Bearwell and Nuwara Eliya Estates earn coveted Rainforest Alliance Certification

The serene and beautiful mountains of Nuwara Eliya and the golden lush Dimbulla valley are home to some of the world’s finest tea gardens. Amidst this picturesque region are the Nuwara Eliya and Bearwell Estates.

Managed by the Hayley’s Group, the Estates bear witness to the importance of sustainability and the benefits conservation brings to the environment, the workers and their livelihoods.

Tea pluckers with the new baskets specially designed to ease back loadOver the past few years, the Nuwara Eliya and Bearwell Estates have witnessed a transformation in their journey towards the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Certification Programme. The implemented improvements and changes have positively contributed towards sustainable agriculture measures and improved worker motivation.

The Rainforest Alliance (RA) is an international NGO created in 1987 with the objective of conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods by transforming land usage business practices and consumer behavior. The RA Standard is focused on three areas -environment, economy and social justice.

For the certification of tea, the Alliance follows ten (10) key principles; Social and environmental management systems, Ecosystem conservation,  Wildlife protection, Water conservation, Fair treatment and good conditions for workers, Occupational health and safety, Community relations, Integrated crop management, Soil management and conservation and Integrated waste management.

Despite being a challenging standard to achieve, a vigorous programme has ensured necessary improvements in both estates’ tea gardens, factories and other facilities encompassing worker welfare and environmental protection.

“As employers it’s our responsibility to take care of our workers” said Senaka Alawattegama, Regional General Manager,Talawakelle Tea Estates PLC. According to him yearly audits are conducted to assess the estate’s practices on maintaining and protecting the environment, the protection, health and safety of the workers and on social aspects.

Occupational Health and Safety

Plantation worker spraying chemicals attired with Personal Protection KitOccupational health and safety issues are a key area of focus at both estates. Improvements include the provision of special personal protective equipment (PPE), with both sprayers and estate workers educated on their personal health and hygiene, thus fewer accidents happen at work.

While fertiliser and certain chemicals are stored in separate sheds, workers managing it are given masks, gloves and a uniform,and trained to open the area cautiously. Masks are hung separately so there is no spillover and to prevent cross contamination.    

Clean drinking water is provided for pluckers as well as a special plucking basket. The new basket uses straps reducing the amount of weight on the neck, with a cap attached to keep out the sun and is used on both estates.

“I’m working in this estate since 1975… Compared to those days, nowadays working in estates is much easier, we have been provided with plastic baskets, there are bags available to fill the plucked leaves, we don’t have walk very along distances to weigh the plucked leaves. New measures are encouraging” said Suseela, a female worker from the Belgravia division in Bearwell estate.

“With the new baskets issued the pluckers backaches are reduced.  Certain areas of land are rested instead of overusing and chemical sprayers and factory workers get PPEs” said Anura Senanayake Group Manager for the Nuwara Eliya Estate.

Preventive healthcare-awareness programmes include AIDS awareness, good health practices,blood testing every six months,iron tablets and vitamins for the workers are practical measures and guidance provided to protect the health and safety of the workers.There are 12 ambulances on hand, and in an emergency the workers can be speedily transported to Hospital.

Environmental Protection and Conservation

The Estates minimize the use of chemicals through sustainable cultivation techniques. Workers are encouraged to make their own compost using organic compost and tea refuse as a substitute reducing the use of fertiliser.

A must for Rainforest Alliance certification are ‘buffer zones’ –both estates have specific areas where no chemicals are sprayed. Workers have been trained not to spray chemicals at these locations,usually near housing and common areas.

“Special bushes demarcate the zones and no chemicals can be sprayed in these areas” said Senanayake.

Bearwell has also promised to reduce herbicide use by 4% annually, support wildlife by promoting the buffer zones, and encourage natural ecosystems such as small ponds and lakes.

A special waste management system on the estates ensures that water is treated and re-used.Workers are also trained to dispose their waste separately- different coloured bins are provided for glass, plastic etc. This prevents the spread of communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, dengue,etc.

Social Justice

“The facilities on this estate are good and we are well looked after,” says estate worker, Rajapakse Pathiranage Mihiri (50) who has been working at  Nuwara Eliya estate for over three decades.

In keeping with the RA credo, the estates engage in community development initiatives and social welfare structures.Among such activities Bearwell’s award winning cooperative society bank known as Vanisi, provides workers yearly loans which are deducted from their salary monthly through small amounts.There are also designated Labour Days where estate managers meet with workers to iron out problems.

Child Development Centres (CDCs), free mid-day meals for children, special day excursions to places of interest, an estate sports meet and dansalas at wesak, a stationery shop - free for schoolchildren, ongoing construction of individual housing units and promotion of home gardens, all espouse worker wellbeing.

Bearwell’s medical centre maintains detailed files on each and every worker. A monthly clinic, dental clinic, a 24-hour OPD, monthly antenatal and a family planning clinic, worm treatment, well-women clinics are facilities that uplift the quality of life of the estate community. A youth activity centre initiated at Bearwell conducts music, dance, sewing, Sinhala and English classes. Those who complete the courses receive certificates.

Sustaining the RA Standard

Rainforest Information and Educational Centre at Bearwell EstateAn industry first is the ‘Rainforest Information Centre’, located on the Bearwell estate, highlighting the estate’s achievements in fulfilling the RA Standard (including a model of the wastewater disposal system and leaflets on the certification). 

Bearwell has also selected workers who are union members, to spread the RA message and the benefits accrued to the community. Each selected worker carries a simple booklet with drawings and information on the buffer zones, chemical storage and other facilities.

A special informational film has also been developed, with workers as actors on the importance of washing hands after spraying of chemicals, the benefits of the child development centers for children and other initiatives.

“I’m working in this estate since 1972, we have been now provided with Uniforms, I’m involved in taking the RA principles to the workers families and educating them of importance of following the guidelines and benefits. We have special programs once in every three months..we speak to the workers on the importance of the RA guidelines to being everyone up-to date” saidN.P.Madavan, Field officer, Bearwell estate

A sprayer from Bearwell, S Pushparaj, has even authored a book on the Rainforest Alliance, illustrated by his young son. He believed “these initiatives helped workers feel that the management was concerned about them”.

Following RA Standards provides Nuwara Eliya and Bearwell a catalyst for estate management and workers to reap it rewards. The comprehensive practices protect the fragile eco-system while taking cognizance that estate workers constitute the most important segment in the industry. 

Released in February 2014