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Author Topic: Plantation life in Sri Lanka changes over the years  (Read 2661 times)
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« on: March 15, 2010, 03:10:19 AM »

Plantation life in Sri Lanka changes over the years
14 March 2010

A tea industry specialist with nearly half a century in the industry, says Sri Lanka's formal plantation sector has come a long way from the original British legacy.

Reggie Rajiah, a Fellow of Institute of Plantation Management (FIPM), entered Sri Lanka's plantation sector in 1962. He has 45 years of experience in all aspects of the tea industry, as a planter, broker, director and buyer in Sri Lanka and overseas.

In an interview with the Planters' Association of Ceylon, Rajiah says plantation life, in Sri Lanka's formal plantation sector, has improved from the viewpoint of social dignity, positively impacting production and profitability.

He expressed these views following a recent tour of Regional Plantation Company (RPC) estates across the country, with a team of experienced planters, to select outstanding achievements in estates. These achievements were based on criteria set by the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT).

"Of course there is still much room for improvement but compared to the conditions of life in the estates during even the late 80s, there are tremendous changes in almost every aspect of life relating to human development," says Rajiah.

For instance, the colourful, sari clad tea plucking ladies, symbolic of Sri Lankan tea plantations, are seeing many improvements in their lives due to PHDT interventions in RPC estates.

"Apart from her special skill in selecting tender shoots whilst combing difficult terrain, in all types of weather, she is also expected to clean, gather firewood, prepare meals, and bring up children, under the most basic living conditions," points out Rajiah.

"But today, with PHDT interventions in RPC estates, women's lives are beginning to change because of improved family facilities at their disposal and because they are being empowered with status and dignity," says Rajiah.

Modern welfare systems
Through PHDT interventions, key areas of healthcare, child development, settlement development, housing and social development, have improved in many RPC estates.

For instance, Co-operative Societies assist workers with counselling for alcoholism, household cash management, banking and savings, and loans for livestock and other income-generating ventures, such as beauty salons. Children of workers are also given financial assistance for education, through these societies.

The PHDT also spearheaded the provision of housing amenities, solar electricity, hot water, factory and field restrooms, elders' homes and also crematoriums in some plantation districts in keeping with cultural requirements.

"From the time of nationalisation there was a concerted effort to improve essential services for plantation communities. But now, the RPCs have moved beyond this. Now there are modern, specialised services delivered in a very well structured manner for residents in estates, with benefits sometimes spilling over into adjoining village communities," says Rajiah.

Today, even infants in RPC estates benefit from modern facilities.

"Most of the Child Development Centres for the 0-5 age group in RPC estates are custom-built, well equipped units, managed by qualified, trained staff," says Rajiah.

Meanwhile, access to modern medical facilities is saving lives.

"These days of mostly institutional births, mothers have access to proper nutrition and maternity care. Today, mortality rates compare well with national counts," notes Rajiah.

Essential facilities like housing and water have also improved in RPC estates.

"It is mostly the youth and young adults that are moving into new utility housing, indicating that they have accepted the concept of detached housing. Perhaps it will take longer for the older folk to follow. But this again is a great improvement from before, when most disputes on estates could have been attributed to lack of water and leaking roofs, combined with inadequate housing," recalls Rajiah.

Factory improvements
RPC estates have also implemented factory developments by adopting modern, internationally accepted quality systems by way of ISO, HACCP, health and safety measures and related certification.

These factory upgrades have boosted standards of manufacture and have also encouraged worker participation because of cleaner, better organised working conditions. These measures, including factory restrooms, have improved the quality of Ceylon Tea by allowing better timing of manufacture during critical periods of seasonal quality, unique to this island. "As an ex-buyer in the quality-conscious South African market, I am aware that quality standards and certifications may tilt the scale when it comes to buying choices, at auctions. It also meets the social concerns of the consumer housewife - not only for traceability and certification, but also for ethical practices in production and procurement, especially in worker welfare and living conditions," says Rajiah.

Working better
In general work conditions in RPC estates have also changed, and for the better. This is largely due to PHDT inputs empowering workers, and thus enabling changes in management style. Estate management is now consensus oriented and increasingly recognises the dignity of workers.

"Earlier it was an authoritarian system. Now, they have developed a more consultative approach to managing estates. There are worker committees in every estate that is made up of the estate superintendent and worker/ trade union representative. Some of these committees now have women as worker representatives, which is a big progressive change in approach.

With the committee system, worker disputes are settled through consultation with less time wasted on disputes and work stoppages, and more time available for productive issues," says Rajiah.

This consultative approach, says Rajiah, is the way to enrich Ceylon Tea, to further meet demands of 'Corporate Social Responsibility' of which world consumers have become increasingly conscious.

Source: The Sunday Observer http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2010/03/14/fin19.asp
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Ian Gardner
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« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2010, 07:30:08 AM »

However, I have a question. At what point does the reduction of the production area for the purpose of building adversely affect profitability? Of course, replanting with high yielding tea will mitigate, but there comes a time . . . . . . . . .
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