Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona attended the Belt and Road International Tea Trading Forum in Hefeng County, Hubei Province as a guest speaker. Hubei has over 700,000 hectares of immaculately tended tea gardens.
Addressing the gathering of tea experts (including many academics), senior government and party officials, tea traders and diplomats, Ambassador Kohona, as an invited guest speaker, underlined the continuing significance of the tea industry to Sri Lanka. This major agricultural commodity that provided employment, directly or indirectly, to over 10% of Sri Lanka’s workforce, was a key foreign exchange earner, contributed significantly to government revenues and indirectly assisted the funding of Sri Lanka’s free education and free healthcare systems and was largely dependent on the predominantly female work force of tea pluckers.
The modernisation of the tea industry contributed significantly to the success of China’s rural revitalization program. Similarly, rapid modernisation of Sri Lanka’s tea industry, including through digitization, could introduce dramatic changes to the lives of the work force, especially to the thousands of women employed in the industry. It would also help to retain the young who tended to drift to the cities in search of better employment.
China’s insatiable thirst for tea could provide Sri Lanka’s high-quality tea with a lucrative and expanding market but China’s standards and special requirements must be observed. Organic tea, though more expensive, was rapidly catching on in China, especially among the health conscious older consumers, but had to satisfy other requirements.