Organic tea no longer a fad
Tea cultivation is of high importance to the Sri Lankan economy and the world market. Being the world's fourth largest producer of tea, the industry is one of the country's main sources of foreign exchange and a significant source of income for labourers, with tea accounting for 15% of the GDP, generating roughly $700 million annually. In 1995 Sri Lanka was the world's leading exporter of tea, with 23% of the total world export.
The climate and good soils make it possible to grow high-quality tea, which is attracting more and more international dealers and foreign currency. However, tea producers often do not have the knowledge they need in order to comply with the necessary quality standards. Many small farmers use chemical pesticides, which in the future could make some dealers cancel supply contracts.
PARCIC – Japan’s Postal Savings for International Voluntary Aid, has entered into a development partnership with Sevalanka Foundation that is providing long-term support to 25 small farmers in Southern Sri Lanka to help them meet International Standards for conversion to organically produced tea.
Selected tea farmers in Southern Deniyaya have been trained on conversion to organic tea cultivation and to produce high-quality tea that complies with the international standards. Agricultural inputs to make organic fertilisers have been distributed to the tea cultivators to make sure they help maintain the genetic diversity of the agricultural system and its surroundings - including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats. Moreover, Sevalanka is working with these producers to have access to services related to the cultivation, processing and marketing of the tea.
After taking stock of all of the fields of the participating farmers, the tea cultivators were taught the methods of conversion to organic cultivation, from the picking and processing of tea plants, and the production and use of organic fertilisers, to hygiene standards and transportation. The project helps the farmers to gain certification for their organically produced teas and focuses on ways to improve marketing.
Twenty five smallholder farmers from Kiriwaldola and Mederipitiya are successfully completing the first phase of converting to organic tea production. A further 25 farmers will be helped in the next phase of the program. Through the partnership, local youth have received awareness and training on conversion to organic tea cultivation. They will provide advice and help for tea producers even after the end of the project, and will help more farmers convert to organic production.
25 compost pits have been built during the project. Not only do these allow the farmers to produce compost, but they also are making an extra income from the excess compost production. Moreover, by avoiding the use of pesticides, environmental damage is reduced and the health of the farmers is protected. This also has a beneficial effect on other agricultural goods grown by the smallholder farmers, such as cloves and pepper. The information events organised as part of the project have contributed to raising awareness about the advantages of organic tea production among the local authorities and other actors in the tea sector. This will help achieve the objective of establishing the project as a centre of excellence for organic tea production in Southern Sri Lanka.