Sophie Young, MEM

2015 Other Fellow in Sri Lanka

The relationship between household economics and management intensity on smallholder tea plantations in Pitakele Village, Sri Lanka

Tea (Camellia sinensis) was introduced to Sri Lanka by the British during the 19th century to serve their export markets. Primary rainforest was cleared to make way for export-oriented plantation tea crops. Today, Sri Lanka is the top tea exporter in the world, and smallholders play a central role in this economy, producing over two-thirds of the country's tea. Although the remaining forests have since come under protection, the continued expansion of smallholder tea plantations in Sri Lanka has given rise to deforestation and encroachment concerns, particularly in the buffer zones.
I conducted an agroforestry study in a buffer zone village adjacent to Sinharaja Reserve, the last intact primary tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka. The village economy has become increasingly dependent on tea as a primary source of income over the last 30 years, following the decline of the rubber and spice economies. Using a social-ecological approach, I collected quantitative and qualitative data on the socio-economic and biophysical features of 35 households' tea plantations. The study aims to understand the dynamics of household land management decision-making in the village's ongoing shift from forest- to commodity crop- dependent livelihoods, and in negotiating the delicate balance between deforestation and livelihood concerns.