Revenue loss from export crops like tea played a big part in Sri Lanka’s rapid economic decline. For descendants of Tamil-bonded labourers, life is more difficult now.
The estimated loss from the drop in tea production alone isUS$ 425 million. And now, due to chronic shortages and steep prices, fertiliser isn’t even available to those who need it.
The cost of fertiliser in Sri Lanka has gone up from Sri Lankan Rs 1,500 to Rs 16,000, forcing those who work in the tea industry — and farming in general — to reconcile with what feels like an unofficial ban.
Tea is one of Sri Lanka’s top exports, besides garments. With the dollar price going up, income is increasing too.
But plantations can’t concentrate on manufacturing and are being forced to spend extra on expensive fuel and other inputs.
Power cuts and diesel shortages, along with shortages in paper for packaging, have affected the business even if tea itself is bringing in more money.Tea production in March had slumped by 24% to 22 million kg from a year earlier, marking it as the lowest crop since 2009, Asia Siyaka Commodities said.
It also said in 2020 when the country went into complete lockdown in mid-March and production declined to 13.5 million kg.
Quoting Sri Lanka Tea Board preliminary data, Asia Siyaka said first quarter production dropped by 15% to 63 million kg from 74.5 million kg a year ago.
This year’s January – March figure is also the lowest since 2009. In that year production slumped due to fallout from the global financial crisis and the market collapsed, teas remained unsold and farmers stopped plucking their fields and estates were pruned.
Asia Siyaka said this year’s first quarter losses however resulted from dry weather that took its toll on bushes that had not received adequate fertilizer since Q4 2021 and in some cases even before.
All three elevations are down but the sharpest loss has come from Low Growns. Last year’s Q1 quantity was 46.4 million kg for the elevation whereas during January – March 2022 production has slumped 18% to 38 million kg.
High Growns performed relatively better largely due to Regional Plantation Companies pumping in their fertiliser reserves which limited crop loss to 7% from 16 million kg to 14.8 million kg. Mediums declined from 11.9 million kg to 10.1 million kg this year.