More than 450,000 smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka depend on tea farming for their livelihoods—and their crops account for 73 percent of the nation’s total export of this globally beloved beverage.
Helping smallholder farmers adopt responsible practices that will both protect the land they depend on and sustain their incomes over the long-term is a high priority for the Rainforest Alliance. Our partner in Sri Lanka, the Alliance for Sustainable Landscape Management (ASLM), has provided training on climate-smart and responsible farming methods to more than 63,000 farmers in this country—and by this time next year, ASLM will have trained more than 100,000.
To understand how achieving Rainforest Alliance certification impacts these smallholder tea farmers, we looked at the district of Ratnapura in Sabaragamuwa province. Ratnapura alone accounts for 71 percent of Sri Lanka’s national tea production.
The report found that certification benefits farmers on many fronts. The profitability of certified farms was better than non-certified due to the lower cost of production. Costs are lower in part because of Earth-friendly practices such as manual weeding (which is less expensive than agrochemicals, and better for human and soil health). Food security was also improved for certified farmers, as was water conservation.
Giri Kadurugamuwa, the lead trainer for ASLM, explains: “In our trainings, we tell farmers that by managing the weeds [with herbicide-free methods], you can greatly reduce pesticide use and increase productivity, (and at the same time) stop forest encroachment and even expand the forest cover.”
Smallholder farmer Saman Udayakumara started applying responsible methods after attending Rainforest Alliance trainings three years ago. “My weed-management cost has been cut down drastically, and I have noticed my soil becoming black in the entire estate,” the farmer said. “This land is very rocky, and there were times we stopped work due to prolonged droughts. This year we were the only estate to continue plucking this year during the drought. We can see healthy tea bushes now, a better spread of branches, and more crop as a result.”