30 april 2005
Van Rees innovates tea-blending in Sri Lanka
Alexander van der Chijs, CEO of the Rotterdam-based company with branch offices in all the main tea producing countries, was initially reluctant to further invest a considerable amount in a politically instable country like Sri Lanka. However, having obtained a subsidy of the Programme for Cooperation with Emerging Markets (PSOM), a government-run fund to stimulate investments in developing countries, he decided to take the chance. Van der Chijs to P+: "We felt that we should take the lead by bringing in new technology, and training people in both machine-handling and food-safety certification. I am sure this investment will have an impact on the entire tea-industry in Sri Lanka. All the buyers at the auction of Colombo will be watching our innovations closely."
The innovation concerns the blending of the large leaf tea. Since the leaves are not to be broken, the blending is still performed by hand, or rather, by feet. Bags of tea are blended on the floor, by first piling the leaves up and then shovelling them. In the process sweat and other 'non-essentials' are inevitably added to the tealeaves. The workers, meanwhile, breath in the fine dust, produced during shovelling. Shamal de Sylva, manager of the Colombo-branch of Van Rees, is very uncomfortable with this practice. "We constantly ask for the highest quality in the whole production-chain, so we should improve our own quality also." He is more than pleased with the new investments, consisting of blending and cleaning machinery from India: "We are not just another multinational enterprise entering and leaving a country without any commitment. Our personnel will be better skilled, we will be able to appoint more women in the workforce, we will start working in shifts and our people will be wearing proper uniforms."
The new production line was supposed to start functioning in October, but there will be some delay, as all contractors are very busy repairing the damage caused by the tsunami.
P+ Webtip: Van Rees