The Sri Lanka Tea Board anticipates that the chemical fertiliser ban in the country would ultimately contribute in promoting the premium quality of Sri Lankan tea in the global market.
Speaking to us, Tea Board Chairman Jayampathy Molligoda stated that in spite of the ordeal of transforming to organic fertiliser from an almost 40-year use of synthetic fertiliser due to the novel chemical fertiliser ban in tea production, it would ensure the natural quality of Sri Lankan tea in the global market standards, unlike the artificial beverages available for sale.
“Ceylon Tea is the most expensive,” he said, implying that Sri Lanka needs to maintain the product quality while not containing any chemical residue in order to be the finest tea supplier due to the fact that most of the production is mainly exported. Thus, maintaining a sustainable food system has now become the trend in ensuring consumer trust in food manufacturing.
According to the US Food and Agriculture Organisation, the sustainable food system is “a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social, and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. This means that: It is profitable throughout (economic sustainability); it has broad-based benefits for society (social sustainability); and it has a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (environmental sustainability)”.
Mollugoda explained that Sri Lankan tea needs to be below the maximum residue level (MRL) in order to assure its quality for consumption and it will give Sri Lanka an opportunity to portray the quality of the tea, subsequently.
MRL basically traces the residue, amount of pesticides left in the treated products, in food to examine whether that particular food is safe for consumers, and the level should be lower as possible. This MRL for all crops and pesticides can be calculated while the fixing of MRLs is conducted by the European Commission.
Molligoda further added that despite the synthetic fertiliser ban, organic fertiliser still contains the macro-nutrients used by the plants: NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Thus, the supply of these nutrients to the plants would help the production continuity.
At the moment, Molligoda said “there is no major effect” with regard to the supply of organic fertiliser to smallholders and the tea estates. However, he said he cannot predict a yield drop in the overall tea production till the time of another two weeks and only the transition period from chemical to organic fertiliser is going to be difficult.
Nevertheless, when the Cabinet of Ministers granted approval, banning the importation of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the country, the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA) submitted an appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapksa on 6 May, stressing that this sudden termination in the application of fertiliser without an investigated alternative might lead the industry to chaotic losses, impacting the livelihoods of approximately three million people.