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.
To 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.
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.