Tea production in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) has a climate and varied elevation that allows for the production of both Camellia sinensis var. assamica and Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, with the assamica varietal holding the majority of production. Tea production is one of the main sources of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka, and accounts for 2% of GDP, contributing over US$1.5 billion in 2013 to the economy of Sri Lanka.[1] It employs, directly or indirectly, over 1 million people, and in 1995 directly employed 215,338 on tea plantations and estates. In addition, tea planting by smallholders is the source of employment for thousands whilst it is also the main form of livelihoods for tens of thousands of families. Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth-largest producer of tea. In 1995, it was the world’s leading exporter of tea (rather than producer), with 23% of the total world export, and Sri Lanka ranked second on tea export earnings in 2020[2] after China. The highest production of 340 million kg was recorded in 2013, while the production in 2014 was slightly reduced to 338 million kg.[3]

Tea plantation (Dambatenne estates) at about 1800 m above sea level in Haputale, Hill Country

The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall of the country’s central highlands provide a climate that favors the production of high-quality tea. On the other hand, tea produced in low-elevation areas such as Matara, Galle and Ratanapura districts with high rainfall and warm temperature has high level of astringent properties. The tea biomass production itself is higher in low-elevation areas. Such tea is popular in the Middle East. The industry was introduced to the country in 1867 by James Taylor, a British planter who arrived in 1852.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Tea planting under smallholder conditions has become popular in the 1970s.

. . . Tea production in Sri Lanka . . .

Old Ceylon tea tin

The total population of Sri Lanka according to the census of 1871 was 2,584,780. The 1871 demographic distribution and population in the plantation areas is given below:[11]

Kandy District, the heartland of tea production in Sri Lanka
1871 demographic distribution
District Total
No. of
 % of population
on estates
Kandy District 258,432 625 81,476 31.53
Badulla District 129,000 130 15,555 12.06
Matale District 71,724 111 13,052 18.2
Kegalle District 105,287 40 3,790 3.6
Sabaragamuwa 92,277 37 3,227 3.5
Nuwara Eliya District 36,184 21 308 0.85
Kurunegala District 207,885 21 2,393 1.15
Matara District 143,379 11 1,072 0.75
Total 1,044,168 996 123,654 11.84

. . . Tea production in Sri Lanka . . .

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. . . Tea production in Sri Lanka . . .