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« on: March 31, 2010, 03:42:26 AM »

Innovative field practices to increase tea production
Sunday 28 March 2010

Innovative field practices in tea plantation is the way forward for sustainable development in the industry, said Senior Research Officer and the Officer-in-Charge of the Tea Research Institute (TRI) Low country station, Rathnapura, Dr. M. A. Wijerathne.

Dr. Wijerathne has introduced a number of highly productive technologies to the tea industry and has received many awards for his innovations.

Following are the excerpts from his interview with the Sunday Observer: .

The tea industry in Sri Lanka brings over one billion dollars as foreign exchange to the country and provides direct and indirect employment opportunities to around 1.5 million people. It comprises two sectors namely, tea smallholdings that accounts for around 70% of the total production and the corporate sector estates.

The productivity (yield) is comparatively low in the corporate sector estates with a higher extent of poorly yielding seedling tea and a shortage of workers.

The land and labour productivity of tea in Sri Lanka is reported to be less than other tea growing countries such as India, Kenya and Japan.

As a result the average cost of production (COP) of tea in Sri Lanka is about 2.2 USD/kg which is reported to be the highest among tea growing countries where the COP ranges from 0.75-1.35 USD/kg in other competing countries.

The COP depends mainly on land and labour productivity as well as the cost of other inputs.

As the rising cost of inputs is greatly beyond the control of tea growers, the sustainability of the industry greatly lies on the measures taken to control COP by improving land and labour productivity and efficient use of land, labour and capital.

The increasing labour wages, cost of inputs and the drop in productivity can cause unmanageable rise in COP. With production loss of about 12% (as compared with 2008) together with an increase in labour wages in 2009 which increased the COP narrowing the profits of tea estates.

As the labour cost accounts around 60% of the COP the wage revision last year alone increased the COP by 20%.

The majority of the tea field operations such as harvesting, weed management, fertiliser application and pruning are highly labour intensive practices.

For instance harvesting alone utilises around 70% of the work force in an estate and hence, responsible for about 35-40% of the COP. Most importantly, the impact on the quality of the harvest and made tea is also remarkable. Pruning is also one of the field operations that decides the destiny of tea bushes and field productivity. Bad pruning practices due to lack of skilled workers deteriorate the bush health and leads to casualties in the field resulting in very low yields. Fertiliser is a very costly input, which needs to be appropriately and wisely applied taking into consideration soil and weather conditions. Improper use of fertiliser can lead to poor utilisation efficiency giving less response and water pollution.

The lack of skilled workers in the estate sector has become a limiting factor to increase productivity and to maintain the quality of the end product.

The labour shortage is also now common in many of the smallholdings and proprietary estates too.

Therefore, it is extremely important to introduce suitable technologies to attract more workers into the tea sector to improve worker productivity.

Mechanisation of agricultural practices is one of the solutions to the shortage of labour.

In the development of new technology for the tea industry, quality of the end product, terrain of tea fields, capital and running cost, maneuverability and knowledge level of workers need to be taken into consideration. Details of the benefits of the new technologies will be published next week.

Dr. M. A. Wijerathne

Dr. M.A. Wijerathne has tremendously contributed to the mechanisation of the tea industry by introducing a number of award winning technologies. He has taken a keen interest and effort to design and introduce new field appliances to the tea industry over the last 15 years.

Dr. Wijeratne joined the TRI as a Research Assistant in 1987 and has served for almost 23 years. He is now working as a Senior Research Officer attached to the Agronomy Division and as the Officer-in-Charge of the TRI Low country station Ratnapura.

He has received local and international awards for his research contribution and the Cabinet appointed him as an Assistant Commissioner to the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission with effect from June 2009. He has received following awards for his inventions and contribution made towards research on tea:

Merit award: Presidential Awards for best inventions in Sri Lanka (2000) for the TRI Selective Tea Harvester.

Gold medal: Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions (2000) for the Selective Tea Harvester.

Bronze Award: Presidential Awards for best inventions in Sri Lanka (2005) for the Collapsible Tea Plucking Basket.

Gold medal: Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions (2005) for the Collapsible Tea Plucking Basket. National Science and Technology Award (2006) for development and adaptation of technologies for SMEs in Sri Lanka.

General Research Committee Award by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (2006): For the outstanding contribution to scientific research in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Wijerathne is also a member of the Faculty Board of Agriculture Faculty, University of Ruhuna and a visiting lecturer of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna and Faculty of Export Agriculture, Uva Wellassa University.

Source: The Sunday Observer http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2010/03/28/fin20.asp
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