SRI LANKA TEA INDUSTRY FACING UP TO NEW CHALLENGES
Since the Spanish flu infected close to a third of the, then global population a century ago, not even the First & Second World War could bring about an enormous tragedy on the human race until the COVID 19 pandemic hit all corners of Planet Earth. The New Corona Virus cases are already racing towards the 50 Million mark and the death toll exceeding 1.2 Million people with just the Second Wave of the pandemic beginning to spread all over the world like a wild fire aided by the natural wind. The tropical & mystic island of Sri Lanka blessed with abundance of rich culture and fertile nature, rain forest, daily direct sunlight of at least6 hours throughout the year resulting in a conducive climate, soil and weather ideal for growing tea.
Sri Lanka in entirety and the tea industry in particular overcame the First Wave of the COVID 19 during the 2nd Quarter of 2020 with admirable success. The immediate transformation from an "outcry system" to an online electronic Colombo Tea Auction after more than 125 years and the continuation of the total value chain mechanism from the growing, plucking, manufacturing, selling at the weekly auctions, blending & packaging, and finally marketing & exporting branded, packeted or bulk form during the lockdown by defining the tea industry and its export process as an essential service saved the day for "Ceylon Tea". Though the tea crop has declined over 10% due to a number of causes, the tea prices fetched at the Colombo Tea Auction has in fact appreciated by 15% up to end of September 2020 vis-a-vis same period of last year from Rs 542 per kilo to Rs 624 per kilo.
Today, the World has reached a crucial milestone where every nation is searching for human immunity boosting methods to counter the Corona Virus infection until an effective vaccination is introduced to the global masses. In that context, drinking warm beverages and inhaling hot vapour is generally believed to be helpful. This is where the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka (TRI) in collaboration with the analytical laboratory of SLTB has conducted a literature survey and further studies on "Theaflavins in Black Tea" and concluded black tea may be helpful in controlling and flushing out the viruses. The TRI has released a scientific publication under the topic "Antiviral properties of Tea" where it has been noted that drinking Black Tea helps to fight viruses. It could theoretically draw a parallel to a Taiwan research study(original article published in 2005) where the chemical structure of 64 compounds had been bioinformatically modelled against SARS - COVID - 2.
The hypothesis developed by the scientists that "Theaflavins" an antioxidant polyphenol richly found in Black Tea could potentially inhibit an enzyme from the Corona family and increase the human immunity, will need further investigations to establish authenticity. Nevertheless, "Theaflavins" is proven to be a compound which could alleviate respiratory diseases and open air passages in the human lungs for the facilitation of breathing. Further, the laboratory scientists at Sri Lanka Tea Board suggest, that frequent consumption of hot Black Tea (without sugar & milk) and inhaling the tea fumes is supportive of flushing viruses trapped in the throat and nasal area. This reaction helps in improving the immune capacity and inhibiting inflammation due to Catechins and Polyphenols contained in Black Tea. It should be mentioned here that consumption of Black Tea has not been proven medically as a treatment against the COVID 19 until extensive research studies are conducted with human trials.
In this connection, the Sri Lanka Tea industry stakeholders have moved rapidly towards online meetings, lively discussions and working group sessions with the international clientele through Virtual Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom conferences. All promotional campaigns for Ceylon Tea for the future are being focused through digital and social media against the backdrop of a pandemic lockdown in many global destinations. Utilizing the power of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube,
‘We chat etc through an identified panel of Influences, Bloggers, Authentic Opinion Makers and a few Celebrities Ceylon Tea clips, videos, messages, electronic banners etc are to be aired within the Global Campaign. It will be reinforced through Search Engines Marketing availing Google, Yandex, Baidu and other effective digital media as per the respective countries of operation. This strategy is to be combined with other necessary upgrades on the supply chain mechanism.
HASITHA DE ALWIS