The cup that cheers
Sri Lanka’s tea industry has every reason to be
jubilant, having recorded a revenue surpassing US$ 1 billion
last year for the first time in its 141-year history. This is
indeed a milestone in the country’s tea industry, one of the
mainstays of the economy.
Tea used to be the top dollar earner for the country, but now
it has been surpassed by expatriate labour, the apparel industry
and possibly the gem and jewellery sector. The fact that tea is
fast regaining lost ground is thus a cause for cheer.
This achievement is even more impressive when one considers
the factors that adversely affected tea cultivation last year:
work stoppages by estate trade unions over wage issues, drought
conditions and tough competition from other tea growing
Significantly, the extra revenue was earned through a
slightly reduced production.
Another factor that directly or indirectly helped Sri Lanka
(and India) is the unrest in Kenya, the world’s leading tea
producer. Although the situation there at the moment is bleak,
one cannot hope to take the Kenya factor into account in the
long term. The tea industry should thus continue the momentum
gained by this opening and overtake Kenya.
One of the simplest ways of increasing the income from tea is
value addition. The industry is targeting to raise the export of
value added tea to 65 per cent from the present 35 per cent.
There is a soaring demand for unconventional teas in many
markets, which Sri Lanka should strive to penetrate.
The involvement of the packaging industry too is important in
this regard, as environmentally conscious customers in many
countries look for biodegradable wrapping.
In this context, more emphasis should be laid on organic
teas, which are becoming popular among health-conscious
individuals the world over. They can command a premium price as
Out of the 221,000 hectares on which tea is grown, nearly 50
pr cent are owned by tea smallholders who in turn supply a
network of medium-scale factories. They should be given all
encouragement and facilities to improve their yield and hence,
We are also encouraged by reports that tea exporting
countries are mulling a move to set up an organisation similar
to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to
safeguard common interests and command better prices. This is a
welcome move, as tea producing countries can not only compete
against each other but also learn from each other.
It may seem surprising, but Sri Lanka is one of the
first four countries in the world in the newly formed Nuclear
Emergency Response Network which will function under the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The other three countries are Mexico, the United States and
Finland. It is a singular honour that Sri Lanka has become the
first Asian country to participate in this exercise which aims
to collaborate in coordinating international assistance in case
of a radioactive incident or emergency.
This is a step forward in ensuring nuclear safety. The world
has seen several horrendous nuclear accidents, the biggest of
which so far is Chernobyl. That literally triggered a chain
reaction among the member states of the IAEA/UN which has
culminated in a nuclear emergency response system.
World reaction to Chernobyl was slow, partly because the
authorities tried to cover it up until it could no longer be
kept a secret. Another factor was that no country or agency was
prepared, in terms of technical knowledge and humanitarian
assistance, to face a disaster of that magnitude.
Hopefully, this is exactly what the IAEA’s latest initiative
seeks to address. A swift response is needed in the case of
emergencies of this nature which have the potential to wipe out
hundreds of thousands of people. Proper coordination will be the
key. With more members on board, there will be adequate
expertise and emergency measures to deal with any situation.
Still, prevention is much better than cure. Today’s nuclear
power plants are safer than they ever used to be, but that does
not mean they are infallible. Safety and security measures
should be strengthened at all civilian nuclear sites and indeed,
With the rise of terrorism worldwide, Governments are
concerned about the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring
nuclear weapons through clandestine means. There have been
several high-profile arrests of rogue nuclear technologists who
sold nuclear secrets to rogue regimes and individuals.
Even a rudimentary nuclear bomb in the wrong hands can
devastate a large area, not to mention human lives. Governments
must share intelligence on shady groups and terrorist elements
who would somehow try to lay their hands on a nuclear device.
The IAEA’s initiative is thus timely and relevant in today’s
nuclear-obsessed world. We simply cannot rule out the
possibility of a nuclear accident and the activation of an
emergency response network could vastly reduce the damage to
life and property.