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Wednesday October 20th, 2021

Sri Lanka tea output, export earnings could fall 25-pct over fertilizer ban: industry group

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production and export revenues are likely to fall in the coming months due to a fertilizer ban though up to July 2021 volumes and earnings are up compared to 2020, but down from 2019, a industry group has wanred.

Tea production is likely to fall 25 percent within six months, and 40 to 50 percent after that along with quality.

“With tea being a perennial (long-term) crop, the negative effects of insufficient nutrition will be felt throughout the economic lifespan of the plant, which tends to be more than 25 years,” the Planter Association, representing managers of the larger commercial tea farms said.

Up to July 2021 Sri Lanka had earned 766 million dollars from tea exports, with good rains, up 9 percent from 2020 when the country was hit by a drought. But it was down 4 percent from 2019.

“It is unfortunate that that the export earnings generated by the tea industry, which has sustained Sri Lanka for more than a century, is unable to contribute to its fullest potential at a time the country is in dire need of it,” Roshan Rajadurai, spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Planter’s Association representing managers of the top commercial farms said.

“This is an unnecessary opportunity cost for both the industry and the country. Sadly, based on the analysis of credible experts, the worst is yet to come. Long-term reduction of yield from tea plantations is inevitable, unless a solution is provided immediately.”

Sri Lanka had banned agro-chemical as money was printed to maintain a rigid interest rate structure creating a currency crisis under a soft-peg or ‘flexible exchange rate’ while and also to reduce health fallouts.

Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officer’s Association has said according to the work of Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient inhabitants of the island had lived for 140 years when there were no agro-chemicals.

An earlier ban on glyphosate had hit Ceylon Tea market in Japan where worse alternatives are not allowed.

“Changes in fertilizer and agro-chemicals also alter the properties of the final product that tea consumers associate with Ceylon Tea – including a strong aroma and taste,” the PA warned.

Sri Lanka’s regional plantations companies complied with global standards the group said.

“This is evidenced by the industry’s capability to meet the highly stringent standards of buyer countries, including European countries, in terms of maximum residue limit (MRL), which refers to the highest level of a chemical residue legally allowed in food and beverages,” the PA explained.

“In addition, plantations only make use of inputs approved by the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Sri Lanka, which follows a highly rigorous testing and approval process in allowing use of agro-chemicals for tea cultivation.

“Similarly, RPCs strictly adhere to the parameters recommended by the TRI for the application of fertiliser.”

The group said organic fertilizer in a large scale was not feasible.

“This is because a significantly greater amount of organic fertilizer needs to be applied when compared with chemical fertilizer and the application process also requires vastly greater use of labour – which is both highly costly and not available sufficiently in Sri Lanka,” the PA said.

“Organic tea is a small and emerging niche within the industry and would not provide sufficient scale to sustain the sector.”

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