Sri Lanka state tea promotion agency in social engineering move

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Tea Board, a state agency, is to set up tea shop across Sri Lanka in a social engineering move to boost consumption of ‘good quality’ tea among residents of the island, a media report said.

"Although we export Pure Ceylon Tea’ Sri Lankans don’t have the benefit of drinking good quality tea," Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror newspaper quoted Plantations Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake as saying.

"So, through the tea board, or through another company floated through the equity of the Tea Board we will have some very good tea outlets."

He said that ’20 or 30′ retail shops would be set up but the model would be depend on whether it was a tea retail shop or a ‘tea lifestyle café’.

The minister did not specify which grade of tea was ‘good quality’ and which grade of tea was ‘bad quality’ which Sri Lankans should shun.

The ‘quality’ of tea is a highly subjective matter based on acquired state and regional habits and preferences.

Sri Lanka’s high grown teas which have a lighter taste was at one time considered ‘superior quality’ but the stronger tasting low grown teas have enjoyed higher prices for some time due to demand from Middle East in particular.

Many Sri Lankans who are used to high grown tea may react negatively to tea grown in Galle for example.

The taste of even a single factory is highly variable, across seasons, even across days of the week, and the taste depends on the humidity and temperature of a particular day of the year and elevation which affects bacterial growth during fermentation.

Therefore popular brands are blended to achieve a consistent taste that customers get used to, sometimes with the particular brand of milk they use. In Sri Lanka it is customary to drink tea with milk.

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Prices may also depend on the size of the particle, with generally larger particle sizes enjoying higher prices.

Sri Lanka’s Zesta tea brand for example became market leader by taking BOP fannings to the retail market.

People’s buying habits may also be depend on their ability to spend, and they may decide to buy tea with smaller particles where ‘quality’ as determined by one arbitrator may not be the customer preference.

The report did not elaborate whether Minister Dissanayake wanted to persuade poorer people to buy more expensive tea which may or may not be perceived as ‘good quality’ tea by some, or whether he wanted more affluent people to drink ‘good quality’ tea as defined by another.

However the report said the Tea Board already operated ‘Ceylon Tea Moments’ managed by SriLankan catering, at Race Course, an upmarket shopping area, giving an idea about the customer base.

It is not clear whether 20 to 30 shops would be able to change the habits of millions Sri Lankans who were consuming tea, but more dangerous is the intention of a state to engage in social engineering freedom advocates say.

In a free society moving up the value chain to ‘higher quality’ products (whether define by higher price or some other criteria) should be a natural function of affluence and not social engineering, freedom advocates say.

A state agency, trying to change the food habits of a citizenry using money collected from them is treading on a dangerous path of social engineering, which can eventually result in coercive legislation and taxation, to force people to do the bidding of an elected ruling class or an all-knowing bureaucracy.

Already there are signs of moves to mis-use the taxation system to change the food habits of citizens on the pretext of alleged ‘abuse’ of sugar and fat while there are children suffering from malnutrition and low calorific intake due to higher food prices.

However if the tea shop idea is simply a move to set up another loss-making state commercial enterprise, or build a ‘public private partnership’ with the simple idea of socializing losses and privatizing profits, the intentions may be less sinister freedom advocates say. (Colombo/Oct06/2015)

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