The Planters’ Association of Ceylon highlighted the plight of the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), which are facing a drastic drop in crop intake due to the severe drought, with high grown output coming down by 11.6 percent during January to August this year.
According to the latest data released by the Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB), tea production in the high grown elevation during the eight-month period dropped to 48.3 million kilos from 54.7 million recorded during the corresponding period last year.
Officials say that the prevailing drought condition is the worst the country has faced since 1992, with large parts of the island’s tea plantations being devastated. Data showed that the total tea production from all three elevations during the period fell 3.1% to 214.4 million kilos from the 221.1 million recorded during the corresponding period in 2011.
Drupatha Rodrigo, Deputy General Manager of Demodara Group, coming under Hapugastenne Plantations PLC, one of the largest estates in the Uva region said, “We had the last rainfall on May 14, 2012 and subsequently a few showers in August but up to September it has been dry. We had to curtail work and as a result, production came down by 30-40% during the last three months, compared to the same period last year.”
According to Rodrigo, during the four months from May to August this year, only 10 days of rainfall amounting to 159.47 mm were recorded as against 18 days with 261.78 mm of rainfall recorded during the same time period in 2011, indicating a decline of 39%.
Rodrigo said that one of their factories in the Uva region, Oodoowerre, had to be temporarily closed due to low intake and the leaf was diverted to the Demodera factory, in order to minimize losses, but it has resulted in the Oodoowerre factory workers being deprived of work. The number of working days has declined from 22 to 15, while only 457,000 kilos of crop was harvested from the cluster of estates under the company, down from 565,000 kilos during the same four months last year.
Meanwhile, the General Manager of Madulsima Plantations PLC, the listed plantation arm of the DCSL group, Rohan Kobbekaduwa said, “During the months of March, April, May and June, the crop intakes are generally high in the Uva region, but this year it has been very low due to the drought from the month of May onwards. The loss of crop compared to the budgeted intake is around 810,940 kilos made tea and the approximate revenue loss is around Rs.272 million for the period January to August 2012.”
This negative aspect has also adversely affected the company's cash flow, Kobbekaduwa said, referring to the cluster of eight estates in the Madulsima area of the Uva region.
He added that out of the 2,305 ha of tea planted in the cluster, approximately 355 ha have been completely defoliated, while the balance extents have also been severely affected, resulting in a 34% decline in made tea output up to August. The rainfall received up to August 2012 was 962 mm compared to 2446 mm up to August 2011, which reflects a 64% decrease in the Madulsima region.
Botanically known as Camellia Sinenis, tea is Sri Lanka's single largest foreign exchange earner, after garments and foreign remittances and is a vital cash crop for around one million people in Sri Lanka. Being a rain fed crop grown in different agroecological regions, the productivity of tea lands is largely dependent on the weather. Most of the tea growing regions in Sri Lanka receive rain from both northeast and southwest monsoons. However, the erratic weather conditions that prevailed during the last couple of months have caused severe damage to both young and mature tea plants, particularly in the Uva region and the high grown elevation.