International Symposium on Sustainable Plantation Management.

National Institute of Plantation Management (NIPM)

August 6, 2023
UNDP RR addressing the gathering

Ms. Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative, UNDP Sri Lanka addressing the gathering

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• Hon. Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, 
• Hon. Minister Lohan Ratwatte, 
• H.E. Ambassador Dewi Gustina Tobin
• Officials from the Ministry of Plantation Industries and other ministries and line agencies representatives from the plantations companies, industry stakeholders, local and international experts, and distinguished guests

Good morning to you all

1. I am pleased to be here with you at the International Symposium on Sustainable Plantation Management.  

2. When I tell my friends I am based in Sri Lanka, the first word that comes to their mind is “Ceylon tea”. Ceylon tea has now become a global brand that Sri Lanka can be very proud of.  

3. Sri Lanka’s fertile soil, pure water sources and perfectly balanced ecosystems are the key ingredients for ensuring the high quality of the Ceylon tea brand. On the other hand, the use of fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizer, if not managed well, can adversely affect the quality, and increase health risks. It can also negatively impact the surrounding biodiversity and cause groundwater pollution.

4. If we want to sustain the Ceylon tea brand, we must apply systems thinking to understand the interconnectedness of all we do in the tea growing ecosystem, notably in the plantations.

5. If you ask me, one of the biggest threats faced by the industry is climate change. Despite the growing number of climate policies which are being adopted under the Paris Agreement globally, scientists say that there is a 66 percent chance that we will exceed the 1.5-degree Celsius target by 2040.  

6. In fact, this summer, we have witnessed the dangerous heatwaves and wildfires in Europe, America and the Middle East, and the world has broken several records: the hottest day on record, the hottest June on record globally, extreme marine heatwaves and record-low Antarctic sea-ice.

7. Climate change is here and will stay. In everything we do, we must adapt to its impact, and the tea sector is of no exception.

8. You know better than I, that tea production is already being disrupted by rising temperatures, droughts, frosts, and unpredictable weather patterns. Since tea is a moisture heavy crop, dry periods can wipe out a year’s yield. At the same time, heavy rainfall can lead to water stagnation. Research findings predict that some existing tea-growing areas will face reduced suitability for future tea cultivation and that by 2050, there will be a drastic reduction in optimal suitability by averages of 26.2%, 14%, and 4.7% in Kenya, Sri Lanka and China, respectively.

9. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also forecasted that South Asia will increasingly face hydrometeorological related disasters. This points to the fact that the Sri Lankan tea industry needs to adapt its practices to withstand these climate-induced challenges more proactively and innovatively.

10. While the threads of climate change can be overwhelming and intimidating, climate change presents an opportunity to promote sustainable tea management by progressively embracing adaptive measures, while also mitigating its carbon footprint.

11. From an adaptation perspective, future proofing tea production from climate change impacts is critical to help protect livelihoods and also reduce the risk of climate damage and crop losses.

12. In 2021, the tea sector had the highest female participation, and the 2019 Multi-dimensional Poverty Index for Sri Lanka indicated that the tea-estate communities face several deprivations, making them one of the most vulnerable communities in the country.

13. The WFP estimated that at the beginning of 2023, 44% of estate households were food insecure. This is 11% higher than in rural areas and 21% higher than in urban areas. Furthermore, over 6 in 10 households reported having trouble accessing food. This all means that any adaption interventions that protect and augment the livelihoods of the estate workers have exponential impact, not only on their wellbeing but those of future generations. And I know that many of you in this room are already doing great work to support the households that are affected by the economic crisis. It only means we must come together to do more for them, and the thriving tea industry can provide decent jobs.

I also would like to say that when adopting these learnings, we take a holistic, inclusive approach to also support smallholders reduce their vulnerability and boost their adaptive capacity. I look forward to hearing the innovative ideas from the researchers gathered here today in promoting climate adaption across the industry.

14. Now, from the mitigation perspective, we know that the carbon footprint of a single cup of black tea is around 25g and varies slightly according to consumer preferences. But what is important here is to look at ways to reduce carbon emissions along the supply chain and we all have a role to play. While I am already aware of notable efforts made by the industry, more innovation and investments in ensuring sustainable production practices can go a long way. At the same time, the Government can also better facilitate these efforts by developing supporting policies and making finance available for this required transformation. Some financial incentives in the form of exceptions and subsidies can also be a boost in this regard.

15. Overall, I believe that as the fourth largest tea producer in the world and third largest tea exporter, Sri Lanka is well positioned to be a leader in promoting ‘the sustainability concept’ in the tea industry.

16. With tea production already accounting for a significant share of Sri Lanka’s agricultural output and export earnings, earning LKR 140 billion as of April 2023 and employing nearly 1 million people, the case to transform the industry to lead the transition to low carbon pathways is undeniable.

17. I understand that some steps have already been taken to advance the sustainability agenda in the industry, including exploring sustainable certification mechanisms, biodegradable packaging to developing a carbon neutral tea road map.

18. I would like to commend the tea industry for not only being with the national target to achieve net zero by 2050, but also being one of the few industries to draw up a plan to halve the carbon footprint by 2030.

19. Given the climate emergency at hand, we must accelerate the implementation of the workstreams of the roadmap to ensure these targets are met or even exceeded.

20. In this regard, UNDP is committed to supporting these national efforts. You may already be aware that the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Plantation Industries, in partnership with UNDP, will be implementing a project, titled ‘Partnerships and Innovative Finance to Mainstream Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management in the Wet Climatic Zone’. Through this project, we will support the tea industry to promote sustainable tea production.

21. A key component of this project will be to support the sustainable certification reporting and monitoring process. We will support the development of a database and a sustainability scorecard system to facilitate your reporting requirements and also showcase the industry-wide sustainability practices, by redefining standards and publishing success stories.

22. The project will also ensure that the smallholder sector will not be left behind due to the high costs involved in the certification process and the lack of technical know-how to transform their process to a sustainable model.

23. We will also look to all aspects of the value chain and encourage innovations among entrepreneurial young people by providing them with the necessary support so that they can come up with new business models that not only drives sustainability while also promoting social impacts in the plantations sector. We will ensure to link this initiative with UNDP’s ongoing youth social-entrepreneurship programmes to ensure end-to-end support.

24. Ultimately, I hope this project will support the sector to improve its ways of growing tea to be low impact, resilient and sustainable in the wake of the climate emergency.

25. I am very pleased that this symposium is being held at this juncture, as Sri Lanka is on its way to economic recovery. The principles and ideas I have shared also apply to rubber, coconut and others that play an important role in driving the plantation economy in Sri Lanka. I hope the symposium today will provide an effective platform of cross-fertilization of knowledge and ideas that are applicable to all types of plantations that play a critical role in revising the Sri Lankan economy.

26. The academics and industry experts such as yourselves can show new ways to drive collaborative innovation that delivers on smart inventions, despite limited resource availability.

27. The academia and research institutions have a responsibility to provide the policy makers with a strong basis of evidence-based policy making. A tripartite partnership amongst the academia, policy makers and industry is absolutely critical for advancing the sustainability agenda in the industry.

28. Once again, let me sincerely thank the National Institute of Plantation Management and the organizing committee for inviting me today, and I wish you a fruitful exchange of ideas to transform the plantation industries in Sri Lanka.  

Thank you