Trialling an out grower model, Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, although wages in the tea industry are significantly higher than both World Bank and Sri Lankan national poverty line benchmark indicators, the industry still has difficulty maintaining and attracting a productive workforce.  The younger, more educated generations of Sri Lankans growing up on tea estates are seeking opportunities outside of the estate communities, resulting in shortage of workers and low productivity levels.  Such factors have led to the cost of production outweighing the prices paid for tea, which is compounded by a decline in world tea prices. The Sri Lankan Government recently announced wage increases for tea plantation workers, which will put even more pressure on production costs, but will likely not reverse the flow of labour off tea estates.

work-papers2To try and solve some of the problems facing the Sri Lankan industry, the Planters’ Association (PA) has suggested switching to an out-grower model, whereby estate workers are given plots of land to cultivate tea.  In essence, these workers will become farmers, fully responsible for growing tea, which they will then sell to the tea estates for processing.  Roshan Rajadurai, Chairman of the PA, believes this will enhance both productivity and worker incomes. As part of this recommendation three Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) are scheduled to trial this model.

How ETP is supporting the trial

To help ensure the newly appointed farmers make a success of these plots and earn decent livelihoods, ETP is piloting five farmer field schools (FFSs) on three tea estates owned by the RPCs, who as well as ETP members Taylors of Harrogate and Mother Parkers are funding the project. The FFS model uses a schools without walls approach, which has been hugely successful in Kenya, bringing many benefits to the farmers such as higher yields, better quality tea, climate change adaptation strategies, and better business management skills, to name a few.

Key Achievements to date

work-plan-demoIn February 2016, a four-day training session was held to train thirty members of RPC staff on the FFS methodology. The main objectives of the training was to enable participants to understand the FFS methodology and give participants the knowledge and tools to set up and run FFSs at their respective estates. These trainers will facilitate training meetings of small groups of farmers, typically 25 – 30 per school, at FFS meetings that are held twice a month. The idea of the FFS approach is not only to impart knowledge, but to also draw from the knowledge that is within the group.  The curriculum, which is devised by the farmers themselves, focuses on tea related subjects for about 65% of the time, with the remainder focusing on non-tea subjects such as:

  • Good agricultural practices
  • Pruning and plucking frequency
  • Improving leaf quality
  • Integrated weed management
  • Fertiliser and chemical weed management
  • Gender & home life
  • Alcoholism

In total, the project will train 150 farmers and run until August 2017, when they will take part in a graduation ceremony and showcase what they have learned. The Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka has been requested to undertake a socio-economic study of the programme. If the results are positive then the model will potentially be expanded to other tea estates.