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Sri Lanka top exporter advocates tech solution for tea industry ills

EconomyNext – A top Sri Lankan exporter has called for better use of information technology in the more than century-old tea industry to monitor production and auctions to ensure more accurate data and prevent malpractices.

Crop figures get corrected regularly while monitoring of factory output was inadequate because of the largely manual methods used for which the regulator has insufficient manpower, said Vish Govindasamy, Managing Director of Watawala Plantations, part of India’s Tata Global Beverages group.

"We in the Ceylon tea industry are quite primitive," he declared. "In using information communications technology, we’re way behind as an industry."

He said there were opportunities within the industry to use ICT to monitor production and supply more accurate information about output and prevent auction malpractices.

"Even the annual production data gets corrected regularly because we don’t have the technology to get it right the first time," Govindasamy told a plantation crop research forum.

He suggested creating a centralised data base linking the entire supply chain, from green leaf off the bush to manufacturing of black tea in factories to the Colombo auctions and finally to exports.

"The auction system is known for its efficiency but can be automated to get greater efficiency. We’ve been speaking about it for ages but nothing has been done."

Govindasamy also called for more accountability on the part of the regulator, the Sri Lanka Tea Board, saying it needs to be more vigilant to prevent malpractices.

"The regulator can’t account for the total tea coming to the auctions. There are factories with smaller capacities selling double their output at the auctions. This needs to be overcome.

"We can’t have people on the ground checking manually. We need better technology. It should be not a choice for tea estates and factories to use technology so everybody knows at their fingertips what’s going on in the industry."