Tracing the origins of Sri Lankan tea pickers

April 20, 2020Niry Fidelis
Sri Lankan Tea Pickers

Would You Like A Cup of Sri Lankan Tea?

By now, everyboby probably knows that Sri Lanka is world famous (world’s No. 2 exporter) for its tea known as tea of Ceylon and tea production is one of the main sources of foreign exchange for the country.

Tourists do not fail to visit the tea factories and the tea tastings during their road trip around Sri Lanka. We have experienced severel of them and they all are indeed very interesting. A visit to a tea factory in Sri Lanka will certainly complete your Sri Lankan travel adventure.

Visit Maskeliya

Sri Lanka has six main tea growing areas: Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Kandy, Uda Pussellawa, Uva Province, and Southern Province; each with its own weather patterns and unique geographical features. The consistently warm climate, heavy rainy seasons, and the high humidity lead to almost nonstop tea production all year around.

No matter where they are grown, once the leaves are picked and turned into tea, they can be sold in the country or be brought to the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo to be exported around the globe.

Visit Nuwara Eliya

Now, what I said is already well known to everyone, but what most people still don’t know is the story behind this big industry, I mean the lives of the workers: tea pickers. The Sri Lankan tea industry employs over 1 million people, most of whom live in poverty and their lives are getting tougher and tougher day after day.

During your road trip in Sri Lanka, while crossing Nuwara Eliya or any other tea areas, you can see the tea pickers at work. Tourists and travellers often stop by the road just to take some good photos of them and the Sri Lankan tea pickers often ask for money when they are photographed.

Travel nuwara eliya

There is a terrific fact behind this scenic view.

Men and women work from dawn to sunset in order to collect as many leaves as possible (only the first three leaves). It seems that they harvest around 18 kg per day to earn about 3 euros; the Sri Lankan tea pickers have to work quickly under the hot sun to fill their baskets before their takings are weighed and added up at the end of the day.

Most of the the tea laborers are immigrant Indians brought from South India by British plantation owners in the earlier 1850s to work on their tea estates.

Sri Lankan Tea Pickers

The community of tea pickers is kept quite separate from the rest of the country.

The tourist instead of just stopping by the road to click some good photos, should get down from their tuk tuk and go deep inside the tea plantation paths to see what’s really happening.

If you take a walk among the tea plantations in Sri Lanka you can see their hidden villages. Their houses are small and basic with roofs made of iron sheets weighed down with a few stones.

 Read Also: Adam’s Peak Hike

Sri Lankan off the beaten path
Sri Lankan off the beaten path

According to what they said and what we saw, it seems they don’t get enough money from their hard work to eat a full meal. They have no electricity, they have no running water in the houses, and the only toilets are outside for common use.

Their poor life condition is the reason why when they are photographed by tourists they ask for money. They are not getting any help and it seems that the government is not giving any assistance to these people to provide for their development. It should provide at least a better education for their children which could help them to improve their condition.

Sri Lankan Tea Pickers

So it is not only about the picturesque scenery. There is much more beyond that. I highly recommend that you take a walk among the tea plantations in Sri Lanka. Apart from the fact that it is going to be a facinating walk, you can see how the tea pickers are living. Your cup of tea will have a different taste after that. And do it before visiting the tea factories in Sri Lanka.

Comments (12)

  • Lorry DE Jesus

    July 26, 2017 at 4:07 am

    oh, i feel the situation of those laborers, they are work so hard but not enough for their basic needs and the government doesn't give any support to them. I hope someday or soon their government prioritized them as you mention they are the top 2 world producers of tea.

  • Ambuj Saxena

    August 4, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    It's interesting the way you have captured the way of life of the Sri Lankan tea growers. I hope policymakers wake up to the abject poverty they are living in and I am glad you have created a blog about them in order to create awareness.

  • Mimi

    August 5, 2017 at 5:57 am

    your photos really shed light on the issue. It is great that you are bringing awareness to this situation since so many of us drink tea. Not many of us know what is going on in that part of the world so thank you for bringing this to our attention. Hopefully something can be done soon.

  • Indrani

    August 5, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Oh! That is really sad. We hardly get to see this facet of life.
    The old man standing in fron of his hut makes a very sad picture. Hoping the best for them.

    1. Sri Lanka

      August 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      yep that is really sad! Specially if you think they produce the number 2 tea

  • Swati

    August 5, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing on the plight of these tea pickers. Are you aware of organizations that are helping them ? Is this the expected income or are they being short changed ?

  • Married with Passports

    August 5, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I must admit that I love tea – so this would be heaven for me. I hope they're treated better though, kinda sad seeing the photos.

  • Neha

    August 6, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I don't drink tea. But do drink green tea. I know Sri Lankan tea is famous. And when I visit there, I will not forget to bring some back for my family.

  • Ami

    August 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

    It is a little sad to see the plight of these workmen. I do hope that there is some action taken to make things better for them by the Government, especially given that the produce is not doing so bad! Thanks for sharing this story.

  • Harini Jayaraman

    August 7, 2017 at 2:18 am

    I love Sri Lankan tea but looking at a side from their life is really sad 🙁

  • Swayam Tiwari

    August 7, 2017 at 4:43 am

    For 3 euros the labourers have to pick 18 kilos of tea leaves? This is downright unjustified and exploitative. I wish the Sri Lankan government made the working conditions of the plantation workers better.

  • Lydia

    May 7, 2020 at 6:47 am

    I knew absolutely nothing about tea pickers before this post! These people must work incredibly hard, the the people who drink the tea don’t even know where it comes from!

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