Oct 10, Colombo: Unilever Sri Lanka initiated a partnership with the Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholders and Dialog Axiata PLC to support the over 400,000 smallholder tea farmers in Sri Lanka. This comes at a time when the nation is celebrating 150 years of Ceylon Tea.
Often following a multi crop model on average land holdings of less than an acre, smallholder farmers account for over 70% of the tea leaves grown in the country. Unilever, the Federation and Dialog will be working together with the Government and other stakeholders on collating and sharing learnings and best practices as well as expert advice with these farmers.
Unilever and the Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholders also aim to set up model farms in the different tea growing regions of the island later this year. They will be developed in partnership with farmers who have embraced the best practices outlined in the program. Run under the guidance of a prominent local university for an initial period of 2 years, farmers from neighboring areas will be invited to study and learn from these farms.
The collaborative program aims to leverage Dialog's Govi Mithuru ("Ulavar Thozhan" in Tamil) service, which currently offers highly contextualized agricultural advice at each stage of the farming cycle for 16 economically significant crops including tea, to disseminate this information.
"The average monthly tea yield in Sri Lanka is 350kg. However, we have identified cases where farmers have been able to get a yields of up to 800kg through an organized, scientific approach. But these methods are not widely adopted because most farmers opt to use localized, traditional practices due to a lack of access to information. This is holding back individual farmers and the progress of an entire industry. We are excited to partner with Unilever Sri Lanka and Dialog Axiata PLC on taking this information to all tea growers around the island. We look forward to helping our members successfully increase their yields in a sustainable manner through this initiative," said Neville Ratnayake, Chairman - Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholders.
The collaborative initiative aims help farmers reduce their input costs and increasing their monthly yields through better planning and effective adoption of crop diversification, thereby raising their disposable income. There are plans to expand the service to Dialog's Nenasa TV platform and online platforms as well, going forward.
Commenting on the partnership Carl Cruz, Chairman - Unilever Sri Lanka said, "At Unilever, we share a special bond with Ceylon Tea and take great pride in the Sri Lankan roots of our iconic tea brand Lipton which continues to celebrate Sir Thomas Lipton's legacy. Hence, we are delighted to partner with the Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholders and Dialog Axiata on this knowledge sharing initiative in support of smallholder farmers who are the backbone of the nation's tea industry. Working together with the Federation we intend to help them adopt sustainable practices to increase their yields and secure their livelihood. Going beyond uplifting the standard of living of individual farmers, we firmly believe that this initiative will have a significant impact on the nation's tea industry as a whole."
Supun Weerasinghe, Group Chief Executive - Dialog Axiata PLC, said, "As Sri Lanka's premier connectivity provider we seek to leverage technology to empower our fellow Sri Lankans. We are delighted to partner with the Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Smallholders and Unilever Sri Lanka on this initiative that seeks to transform the lives of smallholder tea farmers around the island. We look forward to seeing the learnings and best practices being transferred through our Govi Mithuru platform developed in close partnership with the Department of Agriculture of Sri Lanka. The service is currently being used by over 330,000 farmers involved in paddy, maize, papaya, eggplant, carrot, and mukunuwenna to name just a few of the 16 crops on offer today, with more on the way."