Sri Lanka’s Tea Titans, Talawakelle Tea Estates PLC, sets global gold standard in plantation innovation

Ms J A Madhubashinie (2nd from Left) - Female Field Supervisor receiving her letter of appointment & certificate of course completion from Managing Director, Dr Roshan Rajadurai (3rd from Left), Director/CEO Mr Senaka Alawattegama (1st from Left), and Regional General Manager Mr Kosala Wijesekara (4th from Left)In our latest ‘RPC Innovation Update’, we focus on Talawakele Tea Estates PLC (TTE), a company that stands as a one of the Jewels in the Crown of Sri Lanka’s Tea sector, and continuously sets the gold standard in employee empowerment, community welfare, and environmental stewardship for agribusinesses not just in Sri Lanka but across the globe.

With 95% of its portfolio dedicated to a single crop, TTE is a prime example of a modern Sri Lankan Tea company. In addition to serving as the standard bearer for Pure Ceylon Tea from field to cup, TTE is also setting the pace for plantation industry on ethical partnerships, and high-impact environmental conservation that are uplifting the entire tea value chain.  

Commitment to People and Community

At the heart of TTE’s success is its 4,825 strong team, who continue to serve as the custodians of quality. Accordingly, the company has been a pioneering leader in employee and community welfare. In 2022, the company invested Rs. 160 million towards training employee welfare and community development – a staggering 288% increase over the previous year.

This includes investments into globally celebrated interventions like, “A Home for Every Plantation Worker” together with strategic programmes aimed at improving the living conditions, community capacity building, health and nutrition’, and youth empowerment.

Moreover, in challenging times, TTE didn't waver in its duty. Swift interventions were made to safeguard the financial and food security of not only its employees but the vast 42,000-estate community residing within its estates. A notable initiative was the launch of a special home gardening project across all estates, encouraging communities to cultivate and bolster food security.

Recognizing the need to not only support its current workforce but also to invest in the future, the company launched an ambitious programme focused on the children of its team members. This initiative trains them to become field officers, giving them unprecedented opportunities to rise within the plantation hierarchy.

Historically, career progression has always been a challenge for Tea harvesters. TTE's initiative seeks to shatter these historical barriers, ensuring that the children of their team members receive the same opportunities, training, and pathways to upward mobility as any aspiring youth.

Participants undergo specialized training sessions at the Tea Research Institute (TRI), ensuring that they are equipped with the latest scientific knowledge and best practices in the industry. Beyond this, they gain exposure to all levels of management across TTE, from the complexities of fieldwork to strategic decision-making.

Significantly, all the team members participating in this pilot project are women. This not only showcases TTE's commitment to gender equality but also represents a significant leap forward for the entire plantation sector. In an industry historically dominated by male leadership, this initiative stands as a beacon of progress and an affirmation of TTE's commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse work environment.

Powered by such ground-breaking initiatives, TTE reaffirmed its position at the forefront of innovation and empowerment in the global plantation industry. The company's vision is clear: to forge a path of equal opportunity, ensuring that every team member, irrespective of their background, has the tools and training to achieve their fullest potential.

A Diverse Agricultural Landscape

Seated (L to R) – Sangeetha Dharmasekara, Nalin Kumara, Senaka Alawattegama, Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Gimhan Jayathilaka, Dulshanka Jayathilaka, Subramaniam Ramar along with the female field supervisorsStrategic crop diversification play a pivotal role in maintaining resilience and ensuring sustained growth. Recognizing this, TTE has proactively ventured beyond Tea, investing in Coconut and Cinnamon cultivation on what were previously marginal Rubber lands.

With a dedicated 35.24 hectares for Coconut and 46.91 hectares for Cinnamon, TTE's expansion is not merely a nod to Sri Lanka's rich agricultural history but a deliberate move grounded in strategy. Their diversification into Cinnamon, Coffee, and Spices like Black pepper is not just about tapping into lucrative markets, but it's also an astute business move to hedge against potential vulnerabilities in the Tea sector.

By transforming underperforming Rubber lands into productive fields for these crops, TTE is maximizing land use efficiency, generating consistent revenue streams and fortifying its overall business resilience. Moreover, this shift aligns with TTE's broader objectives of sustainable farming. Cultivating a mix of crops promotes biodiversity, aids in maintaining soil health and ensures optimal resource utilization.

By diversifying its crop portfolio, TTE is not only reinforcing its commitment to innovation but also providing increased employment opportunities for its workforce. In summary, TTE's strategic move to diversify its crop portfolio on previously marginal lands, underscores its forward-thinking approach, positioning the company for long-term growth while enhancing its resilience in the dynamic global agricultural landscape.

Advancements in Infrastructure

The imminent completion of the state of the art Kiruwanaganga Factory is a testament to TTE's ambition. Expected to be fully operational by the latter half of 2023, this facility is set to produce an impressive 800,000 kg of Made Tea annually.

TTE’s approach to sustainability is anything but conventional. With certifications such as RA™, Ecolabel-Tea, and a host of ISO standards, TTE has always been ahead of the curve. Their commitment to the 2030 Regenerative Agenda and collaborations with leading Sri Lankan universities to drive agri innovations on BioChar, reflect their forward-thinking attitude. Their drive is to not just to sustain but restore and regenerate natural resources.

A Beacon of Excellence on Conservation and Global Commitments

TTE's conservation efforts are unparalleled. Projects such as the St. Clair's Falls Ecosystem Restoration and leadership in the ‘KIRULU’ initiative underline their dedication to preserving Sri Lanka's unique biodiversity. This commitment is further exemplified by their partnership with the Wildlife Nature Protection Society PLANT project and their zero-deforestation pledge.

Under the insightful leadership of CEO Senaka Alawattegama, TTE embraces its position as a leader in the producer segment in Sri Lanka not just with pride but with a sense of responsibility. With the laudable achievement of being the first company in Sri Lanka to align with the SBTi initiative, TTEL underscores its commitment to sustainable practices and environmental excellence.

“The pursuit of perfection drives us. Each leaf we pick, each process we refine, is with the singular goal of ensuring that we present to the world the essence of Pure Ceylon Tea in its purest form. But our vision doesn't stop at being the top Tea producer. By embracing innovations like regenerative agriculture and advanced technology, and through the diversification into crops like Cinnamon and Pepper, we're looking beyond the traditional scope of a Tea company.

“With an ethos deeply rooted in sustainability, we aim to enrich our community, enhance the welfare of our workforce, and tread lightly on the environment. Our extensive initiatives, whether they be in rooftop solar ventures or the rejuvenating Kirulu Project, reflect our unwavering dedication to a brighter, greener future. This holistic approach not only aligns with our core values but solidifies TTEL's place in the vanguard of the plantation industry," CEO Senaka Alawattegama elucidated.

Being a UNGC member since 2016, TTE aligns with global standards, championing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and consistently driving impactful, sustainable actions.

The recent accolade from The Great Place to Work Survey 2023, reaffirming TTE’s status with a 97% employee satisfaction score, is a testament to its holistic approach to business, community, and environment.

With a vision clearly set on "brewing a better future", Talawakele Tea Estates PLC remains at the forefront, paving the way for a sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous future in the global plantation industry.

Released in March 2024