Tea Estates in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan tea estates have colonial roots emerging from the British colonization era. Due to initial coffee and subsequently tea cultivation in Sri Lanka, the English rulers constructed railways, roads, banking institutions, and in general, improved the infrastructure of the country. As more and more tea was grown, the demand also went up in the UK, other European countries and American and African continents for the famed Ceylon black tea, making the exporters earn more. The British government invested some of these money towards the development of economic and cultural aspects of the country resulting in the development of the tea industry as well.
With time, regulations were improved and export operations were standardised. Following the Loolecondera tea estate, the very first in Sri Lanka, more and more lands were cleared to grow tea. These large areas were then organised as estates, now mostly owned by private owners. They faced issues in finding labour, establishing factories and hostile wild animals.
One important aspect of the tea estates in Sri Lanka was the arrival of Indian labour. Sri Lankan Sinhalese people were earning their livelihood via agriculture – paddy, vegetables and fruits - however export agriculture was something new to them. Their lives were connected to feudal systems. Tea, on the other hand, needed a considerable force of labour. Hence in the 19th and 20th centuries South Indian Tamils were brought down to work on, at first coffee and then tea and rubber cultivations owned by the British.
These export crop cultivations in Sri Lanka endured various changes under different governments. During early 1970s then government nationalised privately owned tea estates along with coconut and rubber cultivations. This was not a success; under the State management estates degenerated considerably. In the 1990s they were re-privatised. Up until today the estates are owned by these consolidated companies.
In addition to the large-scale cultivations of Ceylon black tea, there is a considerable amount of tea grown by small-holders in Sri Lanka. According to statistics, at present they account for more than 70% of the country's total tea production. This is a significant amount and the role played by the small-holders is an indication of their significant contribution to the future of the tea industry in Sri Lanka.