Trouble brewing for Sri Lanka tea farmers

KOTMALE, June 28, 2009 (AFP) – World tea prices have rocketed but along misty tea-growing mountain slopes in Sri Lanka’s central hills, farmers are facing disaster. “Earlier we were concentrating mainly on enhancing yields — drought was not an issue then — but we are now focusing on drought-tolerant varieties,” Gunasekare said.

World tea prices have risen by about 35 percent in the past year and supermarket prices are set to rise another 10 percent in June, but small farmers in Sri Lanka who account for more than two thirds of the country’s production have not benefited.

Sri Lanka earned a record 1.23 billion dollars from tea exports in 2008 thanks to the global commodity boom in the first half last year, but the party is now over.

The drought means that the subsistence farmers will not benefit from the rising prices and the troubles ahead are not something they can forget with a refreshing cup of tea. Despite production shortfalls coupled with increased demand making the daily cuppa dearer, the men and women who toil the land have little reason to cheer, for they must uproot tea bushes desiccated by a severe drought.

Tea farmer N. K. Atap