Sri Lankan tea growers have applied sustainable growing practices for over a century. These practices are not limited to the environmental side but also include the social aspects. My grandfather was one of the first Sri Lankan tea estate owners before we even gained independence from Britain in 1948. Some of my earliest memories was accompanying him to his tea estates and getting caught up in the bustle of production. He was a vocal proponent of social and environmental sustainability and taught me to respect and cherish the growing communities as well as care for the tea production itself.
Social sustainability starts with social responsibility. The growing communities in Sri Lanka enjoy a much better quality of life than their counterparts in other tea growing regions of the world. Sri Lankan government policy dictates that at least 68% of the Net Annual Sales (NAS) of each plantation and factory must remain in these communities. This investment enables our growers’ communities to improve their quality of life, with access to free education, housing, and healthcare as well as subsidizing cost of living.
Healthcare – Well-structured healthcare programs at Sri Lankan tea estates provide workers with everything from free pre-natal care to treating injuries, regardless of whether work related or not. For complicated and urgent healthcare needs, the Sri Lankan government provides hospital and emergency services, all free of charge.
Education – Sri Lanka has one of the highest literacy rates in Asia at over 92%. The main reason for this is free education provided to all Sri Lankans. This K-12 education structure is available to Sri Lankan tea estate workers with schools within the tea estates premise or within a close proximity. Every teas estate workers child is required by the government to attend school and child labor is prohibited by law.
Wages – Sri Lanka has the world’s highest wages for tea estate workers that are inflation adjusted and government mandated to safeguard their basic necessities. The mandated wages are the result of collective bargaining from the multiple trade unions that represent the workers. As a result these workers earn almost double the income on average of their counterparts in other tea producing countries.
Welfare – The amount of tea leaves a worker needs to pluck daily is lower than their counterparts in other tea producing countries. This directly affects worker well-being. The Sri Lankan government also mandates that providence funds are set up to provide retirement programs.
Sustainable agriculture is productive, competitive and efficient, while protecting and improving the natural environment and conditions of the local communities.
Harvesting – Sri Lankan tea growers practice only hand plucking, eschewing mechanical harvesters. While reducing carbon emissions, hand plucking reduces the damage to the tea bushes. It is also effective for monitoring and removing harmful pests and insects as well as withered and damaged leaves. It is common to see tea bushes that have a lifespan of over a century and still producing quality teas.
Pesticides and fertilizers – The Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) has strict rules and policies on the use of only approved agrochemicals. Natural pest control, including the planting of various flora that are natural pest reducers and shade trees are highly encouraged. Minimal use of pesticides help sustain the ecological balance of the tea field. Indeed the use of Methyl Bromide, a pesticide has been banned in Sri Lanka since 1989 due to its harmful effect on the ozone layer. We are proud to serve ozone friendly tea.
Indeed because of the restrictions of chemical fertilizers, Sri Lankan tea is also one of the cleanest and purest teas you will drink.
Irrigation – Sri Lankan tea estates are rain fed and many tea estates maintain water retention tanks and water holding areas. It is also common to see many tea estates utilizing small hydroelectric plants to provide sustainable energy to their factories.
Soil maintenance – soil fertility and maintenance has been key to the continued success in the quality of Sri Lankan tea production. Soils are maintained by using grass varieties to control erosion and increase fertility.
Conservation – Sri Lankan tea planters have long understood the importance of preserving the forests that lie above the estates and indeed a considerable part of the labor running a tea estate is dedicated to this task.