Plantation workers in Deniyaya suffering in the drought say the worse is yet to come for the tea trade from the coronavirus.
The tea bushes have dried out, workers are idling, and people are walking miles for drinking water.
Worker P. Krishnasami, 54, said many are suffering without a full income because work had not been available for several weeks.
His income had dropped to Rs 7,000 in February but was left only with Rs 225 after deductions for EPF and loans.
“We don’t have work in the estate now. There is nothing from the government and now we do not have drinking water,’’ he said.
He said they have been promised dry rations, but they were yet to come.
He claimed that the estate management had demanded Rs 50 each for face masks.
Another worker, Muththu Ramalingam, 57, said he has been employed for 40 years in the plantations and during the last four to five months he has not had proper employment.
He said that this month he could not expect anything more than Rs 1,000 because there is no work although he usually could earn around Rs 7,000 per month.
“Nobody has taken care of us. We are helpless,’’ he said.
Kumuduni Balapriya 24, a mother of two daughters, said she and her husband work in the estate.
“We didn’t even go to buy food after the curfew. How we can buy things without money?” she questioned.
“Once, the monk came from the temple, and gave us some buns, we didn’t get anything from the government yet,’’ she added.
P. Abeygunawardena, who is promoting organic tea for export in the area said he was confident that the virus will not deal a finishing blow to the business.
“The pathetic situation of the Sri Lanka tea sector today is due to our own mismanagement and unfair private gains at a huge public cost,’’ he said.
He said new opportunities that will open up due to the virus epidemic highlight the need for nature-friendly, health-conscious, new scientific approaches to tea production, processing, and consumption.
“Why not organic, clean and nature-friendly production? Why not electronic auctions and marketing? Why not declare Sri Lankan tea as a poisons-free, healthy drink to the world? he suggested.
Gunasoma Wanigasekara, 60, a small tea factory owner in Akuressa said that the drought has affected them badly.
“We have experienced a severe drought since January. Akuressa is one of the areas that got affected badly. Our intake of tea dropped by more than 50% in February and 80% in March,” he said.
He said the factory has an outlet for foreigners, and until the curfew was imposed, tourists visited, but now the situation would change.
“The situation is changing very quickly. We are not able to pay our workers, especially daily wage workers. Production has stopped. So, now they are in a very bad situation,’’ he said.
“We can only give the basic salary for workers being paid on a monthly basis.
“Our income has stopped. We still don’t have a clear idea of how the government will implement its decision to delay loan recovery,” he added.
Nihal Gunasekara, 52, a small tea cultivator with one acre of land, said that they have been affected from January onwards.
“My land has almost dried up from the drought. All tea plants are nearly dead. I earned 30,000 rupees a month from this land. But I get nothing now,” he said.
With the adverse impact of the curfew yet to be fully felt, plantation workers and owners of small tea plots believe that they are facing a double blow.