Major Research Areas
The sustainability and profitability of the tea industry depend primarily on the availability of desired planting materials. At present, 80% of the VP extent is planted with a few high-yielding cultivars which do not possess many desirable attributes, such as resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses that prevail in different tea-growing regions. Hence the R&D activities for tea crop improvement are focused on incorporating desirable attributes that are not present, in the existing high-yielding cultivars, to increase growers' acceptability and meet the diverse needs of the end-users. By undertaking collaborative research with growers at the later stages of the cultivar-development process, the current research program aims at diversifying breeding strategies to conform to the diverse socio-economic and agro-ecological conditions. In addition, efforts are being made to breed, select and release new improved cultivars, that would be better suited to future demands, by integrating non-conventional breeding techniques.
Sri Lanka produces about 300 million kg of tea. There are about 600 factories in operation in the country. According to an energy audit carried out in the past, the total energy usage for tea processing is about 25.4 MJ per kg of made tea, which consist of about 3.4 MJ of electrical energy and 22.0 MJ of thermal energy. On the basis of 300 million kg of production per annum, the total energy usage by the tea industry is 283 GWh of electrical energy, and 6,600 tera Joules of thermal energy per annum.
In black tea processing, thermal energy is used to generate hot air for the drying and withering processes. The fuel source widely used is firewood. The commonly used firewood species are gum, rubber and jungle trees. The availability of good firewood in right quantities is becoming increasingly difficult at factory locations; firewood is scarce most of the time. As a result, the price of firewood increases with increasing demand. The cost of thermal and electrical energy is about 30% of the total cost of tea processing (Rs.47.00). The cost of energy is increasing with increasing fuel prices and increasing charges for electricity. Therefore it is necessary to find alternative energy resources and energy-saving techniques for factories, in order to reduce the cost on fuel in tea processing. Research and development activities is therefore, focused on following areas;
Soil fertility in the tea lands is considered to be very low, particularly in view of presence of low soil organic-matter content. The cultivation practices undertaken over more than a century could have been contributed to this, in an era where inputs were plentiful and more economical to use. They may have brought in dividends by way of profits at the time, but invariably at the expense of long-term sustainability of soils in which tea is grown. The following approaches are meant to bring back some of the lost soil properties, in order to make soil a more viable system.
- Development of Integrated Soil Fertility Management strategies
- Development of regional or site specific fertilizer recommendations for improving productivity and profitability
- Development of methods for formulation of bio-organic and mineral or compound fertilisers, suitable for tea
- Studies on soil fertility improvement by bio-film technology
- Involving VAM for better and more efficient plant-nutrient utilization, and as an added advantage to plant protection
Tea cultivation is highly labour-intensive. Hence, the productivity of tea plantations is greatly influenced by the availability of workers for numerous field operations, from land preparation to harvesting. The plantation sector is already facing a major shortage of labour, which affects the productivity and quality of the end product. In view of this, it has become utmost importance to mechanize the major field operations in tea cultivation, wherever possible. This should enhance worker output and reduce the cost of production, while preserving the quality of the end product. To achieve these objectives following aspects are being studied.
- Development of appropriate mechanical devices for agronomic operations to overcome labour shortage and to improve productivity
- Devices for harvesting, pruning and fertilizer application
- Development of agronomic practices amenable for mechanization
Owing to the twin objectives of achieving product certification, and facing worker shortage, factory automation is becoming increasingly important. These will in turn assure reduced post harvest damage to tea leaves, increased hygienic standards towards meeting requirements for ISO 22000 and HACCP, reduced worker requirements, reduced costs of energy, and finally improved made-tea quality for enhancing profits. The priorities in the research and development are as the follows.
- Development of technologies to enhance made-tea quality and the keeping quality of made tea
- Development and improvement of machinery to reduce the cost of tea processing and improve made-tea quality
- Development of strategies to automate the tea manufacturing process
- Development of standards for tea
Chemical control of pests and diseases is the conventionally adopted approach in the past. However, in view of the health concerns expressed by tea-consuming populations, it is necessary to minimize the use of chemicals for controlling pests and diseases. Chemicals may also have negative implications for the environment in which they are used, including negative effects on beneficial non-target organisms, thus creating imbalances. The best way to overcome imbalances is through IPM strategies, where cultural, biological and chemical means are employed in combination for managing a particular pest or disease situation.
- Development of cost-effective control methods for integrated management of SHB
- Development of integrated management strategies to control major tea diseases, with a special preference to biological control measures that reduce the usage of pesticides
- Screening of synthetic fungicides, and establishing residue levels and pre-harvesting intervals (PHI), in the management of blister blight
- Development of cost-effective control methods for integrated management of nematode pests in tea
- Development of integrated weed management strategies in tea
Product-development research is carried out mainly for achieving two objectives.
- Enhancing income through value addition
- Attracting different segments of consumers, especially the younger generation, who would normally not be attracted to the traditional ways of tea drinking.
The main areas under studies are;
- Improvement of the process for production of instant black tea
- Optimization of liquid tea concentrate and tea based beverages
- Extraction of polyphenols for commercialization
- Extraction of proteins from spent tea
- Optimization of the processes for production of novel products using liquid tea concentrate
- Testing refuse-tea briquettes as fuel in the tea drying process
- Development of sustainable, organic farming systems for tea
It is widely accepted that Sri Lankan tea productivity is comparatively low in comparative. This situation need to be addressed with the aim of increasing productivity per unit area, and per worker, thereby bringing down COP, which is also considered to be among the highest among the other tea growing countries. Therefore, the research activities are focused on;
- Development of shade management strategies for different regions
- Development of inter-cropping systems with coconut
- Optimization of the tea manufacturing processes for improving worker and machinery productivity
Technologies generated by research Divisions through mono-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research, have to be tested for adaptability in the field, in order to make them effective and acceptable to the end-user. This inevitable task lies with the Advisory and Extension staff and is being achieved through;
- assessment of the extent of adoption of TRI recommendations, and examination of grower practices; and
- conducting adaptive and demonstration trials
Over the generations, tea has been the leading export crop in Sri Lanka. Presently it contributes about 14% to national export earnings. Tea being a highly labour-intensive crop, generates livelihoods for about one million people of the country. Many factors, both internal as well as external, affect the socio-economic environment of the Industry. In view of this, studying the changing socio-economic scenario of the Sri Lankan tea industry has become vital in the dynamic world tea economy, if we are to uphold the profitability and sustainability of our tea. Therefore the focus is on;
- Identification of socio-economic measures to overcome the shortage of workers in the tea sector in the different regions
- Analysis of the comparative advantages of the Sri Lankan tea industry with a view to improving profitability