Govt. tea replanting fund gets cabinet nod
The Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB)-managed replanting fund has received Cabinet approval and will ensure that monies will be accumulated for the replanting of teas by smallholders, the ministry secretary said.
“We got the Cabinet approval about two to three weeks back to establish a replanting fund that is contributed by all,” Plantations Ministry Secretary J.A. Ranjith told the Business Times on Thursday.
He explained that the fund will be managed by the SLTB and must establish a committee comprising Tea Smallholding Authority officials, SLTB officials, Plantation Ministry officials and the Tea Smallholders Association.
It was pointed out that this would ensure that replanting would receive an annual funding of about Rs.450 million per year at the rate of Rs.1.50 per kg of tea exports for the use of replanting and nursery development.
This year the allocation of Rs.800 million had already been made by the Treasury for replanting of 1500 hectares, he said. The target is to replant 4500 hectares within five years’ time and the programme is in its third year now scheduled to be concluded by 2022.
Former head of the Planters Association Roshan Rajadurai said that while they agree to a contribution to a fund for the purpose of replanting however, it should be of benefit to all in the industry.
He pointed out that simply availing the smallholder alone should not be the case on the other hand, the government should ensure that they be provided at least concessionary loans for replanting.
“We are not asking for hand-outs but we should be treated equally – smallholders are continuing to get a lot of assistance – a fund is necessary and at least we should have some concessionary loans as a clearing is a form of capital development,” Mr. Rajadurai explained.
However, Heladiv Teas Chairman Rohan Fernando pointed out that while replanting of tea should be done as a commercial venture it should not be considered a social activity.
“If you can sell the tea then you should have the money to replant it as well – there should be a viable model for smallholders to do their replanting,” he noted.
Mr. Fernando identified this as an election promise and election-based dole out insisting that it was not just the planters but even the exporters were facing severe stress due to the issues in exports.
He blamed the inefficiency of the ministers over the years who have not been able to even utilize the promotion fund monies that is solely contributed by the exporters.
“They are giving money to get the votes – if the government wants to give from the consolidated budget then that is a different thing – have a proper economic model and let the plantations go to the banks and borrow on small interest and then support the agricultural sector – you must have a safety net and a support system,” he explained.
SLTB Chairman Lucille Wijewardena said that everybody is included in the value chain and so all would have to contribute to the replanting fund.
Earlier there was a fund only for promotion and now that levy of Rs.3.50 was brought down to Rs.1.50 and another Rs.1.50 per kg been asked to be sent to the replanting fund.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wijewardena said that the promotion campaign is scheduled to kick off on September 24 in Russia followed by Ukraine in October.