Balakaduwa Estate

Sri Lanka – November 28th 2013

The old Balakaduwa tea factory located a few kilometers south of Matale on the Kandy–Jaffna highway has been acquired by EOAS Organics (Pvt) Limited, of which Dr. D A Perera is Chairman.

A team from The Spice Journal visited the site and met with Dr. R S Kularatne who recently retired from the Ministry of Export agriculture where he was an Additional Director General (research).

Factory under going renovations
Balakaduwa Tea factory

Dr Kularatne has recently joined EOAS as Technical Director and is the overseer of the renovation work at Balakaduwa to change it into a spice garden as well as a processing centre for specialty green teas.

Prior to the tea factory being taken over by EOAS it was part of a cooperative of small tea gardens known as Tea Shakthi, but it lay idle and abandon for the past one and a half years. Dr Kularatne, who is also an adviser to The Spice Journal, explained the enormous amount of work required to restore and renovate the site; however we observed that the gardening part of the project is well underway with the planting of cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric, already accomplished.

Arecenut plant next to the factory
Arecenut plant next to the factory

During our visit to Balakaduwa we discussed a bit of the history of spice in Sri Lanka, and we noted that during Portuguese and Dutch rule, and on into the British era, spices were the predominant export from Ceylon.during british

In fact many battles were fought over this precious island and the main reason was for the  control of spices. That the island was fought for, and subsequently ruled by three successive European nations in a span of about 260 years, is testimony to the prominence and value of the spice industry back then.

It seems though, that during British rule spices began to lose prominence in Ceylon. The British initially concentrated on growing coffee; in fact they developed a significant coffee industry which flourished until the 1870’s when blight destroyed their entire crop. Thereafter they lost interest in coffee cultivation and turned their agricultural attention to tea plantations.

By the late 1800’s the British had developed a sizeable tea industry on the Island which has flourished till the present day. The thriving tea industry has perhaps been detrimental to the success of the spice industry which has never recovered to its heyday years of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Even with Sri Lanka gaining independence, the spice industry has never managed to recover. For about twenty five years there was a civil war and all exports, including spice, were seriously compromised. However since 2010 industries have been growing phenomenally in Sri Lanka, and commerce is on an upswing.

The present government of Sri Lanka has done a credible job in providing policy and impetus to help revitalize many of the war-torn industries, and in steering the country toward fiscal stability. However a common lament is that the spice industry needs to be and should be revitalized too, perhaps even to surpass the productivity of tea.

Dr.Kularatne coordinating worker to plant cinnamon trees
Dr.Kularatne coordinating workers to plant cinnamon trees.

Perhaps the government has been listening, because recently the Ministry of Export Agriculture has completed an assessment with an island wide series of meetings and workshops to ascertain and recommend a spice industry rejuvenation strategy. Although the final report has not been released, The Spice Journal has learned that it contains a seven year plan of action to increase spice exports to one billion dollars annually by 2020.

Considering that Sri Lankan spice exports at present are only 265 million dollars annually, the seven year plan is ambitious but in our opinion it is achievable, providing all requisite aspects of exporting, like quality control, hygiene standards, G I coding, product enhancement, Ceylon branding, and international promotion, are expeditiously implemented.

The Balakaduwa project in Matale may only be a small step toward equalization, however it is noteworthy that Dr Kularatne and EOAS are providing equal energy and investment to spices and tea.

The Spice Journal will follow this project with great interest.