Colombo: A worsening fuel crisis and other shocks are endangering Sri Lanka’s famed tea sector, further jeopardising the country’s desperately needed foreign exchange revenues.
According to Lionel Herath, president of the Sri Lanka Tea Factory Owners Association, “there is a major possibility that all the tea factories in seven districts throughout the nation may come to a stop if sufficient fuel inventories are not supplied in the next few days.”
Currently, factories only operate three to four days a week because workers must wait in gasoline lines on their off days.
He asserted that the support provided by the Power and Energy Ministry to one of the oldest and most important export businesses had been unsatisfactory.
Some owners of tea factories paid money to purchase gasoline and constructed the appropriate storage tanks, but the fuel has not yet been delivered. Our primary problem three months ago was fertiliser. The current issue is the lack of gasoline needed to run the plants, he continued.
It was noted that 264 privately owned tea factories and an additional 258 firms were operating with extreme difficulty in the seven tea-growing areas.
He claimed that the lack of fuel had made it difficult to transport tea leaves, and that the price of wood had drastically increased from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 4,000.
Due to power outages, fuel shortages, the economic downturn, and rising prices, tea plants are in a major situation. Since the tea sector is so important to the country’s economy, the government need to pay greater attention to its issues, according to Herath.
He estimated that approximately two million individuals, or 10% of the nation’s entire population, worked directly and indirectly in the tea sector, including more than 400,000 smallholders.
Due to fertiliser, tea output has decreased by 20–30%, although the quality of the tea bud (two leaves and a bud) has decreased by 60–70%. Although tea is sold for a fair price, the business lacks enough high-quality supplies as a result of the government’s misguided policies.
We are resting on a gold mine, he said. The tea sector has the potential to generate $5 billion. Although we can cultivate tea all year round, unlike other rival nations, our elected leaders and responsible parties have not implemented any plans to advance the tea sector, according to Herath.
Tea output in Sri Lanka represented 11% of GDP in 1990 but just 4% of GDP in 2021.