Post-strike blues hit Sri Lanka tea production

March 08, 2007 (LBO) – Sri Lanka, one of the world’s biggest exporters of tea, has reported its lowest monthly output in nine-years this January, as bad weather slowed recovery of strike-hit estates.

Crop figures in January fell 14 percent to 21.1 million kilos from 24.6 million kilos a year earlier, the lowest since 1996, despite healthy growth from plantations in low grown areas, commodity brokers Asia Siyaka said.

Long leaf teas growing along the island’s southern belt reported a 67 percent growth in crop figures of 14 million kilos in January.

Teas growing in the mountainous higher elevations posted a poor 4.4 million kilos, while plantations in middle part the island reported 2.6 million kilos, the lowest since 1994.

“The situation would have been far worse if not for the low growns,” the commodity broker said adding that the dismal performance may continue into February.

Lush tea plantations were left to over grow for weeks, when some 400,000 workers stopped work demanding an 85 percent wage hike late last year.

The strike was settled in the third week of December, but its effects lingered as the year began, industry officials said.

The overgrown tea bushes had to be given a light pruning, known as a cut-across from which the tea bush had to recover to be ready for plucking again.

Bad weather had also delayed the recovery process, officials said.

Sri Lanka is better known for its high quality aromatic tea that is made with tender leafs and buds of the plant, botanically known as Camellia sinenis.

In 2006 Sri Lanka earned 91 billion rupees or 881 million dollars by shipping 327 million kilos of tea to buyers overseas, mostly in the middle east.