Fertiliser everywhere but tea smallholder in crisis
Sunimalee Dias / The Sunday Times , 2023-02-19
Tea smallholders are finding it hard to purchase fertiliser since the subsidy scheme has been scrapped as a result of which at least 40 per cent of them are not applying adequate nutrition to tea plants that could eventually lead to a further crop drop this year as well.
Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Niraj De Mel told the Business Times that the smallholders are not adequately incentivised to obtain this loan scheme introduced since January this year due to the high cost of living.
Smallholders were used to the low subsidised fertilisers provided to them previously by the government as a result of which they are now unable to purchase the same at higher prices existing today in the market, he noted. Fertiliser costs about Rs.15,000 per 50 kg bag and with subsidies likely to be moved out the authorities believe that this is necessary in line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements as well.
Smallholders usually purchase fertiliser from factories on a loan that will be paid back within three months, but today they are faced with a number of other higher personal costs including looking after their children’s needs, Galle Kalutara Tea Smallholders Association President Ushan Samarasinghe told the Business Times. He pointed out that while the government today cannot afford to provide fertiliser at subsidised rates as they did in the past, some smallholders are finding it hard to maintain the high cost of living.
In addition to that they are already burdened with a crop that was not provided adequate fertiliser for about one and a half years due to wrong decisions taken by policy makers in banning chemical fertiliser and glyphosate, he noted.
But today they are also facing another crisis in that workers are hard to find and proposals put forward by them have fallen on deaf ears. Tea smallholders have proposed for authorities to engage workers through the National Youth Services Council and retired armed forces personnel to be employed on the estates not as pluckers but by being provided training in using plucking machines to carry out the job. With glyphosate and chemical fertiliser made available in the market today the growers are faced with a crisis of inadequate money in hand to purchase these as a result of which Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Tea is likely to see a further drop in production as smallholders account for 70 per cent of crop for the export market.
In the meantime, former Tea Factory Owners Association Chairman Harith Ranasinghe said that with a drop in crop the factories are facing severe competition at present for green leaf.
He pointed out that this has caused a drop in quality and price increases and with those unable to run the operations factories are seen to be changing hands as well.
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