The aim of this study is to examine to what extent the introduction of organic farming methods, typical post-productivism in agriculture, affects changes in plantation agriculture, the typical productivism in the Global South. A case study was conducted on the tea industry in Sri Lanka. The method was intensive interviews with key persons at the headquarters of plantation companies, management sections of tea estates, relevant organizations, and with some tea estate residents, as well as collecting relevant documents in July, August, and December, 2005.
The findings are as follows. Firstly, the tea industry in Sri Lanka, particularly the plantation estate sector, has structural problems in terms of environment, economy, and social sustainability. These problems have been mainly caused by decreasing consumption of tea in industrialized countries and former policies of nationalizing Sri Lankan tea estates.
Secondly, organic farming methods in tea plantation estates have been introduced mainly in disadvantaged mountainous areas, characterized by many abandoned tea areas and old tea bushes. Organic farming is an alternative strategy for developing the estates in such areas.
These organic tea estates are trying to brand themselves, diversify crops, promote biodiversity, conduct eco-tours of estates, enhance social welfare system for residents, and introduce fair-trade certifications, as well as obtain organic certifications. Thus, organic farming in the tea estates can be understood as a strategy of diversified management, which is a combination of the elements of post-productivism.
However, the cost of production (COP) is higher in organic tea estates than in conventional estates, especially the cost of composting and weeding. Due to their labor-intensive character, organic estates are affected enormously by increasing labor costs, and in the near future the outflow of labor might also be a problem. These issues are common in the Sri Lankan tea industry.
Moreover, marketing to acquire new consumers in industrialized countries is not easy for organic estates, and the bought price is not increasing. This trend will not lead to the establishment of more organic tea estates. Some existing organic estates are also on the verge of closure under these circumstances.
To ensure the sustainability of organic tea estates, it is necessary to expand their social welfare policies especially for younger residents, and communicate these efforts to society along with environmental conservation policies. Moreover, consumers in industrialized countries need to understand and support the challenges affecting disadvantaged estates.