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news | May 27, 2016 | Sri Lanka | Development

Tea plantation challenges in Sri Lanka: ACTED undertakes throrough needs assessment

Tea plantations with pluckers, Nuwara Eliya district - ACTED Sri Lanka, 2016

Driving into Sri Lanka’s highlands, one is caught by the magical feel of the strikingly beautiful tea plantations clinging on the hillside, apposing their green leaves on the blue sky and the red ground.

Generations of Indian Tamils working in the plantations

Looking closer, one will also soon notice small dots moving amidst this dream landscape: the shapes of the plantation workers, struggling to hang onto these sloped plantations, fiercely plucking the tea that made Ceylon world-renowned, day in and day out, for no more than a penny. The Up-Country Tamil population, originally brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British during colonial rule, has worked here for generations with little recognition, living in very harsh conditions, despite decades of commitment. It was not until the late 1980s that they started being granted the Sri Lankan citizenship.

Inadequate access to basic services

Living on the estate where they work, plantation workers and their families fall under the jurisdiction of the estate management, who provides them with housing in “line barracks,” built in the 1920s. These have no windows or adequate ventilation, are often overcrowded, and offer little privacy. Estate-ran welfare services such as health, water, sanitation and education do not function adequately and the remoteness of the plantation hinders families from accessing public services in disconnected urban centers. Wages are very low and alternative livelihoods are few, all contributing to a rampant poverty amongst the Indian Tamil.

While the estate sector accounts for only 4.4 percent of the total population, more than 60 percent of this sector falls in the bottom 40 percent of the national per capita consumption distribution (World Bank, 2016, “Poverty and Welfare in Sri Lanka”).

Thorough needs assessments in the Uva and Central Provinces

Aiming to tackle the challenges faced by the communities living and working on tea plantations in the highlands of Sri Lanka, ACTED and Handicap International are currently undertaking a thorough needs assessment - meeting with local authorities, organizations, small and medium enterprises, and communities in Uva and Central Provinces; discussions with international and local NGOs engaged in this sector; and desk-top review. Leveraging European Union strategy to invest in this sector, both organizations intend to unite their strengths and expertise to contribute to more inclusive livelihoods and better living conditions for these populations.