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RPCs and smallholders need to evolve fast to survive: Navin


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By Charumini de Silva

As the sector kicks off its 150 year celebrations Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake yesterday warned Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and tea smallholders that they would have to evolve faster to tackle challenges, including drought-hit production, but pledged support with the commencement of a $ 50 million global marketing campaign.DFT-1-264

“We have to continue to develop and strengthen the industry. The industry has been the backbone of our economy for many years and we cannot afford to let the industry collapse,” he said at the first official event to celebrate the tea industry’s 150th anniversary, which was jointly organised by the Sri Lanka Tea Board and Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA).

Pointing out that 150 years was a long time, Dissanayake asserted that the same industry would not last for another 150 years before calling on RPCs and smallholders to understand this reality and change accordingly for the benefit of the industry and economy as a whole. 

“We have endured a lot and are still going through some tough times. In 2015 it was the prices that depressed the industry, but now it is the production which is caused by the severe drought. I have a duty to talk to all stakeholders and have come to a united position to move forward together,” he added.

The Government’s decision to ban the weedicide glyphosate has dealt a severe blow to the plantation industry, specifically tea, Dissanayake acknowledged.  

“Of course the issue of glyphosate was highly unnecessary. I personally think that it was a policy we shouldn’t have taken for the tea industry. I understand the concerns over environmental issues but I also don’t think you can have commercial agriculture without it,” he pointed out.

Dissanayake asserted that the Tea Research Institute (TRI) had already expressed its views on glyphosate and the Prime Minister has appointed a committee which is soon expected to publish a report on the matter. 

The Minister stated that over one million people are engaged in the tea sector and it contributes significantly to the growth of the economy. He stressed that due to this it was important to have a clear policy framework for the industry.

Commenting on the resolved dispute between the Finance Ministry and Tea Board over funds accumulated through the tea promotion and marketing levy, Dissanayake said: “I will always be the voice of the industry. I will always fight for what you and the industry should have. These are your (exporters’) funds and they belong to the tea industry. I hope in the future we can address all issues that are there whether it is the wage, marketing or cost and I am confident that we will slowly move forward.”

Stating that traditional markets had collapsed, he outlined that it was important for the industry to maintain and protect the quality of Ceylon tea. He said a global marketing campaign had been launched with the investment of $ 50 million to support exporters.

Sri Lanka Tea Board and the CCTA have organised a series of celebratory local and international events throughout the year. The country’s premier cookie and biscuit manufacturer, Maliban, has come forward to celebrate the anniversary and will launch two flavours of biscuits called Earl Grey and Ginger at the Global Ceylon Tea Party in July.

 


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