Helping Sri Lankan Tea Farmers Adapt and Thrive

Tea pickers_Sri Lanka 1
The Rainforest Alliance will be at the Colombo International Tea Convention August 9-11. If you are attending, please stop by Stall 6.

By Susan Arnot Heaney, Director, Marketing & Company Engagement, The Rainforest Alliance

For 150 years, Sri Lanka has consistently produced tea that is recognized the world over for its quality, unique character, and flavor profile. But with challenges such as altered weather patterns, workforce turnover, and market transformations, the strategies that yielded results yesterday may not work as well tomorrow. Bad weather is historically a farmer’s worst enemy, and at his time of global climate change—including drastic temperature shifts, increased pest and disease outbreaks, prolonged droughts, and devastating floods— tea cultivation can be exponentially harder.

To ensure long-term success, tea producers must be nimble, adapting to a range of shifting conditions, and one effective way to help adapt is through training by the Rainforest Alliance in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard for farm practices. This encompasses social and environmental sustainability and improved climate resilience, including agricultural practices that are customized for each region. In Sri Lanka, for example, where the terrain is steep, tea producers must maintain tree cover on their land to safeguard against the destructive power of floods and mudslides. And by minimizing soil erosion and establishing buffer zones near streams and rivers, farmers also protect their sources of water.

Nurturing the Environment That Nurtures Ceylon Tea

The unique character and quality of Ceylon tea are directly linked to the health of the farms where it is grown and the forests that surround them. Rainforest Alliance training and certification promote agricultural practices that protect Sri Lanka’s farmland, forests, and waterways, as well as the communities and wildlife that rely on these resources. The practices include:

  • Maintaining tree cover and preventing new deforestation
  • Conserving soil health by managing waste
  • Enriching soils through composting and mulching
  • Avoiding the use of agrochemicals whenever possible
  • Safeguarding against soil erosion near rivers and streams
  • Treating wastewater to protect waterways and communities

Sustainability Is Good For Business

The same practices that help tea farmers protect the health of their environment and communities also provide many business benefits, including:

Decreased Costs & Increased Yields: Sri Lanka’s tea sector has long relied on agrochemicals to battle weeds, but the smallholders who participate in Rainforest Alliance training learn a different approach. By avoiding weedicides, not only do they protect forests, wildlife, and their own health, but they also reduce expenses, generate more biomass (which decreases the need for fertilizer), and increase crop production.

Better Planning & Adaptability: Rainforest Alliance certification promotes improved record keeping. By monitoring and tracking labor costs and other expenses alongside yields and sales, tea producers are better able to plan their production, spot concerns before they become serious problems, identify areas for improvement, and adjust their operations accordingly. An actively managed farm is the most likely to prosper.

Competitive Advantage: Increasingly, consumers are supporting products, brands, and companies that demonstrate care for the planet and people. The 2017 Edelman Earned Brand Study found that 50 percent of respondents said they would choose, avoid, or boycott a brand based on a social or political issue, and among 23- to 37-year-olds, this increased to 60 percent. The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is a clear indication of a producer’s commitment to sustainability and can provide an advantage in business-to-business transactions and consumer purchasing decisions.

Contact us to learn more.

Whether you are ready to apply for certification or simply want to learn more, the Rainforest Alliance is here to help understand your objectives and find solutions:

If you are in Sri Lanka:

  • Contact Lasantha Welikala, Consultant, Markets Transformation at for markets related information.
  • Contact Giri Kadurugamuwa, Rainforest Alliance Program Coordinator at certification and training information.




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