Officials of the Asian Development Bank met Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake and informed him of their commitment to fund the rehabilitation and development of the tea sector of the plantation industry.
The Minister informed the delegation that the tea sector was badly in need of capital to replacing aging tea bushes with new and vibrant cultivars in order to increase our production to 400 to 450 million kg of tea per year. Currently the country as a whole produces about 300 million kg of tea.
Ceylon Tea is considered the Champaign of teas and still attracts a premium in the world market. There is a growing demand for these teas and new markets are opening up and the demand is getting greater for quality teas. In order to manufacture this type of tea, we need to find solutions to the labour shortage and one area which needs to be addressed is mechanisation. Plucking machines have now been developed and could provide quality leaf to the factory if the technicians are trained on the proper technics of using these machines. We also need to develop our factories to meet the demand of an increase in production.
The ADB officials told the minister that they had done a thorough study with the assistance of officials of the Ministry of Plantation Industries and have identified areas where ADB funding will be available for the development of the tea sector.
In the Regional Plantation Companies, they will assist in undertaking replanting of 2% of the acreage every year. They will also support an infilling program where vacancies in productive tea fields will be filled. The also intend supporting efforts to overcome climate change and particularly in the Uva District will support drip irrigation schemes to mitigate the prolonged droughts that this district has been experiencing.
In the small holder sector, similar loans will be provided to them but in case of small holders who have less than one acre of land, they will help them by providing assistance for infilling rather than replanting. The small holder relies income he/she received from ½ acre or 1 acre cannot afford to sustain themselves economically if they uproot the tea and replant, as it will take about five years before they can commence obtaining an income from the newly planted tea. Infilling on the other hand is the answer to increased production.
The ADB has also considered the shortage of workers on both RPC estates and in the Tea Small Holder sector and have undertaken to develop a scheme that will provide motorised plucking machines, pruning machines and other motorised devices that will eliminate the need for the heavy dependence on labour.
The ADB program is set to commence in 2019.