Minister hits out at planters: ‘They are more on their mobile phones than visiting work sites’


By Steve A. Morrell


Planters are now more on their mobile phones instructing their support staff on their allocated tasks, rather than visiting work sites. These trends are quite contrary to what was traditionally the norm for planters, who dedicated their lives to tending their fields ensuring they produced the best Ceylon Tea, a respected product which commanded brand respect internationally, Plantation Industries Minister, Naveen Dissanayake remarked.

"I am intensely disappointed that standards set by British planters were slighted in the current context of plantation management", he noted in his addressed to a group of businessmen at the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka. (NCCSL) last week.

"The smooth transition from expatriate management to our professionals who imbibed these standards ensured such management practices were not relaxed. Those self same planters continued those exacting norms even after plantations were nationalized", the minister said.

However, the regrettable incidence of adherence to strange and new supervisory practices was apparently the norm after re-privatization, he pointed out.

He lamented the dire straits of the tea industry, particularly attributed to poor prices being realised at present. The formalized plantation sector was generally on a loosing spiral because of the oil price crisis in OPEC countries which were Sri Lanka’s major markets.

Minister Dissanayake said the Rouble crisis affected Russian buying in Colombo. "Amidst such stultifying influences, we have to either find new markets or adhere to an altered focus to realign the plantations to an out-grower model".

In perspective he posed the questions, What is the future of the plantations? and can the traditional model be continued? Although he expressed his diffidence that the plantations were in stress, he said in effect all was not lost.

A tea smallholder said that they were being paid only around Rs. 70 per kilo for leaf supplied to bought leaf factories owned by the tea factory owners.

In response to a question by The Sunday Island, two factory owners complained that smallholders supplied bad leaf to their factories. What asked for a clarification on what they meant by "bad leaf", their response was that the Tea Board had specified that they supply an average of 60% fines (meaning bud and first two leaves), but they break all these rules and supply coarse leaf, which renders high refuse tea percentages.

They said that at present their refuse tea percentage exceeded 15%. (During nationalized management, the permissible standard was 3%).

Bought leaf factory officials said that Rs. 70 per kilo was a good price considering the smallholder cost per kilo of about Rs. 40.

The media pointed out that the out grower model was introduced when estates were managed by British companies. But, the late minister Thondaman opposed this move at the time because he feared he would lose his membership.

Minister Dissanayake said tea earned US$ 1.5 billion in 2015. But, the potential of the industry was that tea and rubber could be leading forex earners for the country.

Finding new markets was not easy, but all such possibilities were being pursued, he assured.

Tilak Godamane Introduced the Minister. Bandula Dissanayake delivered the vote of thanks

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