € 0.26 per kilo.
For tea farmers the best economy is to weigh in as heavy a product as possible, because in practice they can not choose to sell the fresh tea leaves to another buyer than the local tea factory.

Sri Lanka’s tea production is aiming for a serious crisis. Both China and Vietnam now produces black tea significantly cheaper than in Sri Lanka, where the cost of living has risen sharply since the end of the war.
The state does not want to raise prices for the raw tea leaves as Ceylon Tea is already dangerously pressured on the world market.

This means that the Tamil tea-pickers who already lived in the bottom of the social pyramid for many years, today is worse off than ever. The tea pickers can be forced to work for a few hundred rupees per day, equivalent to about DKK 9,- / € 1.20. With This amount nobody can live in Sri Lanka today, but the traditional tea production does not give the economy much more.

White tea for prosperity and empowerment
We can not solve the problems of tea farmers and tea workers in Sri Lanka, but we can help to show a new way.

We have experimented with growing tea in a completely different price class than that for which the island is known for. Our tea is produced finished on the plantation, without adding anything other than solar energy.

We have found a plant in Sri Lanka, which is highly suitable for the production of white tea, and we have made the first test productions. We will offer farmers to switch to the new type of plants when old tea bushes need to be replaced, and thereby slowly shift their production. A tea plant has a saturation period of about 25 years, then the plant is worn out and new shrubs needs to be planted.

White tea should be picked carefully and sun-dried. It can be a problem in the mountains, where it often rains and is very humid. Therefore, we are developing a method to dry the leaves using solar energy. The leaves are completely dry in two days and is then ready for sale.

Tea with perspective
The export price of the dried and processed black Ceylon tea, that has seen many intermediaries, is between 3.5-7 $ per kilo. The price the farmers receive for the raw tea is equivalent to approximately $ 1 per kilo of finished tea.

Our experiment has resulted in a ‘zero energy white tea’ with a very high quality, which has an export value of about $ 20-25 per kilo.

Because the tea is made ready for sale on the plantation, it does not have be sold to a tea factory to the state’s low rates, but can be traded freely, either directly to customers or possibly to the Sri Lankan tea-exchange in Colombo.

Better life for tea farmers and plantation workers
The idea is to improve the economy of the small plantations and provide a basis on how both the tea-pickers and tea farmers can get a higher standard of living.
At the same time we would like to help spread awareness of the cultivation of tea of better quality, not only in the local area, but throughout the island.

Therefore, we have taken the first step to start an experimental part of a plantation – a test station for a different way to grow tea on. The idea is that the model should be copied and placed in other areas as soon as we have more experience to build on.


Phase 1. Establishing a test station

In collaboration with the local NGO, Small Organic Farmers Association, and Engineers Without Borders in Denmark we will build and operate a testing station for cultivation of white tea, where we can handle large amounts of tea-leaves.
We will restructure and plant trees on 15 acres with the new type of tea plant, which is suitable for the white tea. At the same time, we want to establish a dryer that can handle the harvest from about 100 acres.

This way we offer smaller tea growers the possibility to shift their tea plants gradually to the correct type.
When they get a higher income from the white tea than the traditional production, they will in the long term be able to afford to build their own smaller drying station, if they wish.

The test station is a show-case, inspiration and an offer concrete, practical help for the farmers who want to fully or partially convert to the sun-dried, white tea in cooperation with us.

Phase 2. Proper conditions for tea workers

If a farmer wants to enter into a cooperation with us, we require that a number of conditions are met:
Working hours must be maximum of 6 hours a day – if it is longer, the workers must be paid for overtime.
All employees must be permanently hired and must be paid pension.
A daily wage that must minimum be equivalent to the official minimum wage for plantation workers plus 50%.
5% of the revenue must be reserved to school management- and medication support fund for the benefit of the workers on the plantations.

Phase 3. A school for the tea-workers’ children

The education system in Sri Lanka is divided into two classes. The state offers a primary school that is free, but it is also very basic. Middle and upper classes pay for their children to go to private schools every afternoon and weekend. Workers in the plantations will never be able to pay for tuition, and their children have always had bad schooling.

To break the cycle of social inheritance, we have started a new Chaplon-paid school where all of our employees and their children can get free lessons every afternoon and weekends.
To the extent there is room, the children of tea-workers on other plantations could also attend our free classes.