Doing the same thing expecting different results is lunacy: Albert Einstein
Monday, 3 March 2014 01:16
By Hemal de Silva
If the psyche of a consumer is to seek value for money, the producer too must seek the product’s value in money. Unfortunately, this is not possible if the product is costlier to produce than its value! To quote: “A senior planter, who is a CEO of a major Regional Plantation Company, has publicly stated that “now we are in a lunatic mode as doing the same thing expecting different results is lunacy.” If so, I am confident that there is hope for the SL tea plantation industry (TPI). ‘What next?’ is the question. Before that, what is the problem?
For almost 150 years, Sri Lanka has been managing tea plantations to produce the well-known ‘Ceylon Tea’ while the RPCs continue to maintain over 90% of their plantations with over 60-year-old tea fields. Fortunately, the small holder growers produce 75% of the annual production. Otherwise, where would Sri Lanka be as a tea producing country? However, due acknowledgement should be given to the pioneers and those who maintained the industry in every way as otherwise not even the small holders would have been able to benefit from the recognition of ‘Ceylon Tea’ by those who prefer to drink this beverage.
Kenya and other countries are progressing well as tea producing nations. The extent under tea is being increased, Rwanda being an example. The main advantage several countries have compared to Sri Lanka is the cost factor. While the cost of production (COP) is high and rising in SL, in many other countries it is low. What is the reason? Where the COP is low, the yields or productivity of land is high. The main problem in SL is productivity of land is so low pushing the COP to high levels. For instance, while the yield in Kenya is app. 2,500 kg per ha, SL averages a yield of 1,771 kg per ha (CBSL – 2012). This is the catch 22 situation and the problem.
The answer for the question ‘What next?’ is ‘Innovation’.
A basic question that begs for a direct answer is, “What is the supply needed to meet the demand for ‘Ceylon Tea’?” Cheering when a record crop is harvested and shedding tears when it drops due to the well-known adverse effects of climate change, which does not appear to have been taken into account is not the way to get out of the ‘lunatic mode’.
The COP is too high due to low productivity and replanting to increase yields is either not possible or seriously attempted. ‘Ceylon Tea’ will never go on the Kodak route provided facts are faced, problem understood and a simple and implementable solution is adopted to overcome it. Every problem is supposed to have either a practical or impossible solution. Therefore, please choose the right one!
If the supply of ‘Ceylon Tea’ needed to meet its demand is 350 m. kg, at an average yield of 2,250 kg per ha, the land needed for its production will be 155,555 ha. Considering the total extent under Tea at present is 222,000 ha (CBSL 2012), 66,000 ha are in excess of the requirement. This may be called the uneconomical Tea (UT). This has to be diversified. To replant one ha under tea is said to cost Rs. 3 m. With this amount, 10 to 12 ha of UT can be diversified with a perennial tree crop and bring to a stage of profitability producing a vegetable fat that can either be exported or used as a substitute for imports in addition to many other benefits from the perennial species and the vegetable fat.
The diversification can be carried out without uprooting the tea to continue the harvesting of green leaf. Why maintain the UT at a loss, when the same scarce resources now wasted can be used to finance the diversification? This is a simple way of getting out of the so-called lunatic mode!
Lunacy may be an adverse effect of the full moon. The full moon occurs on just one day of each month. There are 27 to 30 days of each month in every year when one need not be in the-so called lunatic mode. Surely this is sufficient time to take the right decision to ensure that ‘Ceylon Tea will not take the Kodak route’?
(The writer can be contacted via email email@example.com.)