By Cassendra Doole
The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is attempting to solve a non-existent problem with the import ban on chemical fertilisers, alleges the former chairperson of the Sri Lanka Tea Board Rohan Pethiyagoda.
“I have not come across any evidence either in Sri Lanka or overseas that our tea is not safe. So it looks to me like the problem that the Government is trying to solve is a problem that does not exist,” said Pethiyagoda.
Speaking to The Morning Business, Pethiyagoda stated that the GoSL is indirectly claiming that Ceylon tea is unhealthy or poisonous because of the use of inorganic fertilisers, thereby making all stakeholders lose confidence in Ceylon tea.
“Our tea is globally recognised, but when our Government makes such a claim, and imposes a fertiliser ban, they are essentially saying our tea is not healthy. When the Government makes such a claim they are indirectly saying our tea is poison, and how can we expect our stakeholders to have faith in our tea when our own Government makes such claims?
“How can people have confidence then? This is what happens when Governments try to do business. Governments should not do business,” he said, adding: “When Governments try to do business, disaster strikes. Governments exist to provide regulation and business should be left to the businessmen.”
He further likened this so-called solution put forth by the government as wholly unnecessary and akin to giving a completely healthy individual chemotherapy as a precautionary measure against cancer.
“No one has said that Ceylon tea is unhealthy and it is like trying to treat a person with chemotherapy even if the person is healthy, or taking disprin when you don’t have a headache. I have not come across any evidence or documentation from the government or overseas or any private entity that ceylon tea is not safe.” According to Pethiyagoda, these are very short sighted policies that will undoubtedly bring more harm than good.
He further stated that many countries have fallen because governments try to take control of the business. “Look at our Airlines for example. It is suffering billions of losses. Governments should not try to do business even in the tea industry. The tea is exported according to the demands in the world market and when the government tries to handle this, problems will arise.”
In response to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to ban the importation of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA) submitted an urgent appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapksa requesting him to reconsider the full impact of such a ban on the tea industry.
The CTTA stressed that such a ban without an alternative will cause a great deal of losses to the entire industry. Both the CTTA and the SLTB have stated that agro chemicals used on tea lands and estates have always been used responsibly by all involved parties.
The tea industry feeds the rural economy driven by 500,000 smallholders, estate workers, 550-600 operating factories and many more involved up until the point of export. As a result, the CTTA highlights that this ban will impact the livelihoods of 3 million people.
This ban is also expected to result in a drop of 40-50% in production and export volumes which will in turn reduce Sri Lanka’s market share in the global tea industry to 10% from 14.5%. The CTTA says that this drop in production will also greatly affect the country’s economy.