Training Sri Lankan Tea FarmersFebruary 29, 2012
Recently, Noah Jackson — a Rainforest Alliance trainer and auditor — traveled to Sri Lanka to learn how we can improve our farmer training, motivate field teams and apply the standards required for certification in a smallholder setting. He writes…
There is no such thing as a simple morning cup of tea on a Sri Lankan tea farm. Over the past several weeks, I’ve slept not far from several of the country’s small, one-acre farms. These tea fields are typically family-owned and, during peak season, tea leaves must be plucked several times a week. After harvesting, the tea is collected directly from homes, pickup points in villages and roadside stops.
For farmers, it’s a buyer’s market: Despite the current drought, these teas are in such high demand that they must be shipped daily. Some of Sri Lanka’s tea factories produce more than 20 different grades of tea.
I’m here to see how the Rainforest Alliance can improve our training, motivate field teams and apply the standards required for certification in a smallholder setting.
This morning, over a cup of tea, I spent some time contemplating the complexities of Sri Lankan tea farming Many local farms are 150 years old with compacted soils that require mulch and organic inputs. Farmers are struggling with costs, labor shortages and insufficient inputs. Rather than using chemical fertilizers imported from overseas, the farms need to begin producing their own organic fertilizers to retain more soil moisture and protect Sri Lanka’s most precious resource — soil.
In our training sessions, I work with local trainers to make compost and we discuss green mulching strategies. We also talk about making compost tea – a nutrient rich organic spray – and stabilizing slopes using “seed ball” techniques. In another meeting, we discuss budgeting issues and the values of farming. During our short time together, it’s my job to give the farmers some real tools they can use to begin addressing these complex issues.
While Sri Lankan tea is traditionally consumed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, global politics make export to these countries difficult. It is my hope that the important steps we are taking on local farms — and the very act of groups addressing sustainable practices — will create more robust farms and markets for their products.