Sri Lanka tea exports lowest in 23 years
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Tea is the island nation's biggest export commodity, bringing in about $1.3 billion annually before the current economic downturn, the worst since independence in 1948.
But a bungled ban on fertiliser imports last year -- introduced in a doomed effort to save foreign currency and avoid a debt default -- hit growers hard, with production falling 18 per cent on-year for the period from November 2021 to February 2022.
Customs data showed that first-quarter exports in 2022 correspondingly plunged to 63.7 million kilos (140 million pounds), down from 69.8 million kilos in the January-March period last year.
Export earnings for the first quarter also declined, to $287 million from $338 million.
Tea brokering firm Asia Siyaka blamed the drop on the agro chemical ban, which was portrayed by the government as a push to turn Sri Lankan farming 100-percent organic.
The ban was lifted by October following backlash from the industry, but farmers were left unable to access imported fertiliser as the country simultaneously ran out of dollars.
The country of 22 million lacks enough foreign currency to finance even the most essential imports such as food, fuel and medicines.
Dire shortages and galloping inflation have led to widespread protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.