Sustainable tea production as part of the future of Sri Lankas
Tea, Tamils og tourism
Sri Lanka’s history is a long dialogue between the Hindu South India and Buddhist Sri Lanka. In recent times, the dialogue was characterized by armed conflict, to the detriment of the country’s development and economy. Since British colonial times the tea has been a major source of revenue for Sri Lanka, and the plantations are an important part of the island’s history and destiny.
Conflict and colonial rule
More than 30 years of civil war between government forces and the Tamil guerrillas LTTE – Tamil Tigers ended in 2009 after a dramatic course, where many civilians were killed and displaced.
The island’s Tamil minority emigrated under British colonial rule as labor to tea plantations, while the Tamil minority, who already lived on the island, in many cases, were the core of the educated middle class.
The conflict between government forces and the Tamil independence movement, the LTTE has cost huge amounts of money and many lives. In periods, part of the population were internally displaced within the country fleeing from the war.
The war destroyed the possibilities of developing the country’s economy, and today the island’s main sources of income are tourism and tea exports. The country is being rebuilt, and the growth is mainly in the big cities and tourist areas. In recent years there has been strong growth in the tourism industry and the government has invested heavily in expanding roads and transport in coastal areas.
Two languages and two cultures
The population is ethnically and religiously mixed by a majority of Sinhala-speaking Buddhists. The Tamil population speaks Tamil, and the two languages are both official languages in Sri Lanka and have their own alphabet.
Plantation workers in Sri Lanka are many places descendants of Indian laborers from Tamil Nadu, who more or less voluntarily migrated together with the tea bushes in the 1800s by command of the British colonialists. At the time, the British founded the industrial tea production in Sri Lanka to provide cheap tea to their home.
The British-owned plantations were based on very low paid workers, who lived in primitive dwellings on the plantations. Many places in Sri Lanka still has the old residential barracks from the colonial era and these are still in use and the tea workers are still today among the country’s poorest. The opportunities to get an adequate education is still limited for plantation workers’ children growing up in parts of the country that is most sparsely provided with schools and educational opportunities. There may even be very far to the nearest secondary school, if you grow up on a tea plantation in the highlands.
Tea production under pressure
There is no doubt that tea production in the years to come will be an important source of revenue for Sri Lanka, as it has been for more than 150 years. At the moment the tea industry has to shift to more modern production methods, which can make Ceylonese tea more competitive on the world market.
Developments in other tea producing countries are moving towards the mechanization, which may mean further poverty for the poorly educated plantation workers, who in many cases would be redundant. Use of pesticides and fertilizers can also improve production efficiency, but pose a threat of major damage to the vulnerable environment in the highland of Sri Lanka.
Another option is sustainable tea production that protects the environment and develop the workforce that the plantations need in order to deliver a quality product that not only competes on price in the world market.
Sustainable tea production in the future
Chaplon wants as a foreign investor and business to promote a modern and sustainable tea production in Sri Lanka. Therefore, we invest in the welfare and education of our employees and work with local organizations and institutions to pass on know-how on sustainable tea production.
On our latest plantation near the town of Passara we work to offer plantation workers’ children education as a complement to public schooling. In our packing facility we offer English classes on Saturdays.
English teaching gives the packing staff the opportunity to work in our stores where we place great emphasis on staff development and training. In the shops we offer language courses in Arabic and Russian, and it is a minimum requirement that the staff can speak English.