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Chairman Tea Board wallops producers
Tea on the brink of disaster

Sri Lankan tea producers are engaging in producing low quality teas that threatens to bring disaster to the entire industry.

About three weeks ago, Chairman Tea Board, Lalith Hettiarachchi convened an important meeting of the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority,(TSHDA) Private Tea Factory Owners Association, ( PTFOA) and Regional Plantation Companies; (RPCC). Venue for the meeting was Kandy. The meeting was well attended.

He said ‘They are now producing 80 % Off Grades, and only 20 percent main grades. We have about 650 Tea factories in the country, every one of them bar none have got on the same band wagon and are progressively ruining the industry’

These were strong and forthright views expressed by Lalith Hettiarachchi when we discussed outcome of this special convention in Kandy.

He said en-route to Kandy they passed several tea estates. Stopping at one and inspecting plucker’s baskets they found long shoots eight leaves and a bud completely contrary to accepted standard that leaf should always be two leaves and a bud.

Industry origins were to blame, he said.

‘What of the RPCC were they represented?’, he said they were but they had apparently instructed some mid-level managers to attend who had no decisive clout to even explain what was going on in their factories.

He was deeply concerned general standards in the overall tea sector had deteriorated to extreme levels of nonchalance that the tea industry was now on the brink of disaster.

Disappointing out come was that the TSHDA or RPCC could not justify their shocking drop in general standards.

Acknowledged big timers in the industry more or less condescended to be represented who did not have the relegated powers to recommend remedial action.

It was correct that small holders, particularly in the South, and the South central hills were now the big producers producing approximately 70 % crop, keeping the industry afloat. But this did not mean that low standards should be tolerated.

‘All well and good but you do have inspectors to ensure small holders carry out instructions?’

Yes we have but it is quite impossible to monitor each and every manufacturing origin, with just 75 staff personnel.’

‘What of the Companies?’ ‘We expect them to act with responsibility, but shockingly out come is that they too have contributed to drop in standards. Difference is that although they have financial support considering size of their undertakings they have demonstrated lack of purpose or industriousness to thwart an image that is progressively taking shape that they ‘do not give a damn’.

We called three Tea Brokers. Two said they were totally ignorant of the Tea Board initiatives; but one, who said he should not be quoted, said supposed ‘good’ prices at weekly tea auctions were largely artificial. ‘This will not last long’. He said. Particularly we have been riding a wave of prosperity because of the Kenyan disaster. (In Kenya, it was the weather, and their Tribal problems). However these phenomena are fading off in geometric progression, and it would not be long before tea drinkers turn to Kenya for their tea stocks to cater to their markets.

Ceylon Tea was in demand in the UK, they were our main buyer. They turned away from Ceylons quite a while back. Then it was the middle east, Egypt, to name one such, but we successfully ensured that we lost that market. That happened. Then it was Pakistan. Pakistan turned away. They went shopping else where and stopped buying our tea. We are now left with the Russian states. They too are turning away, because if you check our export figures to CIS Countries exports are gradually dwindling. That unfortunately is the bottom line. Yes we were aware of the Tea board initiative. It is a small country, where everybody knows what’s happening.’

Hettiarachchi said there were some factories producing 100 % Off grades without recording intake of leaf. It is to that extent that such fraud has now become common place.

He also said leaf transport from small holder origins were causing deep concern. They transport leaf in jute bags stuffed to capacity. And most unacceptable, that people, and other sundry merchandise , like un-cut firewood (Logs ), are also transported in these leaf lorries.

These and series of drop –in- standards were the general concern of the Chairman tea Board.

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