In his review to the company’s annual report Merrill J Fernando, Chairman, CTEA noted that the plantation industry is in a more grievous condition today than last year.
“There is a desperate need today to provide low interest loan facilities to regional plantation companies for replanting a minimum hectareage per year. Such facilities should be tied to specific programmes, and progress should be monitored by a private sector monitoring team of competent planters,” he said.
Fernando added that Sri Lanka’s production costs are high, due largely to pressure brought on RPCs to yield to unrealistic wage demands.
“Whilst earnings of estate workers are not very high, low productivity has rendered the wage completely out of proportion with worker contribution,” he stated.
According to him, the answer would be to establish an ongoing dialogue with workers and trade unions to resolve this issue.
“An aggressive redevelopment programme of plantations, with special emphasis on replanting, will increase yields and reduce the cost of production. These are the urgent needs of plantations today,” the Chairman noted.
He went on to urge government bodies to rescue the plantation by working closely with the private sector.
Meanwhile Fer nando accused that sixty four years after Independence from British rule, the tea industry remains captive to the exploitative colonial culture of farmers, middlemen and marketers.
“Our tea producers face highly restrictive regulations in exporting their own tea, which encourage the role of middlemen – traders,” he said
He explained that traders, generally looking for quick profits, are condemned to remain suppliers, making no contribution to the long term interests of tea, by investing in creating Sri Lankan brands.
“They fill the role of supplier and middlemen. As we know and experience all the time, a supplier is easily replaced and that is the bane of Ceylon tea today,” Fernando observed.
He is of the view that to change the outlook for tea, immediate measures should be introduced to encourage and incentivise tea producers to actively engage in exporting tea, with special focus on building Sri Lankan brand names.“Within three years of implementing such a strategy, the outlook would be different. Sri Lanka will be the first country which encourage farmers to market their tea crop by establishing links with end users in supermarket chains, department stores etc,” CTEA Chairman stated adding that then other producing countries will turn to us for direction and guidance. (KP)