IV. ANALYSIS OF SECTOR-LEVEL MEASURES USED TO INTEGRATE ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS IN TERMS OF PERCEIVED EFFECTIVENESS IN ACHIEVING POLICY OBJECTIVES
B. Differences arising between sectors, problems addressed and sector specific issues experienced in applying environmentally related measures
When focusing on the differences which arise between sectors and the various problems addressed, it is appropriate to compare the three main plantation crops in Sri Lanka, i.e., tea, rubber and coconut.
There are marked differences between the adverse environmental impacts of the three crops, when it comes to soil erosion, land degradation and loss of productivity. The most marked adverse impact appears to occur in the case of replanting high-grown tea on steep slopes. However, in the case of rubber, although grown on sloping land with fairly high gradients, the problem is not perceived to be so pronounced as rubber trees bind the soil better. Furthermore, rubber tree replanting is carried out at longer intervals of time.
In order to minimize the effects of soil erosion a deliberate choice of a crop can be made for providing vegetation that has rapid growth characteristics, thereby providing constant ground cover. On rubber plantations, creeping legumes serve that purpose effectively. In the case of tea, a well managed "vegetatively propagated tea" also provides an excellent cover crop. However, difficulties arise during the early period of establishing such ground-cover crops. Furthermore, since the chosen cover crop should also yield an economic return, rubber offers an economic advantage over tea.
Coconuts lie at the other end of the scale. With coconut plantations, adverse environmental impacts resulting from soil erosion and land degradation hardly ever arise because the palms are generally grown on flat terrain in the low country.
When it comes to adverse impacts related to excessive use of agrochemicals (weedicides, pesticides, fungicides etc.), tea has a distinct disadvantage over the other two crops, as it is a directly consumable product. Hence, more stringent control measures are required to prevent agrochemical residues above the permitted limits being deposited on tea. However, this question does not arise in the case of rubber, because the end products are for industrial use.
As far as hazards related to processed products are concerned, coconuts fall within an entirely different dimension. Very strict control must be maintained over coconut processing operations to prevent the contamination of desiccated coconut with Salmonella.
An issue that specifically affects the tea sector is the growing health concerns among international consumers of food products and the requirement for high standards of quality and organic foods. In the case of tea, that demand is not so pronounced at present. Although demand for organic tea (i.e., tea produced under strict organic conditions without the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, fumigants etc.) is limited, it fetches premium prices on international markets. At present, Sri Lanka exports organic tea in limited quantities. The constraint encountered in the production of organic tea is that bio-fertilizers provide lower amounts of nitrogen (less than 1 per cent) than chemical fertilizers. That is a disadvantage, because tea responds well to nitrogen. As a result, the already low level of productivity is affected further and production costs are increased. Although organic cultivation is more suitable for systems where intercropping is possible, a positive factor in the use of bio-fertilizers with tea is that it does not lower soil pH which is considered to be a precursory condition for soil erosion.
Another interesting feature of the tea sector in Sri Lanka is the use of environmentally friendly natural materials (reedware) for consumer packaging of tea. There is a market preference for such consumer packs in specialized niche markets, as the packaging finds other uses in addition to being biodegradable.
In reviewing the foregoing sector-specific issues, and particularly the success of the tea sector as an environmentally friendly sector, several salient features become clear:
As a perennial crop, well-managed VP tea is a good cover crop, which either minimizes or prevents soil erosion. Estimates of soil erosion under different land uses in the upper Mahaweli catchment areas indicate that annual soil loss per hectare is 15 tons for VP tea compared with 20 tons for well-managed seedling tea and 75 tons for poorly managed seedling tea (table 7). It is clear that the estimate for VP tea compares well with other sectors, including the comparable figure for dense forest cover.
Studies on EHR in the upper Mahaweli catchment areas (table 8) shows that over 80 per cent cover provides the most favourable rating for VP tea. Tea replanting in hilly areas by uprooting existing cover is not approved for this reason. Instead, the technique of infilling vacancies is encouraged, to prevent disturbance of the existing overall cover. Furthermore, in terms of land-use policy in Sri Lanka, only tree crops are permitted on land areas exceeding 60 per cent slopes (including VP tea with tree cover) for the same reason.
In any event, during tea cultivation it is possible to employ a range of environmentally friendly management practices which mitigate the adverse impacts on the environment which result from soil erosion and land degradation;
Another noteworthy feature of the tea crop is that it can be cultivated under organic conditions, particularly with the aid of bio-fertilizers and other environmentally friendly organic practices. However, crop productivity under organic conditions is lower. Nevertheless, organic produce fetches premium prices in world markets because the demand for such "green" products among health conscious consumers is increasing on international markets. Sri Lanka has already begun to respond to the demand for organic or bio-teas, albeit in limited quantities at present;
In tea manufacturing, the sector primarily employs maceration and drying processes for green tea leaves which are, by and large, environmentally friendly as they produce very little toxic effluent that impacts adversely on natural resources. The only exceptions are secondary processed products, such as "instant tea" products which may produce a certain amount of effluent. Even in such instances, mitigatory measures can be easily introduced. In the case of atmospheric emissions, there is hardly any contribution to the environmental hazard of acid rain as the tea processing industry in Sri Lanka uses either fuelwood or fuel with a low sulphur content.