Planters sound alarm as lack of weedicides strangles sustainability in SL tea estates

Friday, 6 January 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Crop loss in 18 months after 
  • glyphosate ban tops Rs. 15 b
  • Warns of irreversible 
  • damage to quality and productivity 
  • of Sri Lankan estates

In the face of devastating crop losses in excess of an estimated Rs. 15 billion in 2016, the Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) released a statement yesterday pleading with the Government to immediately provide a rational and effective solution to the management of chemical weeding in the estate sector in a commercially-viable manner. 

Since the Government had imposed its blanket ban of glyphosate-based weedicides in May 2015, agricultural productivity – particularly in the estate sector – has been undergoing a slow and steady collapse. 

Commenting on the unprecedented dangers facing his industry, PA Media Convener Roshan Rajadurai warned that if an alternative chemical weedicide capable of matching up to the commercially viability of glyphosate was not presented by the Government on an urgent basis, the quality and productivity of Sri Lankan tea would be irreversibly compromised as a result of deteriorating ground conditions.

“Unfortunately, the situation is becoming extremely dire for the estate sector. We have already been faced with some of the worst weather conditions in recent memory – from droughts to deluge within a single year – and of course there are many other serious systemic challenges to grapple with. 

“While we are doing our best to engage with stakeholders and work to build a new collective vision for the industry, we can no longer ignore the extremely detrimental impacts that the ban is having on our industry. Time and again we have called on the Government to at least give us an alternative to glyphosate and unfortunately there has been no response whatsoever. In the meantime, more estates are becoming overrun with weeds and this will only continue unless the Government responds to reason immediately,” Rajadurai stated.

He added that while the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) had long ago adopted comprehensively integrated weed management systems and techniques – comprising of biological, cultural, manual and chemical weeding techniques – on par if not better than international agricultural and plantation best practices, chemical-based weedicides have remained a necessity throughout. 

However, given the extremely stringent controls placed on Sri Lankan tea, which must strict maintain compliance with FSC, Rainforest Alliance, and ETP standards on labor practices agricultural techniques, fertilisers and chemical usage, Rajadurai firmly reiterated the point that the estate sector exercises extreme caution in the application of such chemicals during all phases of production. 

“From an international perspective, Sri Lankan tea is among the most ethically produced varieties of tea in the world and that valuable goodwill has been secured through a continuous process of monitoring and management of every step in the production of our tea. Between the numerous certification requirements and the regulatory standards of our export markets, we are required to maintain Minimum Residue Levels of chemicals within certain absolute limits simply in order to sell our tea in the first place. 

“Hence the idea that glyphosate based weedicides must be totally banned in Sri Lanka in order to protect the people who come into close contact with the chemical frankly has little to no relevance in our industry. While Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a problem, there is no evidence whatsoever, not even anecdotally, to show that these chemicals have had negative health ramifications for our employees. In fact on the weedicide issue there is totally unanimous agreement between the labour trade unions, the RPCs and all stakeholders and this by itself ought to be sufficient evidence to immediately re-examine this policy,” he asserted. 

Elaborating on his point, Rajadurai explained how the immediate effects of the Government’s policy to ban glyphosate-based weedicides and its failure to provide any alternative, was ultimately being felt by the estate workers whom such policies were supposedly created to benefit. 

“The overgrowth of weeds in the estates only makes it more difficult for our employees to simply traverse one section of the plantation to another, let alone harvest and maintain the tea bushes. Increased undergrowth also created an environment with more snakes and other predators. At every level the glyphosate ban is ban totally counter-productive and we once again call on all policymakers to let sense prevail and a clear, rational alternative be provided immediately,” he stated.