Sri Lanka’s tea industry will run out of fuel in a week as they face a crisis that stakeholders insist will trickle down to even job losses if this situation continues. The estates are already witnessing rising social tensions as those without work in Colombo return home.
The Business Times learns that the tea industry is currently facing a crisis beyond proportions as they are currently operating on fuel available for about a week. This clearly spells out the possible cessation of work on the estates if the factories come to a halt.
Galle – Kalutara Estate Owners Association Secretary Ushan Samarasinghe told the Business Times they face the same problems as the rest; with no diesel he is unable to visit his own estates on time. In fact, he noted getting the leaf to the factories is getting delayed as a result of which quality drops.
He is part of the larger smallholder population that contributes 70 per cent of total tea exports and if they are unable to carry out their work it will not be possible to produce the teas required to export to the global market. The tea industry is already impacted due to the lack of application of fertiliser last year as a result of which there is 13-year low quantity drop witnessed at the auctions and this is ongoing. The “situation is quite bad,” and despite the availability of fertiliser plantation companies are unable to purchase them as costs have escalated from Rs.30,000 per MT to Rs.500,000 per MT, Planters Association Spokesman Dr. Roshan Rajadurai said.
Estate worker families that left for Colombo for other jobs like working in tea shops and even the construction sector are now without work. They are back on the estates but have no income and as a result of this petty quarrels and thefts are on the rise.
“We have a far more difficult and pressing situation to handle since the living and workplace is the same and so there could be sparks and further tension on the estates,” Dr. Rajadurai said.
“More dangerous is the constant breakdown of electricity because normally within an hour or two the leaf gets spoilt and withers and that affects quality,” he explained. The lack of fuel delays transportation adding to the issues.
The plantation sector is responsible for at least 10 per cent of the population and in this respect they have to ensure that the workers are looked after as they are totally dependent on their managements, Dr. Rajadurai said.
He pointed out that these are the consequences of taking up wrong policies without listening to industry experts.
The crisis is “more serious than we think,” Colombo Tea Traders Association Chairman Jayantha Karunaratne said adding “In all my life I’ve never gone through this kind of situation.”
Diesel may be available for a few more weeks but “if we don’t have electricity?” he queried adding that then they will not be able to supply tea.