From the cooler climbs of Darjeeling I travelled to Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it is historically known, home of Ceylon tea.
Sri Lanka is a mountainous, subtropical island and has six main growing regions ranging from high-grown to low-grown areas: Dimbula, Nuwara Eliya, Uva, Uda Pussellawa, Ruhuna and Kandy. Each produces distinctive characteristics in their tea. Traditionally Sri Lanka’s main export crop was coffee, until coffee blight ruined crops. With nothing left to plant, tea was quickly used a replacement and now plays a major role in the country’s economy, supporting around one million people.
Due to the mountainous climes and warm temperatures, tea from here provides a bright and flavoursome component to our blend. I was here to find out more. After landing in Colombo and spending time in the loud and fast-paced weekly auction I then travelled up to the tea plantations to visit some estates and factories that we buy from for both our Yorkshire Tea and Pure Ceylon tea.
This trip to the estates was a little different to my previous estate trips because I was travelling with Dushy Perera, a representative from the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP). As members of the ETP, Taylors of Harrogate and other members form an alliance of tea packers, big and small, who work together to improve the sustainability of the tea sector, and this incorporates both social and environmental impacts.
Last year, the ETP teamed up with CARE International on an EU funded project which focuses on improving labour relations between management and workers in Sri Lankan tea estates.
Together, ETP and CARE have been piloting the use of ‘Community Development Forums’ (or CDFs), designed by CARE, to improve the relationships and understanding between tea estates and their workers.
The idea of Community Development Forums is to create a ‘mini parliament’ on estates to allow better communication and representation to ensure the varied needs of workers are voiced by providing an equal forum of communication. Out of 2000 workers on the estate a representative from each village of the estate was elected, and in proportion to the male female ratio within the plantation. It brought a smile to my face to see as many women as men present at our meeting.
The CDF representatives reported how the project had not only improved management understanding of the workers but also the workers have a greater understanding of the work of the managers.
I attended a meeting between ETP, CARE International and members of the Community Development Forum on a tea estate who had been running the project for two years, to hear firsthand what the workers and management really think about the project. One worker told me that the meetings provided the opportunity for management to share information about the productivity or success of the estate and made the workers have a better awareness and feel a greater sense of ownership over the estate. “When we come to the table to meet we are all on an equal level,” said one CDF member, who then added, “it feels more like a partnership now.”
The Community Development Forums have also helped in identifying workers needs more quickly and have assisted workers in better agricultural practice, speeding up the process for supplying mosquito coils, training a group of youth volunteers to teach other community members about relevant issues through the medium of street drama, and last but by no means least have boosted the confidence of workers on the estate.
The success of this project has led to it being rolled out on other tea estates in Sri Lanka (at the request of the estates themselves) and potentially to other tea growing regions around the world.
Join me next week in Indonesia – the last and final stop on my Big Tea Tour!