Sri Lanka tea farmers struggle after devastating floods

Tea industry counts cost of natural disaster that claimed 200 lives and displaced more than 600,000 people last month.

Tea farmers in Sri Lanka are struggling to make ends meet after their land was destroyed by heavy floods and mudslides last month.

The floods, described by authorities as the worst to hit the country in more than a decade, killed more than 200 people and displaced more than 600,000 people from their homes.

For many of the 400,000 small farmers who grow more than 70 percent of the country’s tea, the floods covered their tea bushes by up to five metres with mud and sludge, leading to the rotting of some roots.

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K Seelawathi, a farmer in the town of Akuressa in Matara district, hopes this will be the last flood she sees in her lifetime.

“I used to harvest 400 kilograms at a time, earning a good amount,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I built my house and educated my children. But with almost no income now, things are very difficult.”

Prabhat Bezbaruah, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, says almost 300 tonnes of tea and green leaf were destroyed by the floods, while damage to factories is still being assessed.

He says the cost of the floods needs to be measured in humanitarian, and not financial, terms.

Losses that small farmers have incurred in terms of their lives and property are substantial, Bezbaruah says.

Sri Lanka’s tea industry, which earns $1.3bn a year, has also seen a decrease in supply after the floods.

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Gunasoma Wanigasekara, the owner of a tea factory, says that while things are improving, it will take time for conditions to return to normal.

“There’s been a five to 10 percent drop [in tea supply],” he  told Al Jazeera. “The farmers can’t attend to their work in the fields, so they can’t give 100 percent output to the tea land.”

Mudslides have become common during the monsoon season in Sri Lanka as land has been heavily deforested to grow export crops such as tea and rubber.

Last year, monsoon rains caused flooding and landslides that killed more than 100 people.

Source: Al Jazeera