27 Jan

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s tea industry is planning a global promotional campaign targeting its main export destinations, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as the crisis-hit country looks to attract additional foreign exchange.
The industry is famous for Ceylon tea — which refers to the island’s colonial name — and it is one of the country’s biggest exports. Revenue from tea exports stood at around $1.26 billion last year. This year the target is $1.4 billion.
The foreign exchange the industry generates is badly needed by the island nation of 22 million people, which has been gripped by a deep financial crisis since early 2022.
The Middle East and North Africa region is a top export market for the product, comprising more than half of Sri Lanka’s tea exports in 2022.
Pavithri Peiris, Sri Lanka Tea Board’s promotion director, told Arab News on Wednesday that Ceylon tea was highly valued in the region and preparations for its global promotion project were now in full swing ahead of the launch.
She said: “A digital-based PR campaign is set out to be launched in March 2023... This campaign will be online in 20 countries, including KSA and UAE.
“The low-grown teas in Sri Lanka are known to Middle Eastern tea consumers for (their) superior leaf appearance.”
The UAE is the largest destination in the MENA region and the third-largest market overall for Ceylon tea exports. It is the main hub for the product, Peiris said, where the buyers re-pack and distribute it to other countries in the region.
However, to be successful in reaching its targets, the Sri Lankan tea industry needs to shore up production output after lower-than-expected harvests last year following a controversial temporary ban on fertilizers introduced by the previous government in 2021.
Though the ban was lifted a few months later, tea producers say its impact and a labor shortage affected last year’s harvests.
“There were no chemicals, no fertilizer, so we couldn’t harvest our crops,” Ihithisham Meezan, chairperson of tea conglomerate Meezan Group of Companies, told Arab News.
“And this year we are getting the required fertilizers, but the workers at the estate are leaving for Middle East jobs in search of greener pastures.
“Here the cost of living is very high, most of the labor is going out of the country. That is becoming very bad for us.”
But following nearly five decades of the company’s presence in the market, Meezan had faith that harvests of the famed Ceylon tea would soon restore its prominence.
“Saudi Arabia, European countries, everybody likes Sri Lankan tea,” he said. “Our tea is one of the best teas in the world.”