Dr P. B. J. assures state support to private sector’s vision for tea, rubber

Dr. P. B. JayasunderaTreasury Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, Chief Guest at the 160th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Planters’ Association (PA) of Ceylon, pledged the government’s commitment to the wellbeing of the country’s plantation industry, while encouraging the industry as a whole to take necessary action in developing a vision and framework to increase output and exports – so as to reach a USD 5 billion target in exports by 2020.  

As the Planters’ Association celebrated 160 years, a milestone only second to that of the 175 years recently celebrated by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Dr. Jayasundera emphasized the need to scale up value addition and assured the planters that he is aware of their current issues which are deeply interconnected with political and social roots. He promised to convey these problems to the highest authority himself, President Mahinda Rajapaksa to help carve out a vision for an industry that once contributed 40% of Sri Lanka’s GDP and has the potential to do so in the future.

“If you can come up with a solution, President Rajapaksa will give you a hearing and a turnaround as well,” he said in a challenging speech which called on the country’s tea producers to focus on premium tea, innovate, venture into new markets in Asia and achieve greater value addition and differentiation. 

Acknowledging the challenges and issues faced by planters at present by indicating that they did not live comfortable lives unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Jayasundera said, “No other industry worries about the climate as much as the plantations.” He noted however that these challenges must be overcome. 

Roshan RajaduraiPlanters’ Association Chairman, Roshan Rajadurai too drew attention to numerous issues faced by the sector including high labour costs which are significantly above that of Sri Lanka’s main competitors Kenya and India, low land and labour productivity, intrusions by some state institutions such as the Land Reform Commission (LRC) and provincial level politicians, inadequacy of state support to sustain the massive plantation sector population who are not employees of the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and certain non-conducive policies which the sector is obliged to adhere to.

He however gave a compelling account of the vast improvements achieved by the RPCs since privatisation even amidst such adversity, in all key areas including capital investment, significant improvement in living conditions of estate workers – particularly with regard to income, health, housing, sanitation and education standards – and contributions to the state’s coffers.  The estate sector has now surpassed the rural sector in many key indicators.

“Since privatization in 1992, the quality of life and health indicators of our Plantation Communities have shown a tremendous upward improvement. The maternal mortality rate of 18 in 1990 is almost zero now for a population of over one million. Exclusive toilets in the estate sector is now 76% whilst only 1.8% have shared toilets which currently is far better than the rural sector where 3.7% have no toilets. 84% of the estate sector has electricity compared to 83% in the rural sector,” he added noting that contrary to claims of critics, RPCs have also replanted (as a percentage), significantly more than smallholders. 

“The wages and salaries in the estate sector is Rs. 17,229/- compared to the rural sector’s Rs. 14,193/- and the national value of Rs. 16,031/-. The latest poverty Head Count Ratio of 6.2% for the estate sector is even lower than the rural sector head count ratio of 7.5% and the national ratio of 6.5%. Although we have a working population of 220,000 people, 25,000 new cottage type individual houses have been built and 111,000 units of housing have been fully upgraded with new roofing and other infrastructure,” he said.

Recalling the ‘golden days’ of the 1940s during which the tea industry’s contribution was 90% of the country’s total export earnings and in the 1950s during which the tea industry represented 37% of the national GDP, Rajadurai pointed out that the plantation industry continues to play a key role especially in providing employment to nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s labour force thus making RPCs important economic players in the country.    

“The total revenue from the Regional Plantation Companies from plantation crops alone, without any value addition at estate level, to our local economy, is close to Rs. 77 billion per year; The Regional Plantation Companies cares for and looks after a population of over 1.1 million people who are resident in our plantations; We manufacture 40% of the total made tea of our country,” he emphasized.

Dr. Damitha De ZoysaThe 160th AGM of the PA was attended by over 350 PA members and invitees. Treasury Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera was the Chief Guest while Secretary to Ministry of Plantation Industries Dr. Damitha De Zoysa was the Guest of Honour.







Released in September 2014