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The impact of Corona on Trust Organic Small Farmers

by Editor (comments: 0)

Tea-Harvest in Sri Lanka © jusch / pixabay

Heuschrecke Naturkost GmbH asked its partners in India, Sri Lanka and South Africa how it was for them during the Corona crisis and the lockdowns, what their everyday life was like and whether they could harvest and process the harvests.

Rooibos South Africa

Benni Wessels, agricultural consultant for Topqualitea South Farika (exporter for e.g. the Wupperthal Rooibos Cooperative and Skimmelberg):

Yes, this virus I think caught all of us unawares and I hope you are well and virus free at this stage.

We are in the 5th week of lock down and after next Friday, we will enter Level 4 (we are at level 5 at this stage). All still a bit vague what this level change means but as far as I can gather not much is going to change and only a small portion of the population is added to “essential”. But for most part(s) we will remain in lockdown. They haven’t informed us for how long level 4 will remain but my guess will be 2 weeks and then after that either level 3 or 5 (if the level change did improve the situation).

With regards to the Rooibos situation. With the lockdown farming/harvesting/processing were not affected and could go on as usual. Wupperthal were halfway through their harvesting when the lockdown occurred but it would seem that it did not affect them in their harvesting. The problems occurred lower down the chain. I’m not exactly sure what the virus regulations say about processing of food stuffs during this lockdown but in the Rooibos industry the work force was split up into shifts which made processing slower. Another problem it would seem is that orders almost dried up (which is understandable from a buyer’s viewpoint) compared to normal times. The knock-on effect is that no order boils down to no money that can be paid to farmers. Commercial farmers might have some financial reserves, but the small-scale farmers have none which puts them in an enormous financial predicament. Government have made provisions for financial assistance for the poorest of the poor (in which category most small-scale farmers fall) but as you know bureaucracy grinds very slowly and at this stage, they haven’t received anything as yet.

I’m not part of TopQuali’s management but as far I can gather, they have helped as far as possible but again they can only do so much without any client orders. Another challenge we have is that the farmers don’t actually understand that this virus situation is a worldwide problem and that uncertainties that companies in South Africa experience are basically the same that clients worldwide experience.

So, we are awaiting a relaxation in the lockdown level so that I can travel and visit these farmers and try to explain to them what the situation is.

A further problem I (and I think most people) have is to actually understand what government mean when they lay down rules. A layout of the different levels for instance note that the elderly will be under lockdown up to level 2. But unfortunately, not everybody can explain who this is actually. According to some governmental rules the elderly is meant everybody above 60. Which unfortunately then defines me as “elderly” (even if I only feel 34 with 30 years’ experience). It would seem that you need a permit (up to level 3) to travel, so at present as I mentioned we cannot visit the small-scale farmers. So, in short we are holding out (Remember Africa is not for sissies and sissies died out long ago) and will get through this even if we are bored like crazy. My beard is getting longer and at the end of the year I should look like Father Christmas.


Darjeeling, Tea Promoters India

Gautam Mohan, co-owner 3. Generation

Thank you for your email. We are fine here and living through the harshest lockdown anywhere in the world. These have been really difficult times – our First Flush harvest was at its peak when the lockdown came in and this is going to have a big impact on the present seasons crop.

The entire economy in the Darjeeling region works on the First Flush harvest doing well and these are going to be the most challenging times we feel we will be facing as an organisation.

Our people are managing well. We have sufficient stocks of food and other essentials in our tea gardens. Presently, our efforts are to ensure that the virus doesn’t reach Darjeeling, and everyone is safe and protected.

We have since last week commenced our plucking with 25% deployment of plucking (as these are social distancing norms that have been stipulated by the government).

It’s a shame as we have missed the peak First Flush quality period.

Our offices still haven’t reopened and by the looks of it, this might only happen in the 1st week of May.

In the middle of all this negative news, we have launched our annual newsletter which I’m attaching to this email. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I hope you are well and managing to stay in good spirits. The numbers from Germany seem to be well under control.


Kerala, Peermade Development Society / Sahyadri Spice Farmers

Jomon Joseph, Sales Manager Export

We are safe and well. Wishing you, your family and team good spirit and health at this time.

Our district, i.e. Idukki is one of the medium affected regions. There were 10 positive cases of COVID 19 has been reported in this district and now all of them are cured and left hospitals. At present there are no positive COVID 19 cases in our district. The people in our district and our farmers are highly concerned about COVID 19.

As per the governments guidelines, at present we are working with bare minimum staffs and workers. We are keeping social distancing during work time and during travelling. All the employees are using masks all the time. Before and after the work and travel we are cleaning the hands with sanitizer (IP) and soap.

And we are facing Transportation issue for the employees to reach the work place, difficulties in sourcing the raw materials, lack of availability of laborers for the farmers to do the farming activities and on farm processing and difficulty in getting the out sources services like label printing, stationary etc on time for the operations.

As a result of this pandemic, we afraid that the prices of the spices will fall down due to the fall in global demand. In this scenario, we need to ensure a minimum price for the farmers to ensure a sustainable livelihood for the farming community.


Sri Lanka, SOFA Small Farmers Association

Chathura Abeyratne, Processing and Export - Joint agri

We have close to 600 Corona patients as now and it is increasing every day. Sri Lanka is on island wide lockdown since 19th March up to date. Last week the government removed curfews for few districts and again re-imposed them from this week onwards. Everybody has to wear a mask and we need to maintain a 1m distance.  We are hopeful from May 4th the government will remove the curfew island wide.

Joint agri has been working with limited staff under special approvals since last 3 weeks. Most export related companies run the operations with limited staff. Corona has a huge impact on the Sri Lankan economy.


Sri Lanka, SOFA Small Farmers Association

Bernard Ranaweera, President SOFA

Thank you very much for your email dated 25th April 2020 on the above subject. We hope you stay safe during the present crisis.

The government in Sri Lanka has taken many actions to control the prevailing Covid – 19. It has declared country wide curfew since 20th March 2020. Several districts such as Colombo, Puttalam, Gampaha are identified as high – risk areas and they are under permanent curfew. The curfew in other districts are lifted from time to time and re-enforced to facilitate the people to buy essential food items, medicine etc. The government has implemented several programs to distribute essential food items and medicine among people in the permanent curfew areas. An allowance is paid by the government for people who are in a difficulty to manage their daily expenses with the assistance of village level government officers. Several private institutions also involved in distributing food items and medicine among people free of charge as the people were in a difficult situation within last five – six weeks. Such programs are still going on for the community in our country.

The health authorities have given many instructions such as wearing face masks, constantly washing hands, keeping social distance etc for the safety of public general. Island wide quarantine centers have been established to quarantine the people and health authorities and forces are giving their maximum support for those programs.

Anyway, the farmers in the country are allowed to continue their farming activities by following the instructions given by the health authorities. People are advised to strictly adhere the health instructions and the restrictions given by the government. Most of the government and private institutions are open since 20th April. Nevertheless, only 50% of total number of staff members should work in the institutions.

Following these instructions, we are continuously purchasing green leaves. Further, we have started our administration activities with a limited staff. We have distributed some essential goods among our farmer members. All the officers and farmer members are given the printed instructions by our organization. Further, face masks, sanitizing liquid are provided for officers and the farmer members.

Ultimately, we hope to further continue our administration and purchasing activities and hope the situation will get over soon.


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