Working with our Estates towards Sustainability

Dilmah believes that the sustainability of its estates is dependent on the welfare of its estate workers and the health of the ecosystem at large. At present, the use of agrochemicals and other forms of anthropogenic activities within tea plantations have major negative effects on biodiversity and water bodies in estates.

To ensure the good health of fragile tea ecosystems and estate workers, and contribute towards national level conservation efforts, Dilmah Conservation undertakes frequent soil, biodiversity and water quality surveys within its estates.

Photograph of a River Stream

Dilmah Conservation also currently has multiple long-term projects active within its estates to…

  • reduce Dilmah’s carbon foot print by reducing firewood and energy usage
  • increase the agricultural productivity of its lands through organic practices
  • increase the biodiversity of its estates via the construction of nature corridors, and
  • introduce smart tools for better conservation and sustainable agriculture.
  • Objectives

    • Undertake research and development projects to reduce the ecological footprint of Dilmah Tea estates
    • Monitoring species diversity and undertaking species conservation within Dilmah estates
    • Monitoring the quality of water which flows through tea estates
    • Studying relationships between water quality, human activities and aquatic insect diversity in streams of the tea estate
    • Develop an index of aquatic insects to determine fresh water quality.
  • Projects

    Smart tools for better conservation and sustainable agriculture

    On the 25 – 26th July 2018 Dilmah Conservation held a camera trap training workshop for managers and assistant managers of the upper estates within the Kahawatta Plantations. This workshop is the first event of a series of initiatives led by Dilmah Conservation to introduce smart tools to boost conservation and sustainable agricultural practices within estates.

    Camera Trap Training Workshop Progress

    The workshop introduced the estate managers to the benefits of the technology within the conservation field and taught them how to set up camera traps and monitor the wildlife in their estates.

    A field session was carried out to set up camera traps and actively engage the participants in learning more about the rich biodiversity found within tea plantations.

    The workshop was designed to garner appreciation for ecosystem services within the estate management and workforce and promote truly 21st century conservation practices.

    Solar heat collector

    Solar Heat Collector to Create Energy

    In 2017 Dilmah Conservation initiated a solar heat collector project in order to generate eco-friendly energy and minimise the consumption of firewood at estate sites. This project was undertaken in collaboration with Prasanna Withthanage, a previous participant of the MJF Eco-Innovation Awards held in 2016.

    The solar collectors are currently installed at the at Dilmah Tea’s Houpe Tea Estate and have the capacity to harness a continuous stream of hot air heated to 40 - 50°C. This heated air stream can be fed into firewood furnaces to boost their efficiency and cut down the amount of firewood needed for tea production processes. The solar heat collectors are only operational for 6 hours during the sunniest parts of the day. During this window of time the system can generate 25 – 30% of the daily heat requirement for tea processing.

    The levels of firewood consumption at the site is being monitored continuously to quantify the effectiveness of the solar hear collectors. New tailormade blowers will be incorporated to the system by the end of 2018. This is expected to increase the efficiency of the solar heat collectors greatly and contribute to a significant reduction in firewood usage.

    Firewood preheater

    In 2014, Dilmah Conservation designed and tested an innovative firewood preheater at the Rilhena Estate as part of its Research and Development initiative. The goal of the project was to design an apparatus that can reduce the moisture content of firewood thereby improving the efficiency of burners and reducing the total amount of firewood needed. The project was a success and enabled Dilmah Tea to cut down the amount of firewood used in production processes by 20%.

    Following the success of the trials, similar firewood dryers have been installed at Endana, Houpe, Opatha, Pelmadulla and Wellandura Estates. The firewood preheaters have saved approximates 100,000 LKR per month per factory and have reduced the maintenance requirements for firing chambers. At Houpe estate alone, this project has helped save approximately 75 m³ of firewood per month - that is equivalent to 35 trees per month.

    Drying firewood has contributed towards more uniform heating within firing chambers at the tea factories. Significant increases in the quality of tea produced with the help of these preheaters have been noticed because of this. The preheaters are expected to reduce the total amount of firewood used during the tea drying process without incurring additional labour requirements.

    Biochar People Operating the Biochar Machine

    Biochar is currently being generated from waste tea generated during Dilmah’s production processes and tested within the Kahawatte Tea Plantations. A one-time application of biochar can remain active in the soil for hundreds of years and offset a significant proportion of green-house emissions.

    Biochar is a type of highly porous charcoal. It is produced by the process of pyrolysis which includes heating natural organic materials (such as plant matter) in a high temperature low-oxygen environment that prevents combustion. Biochar application can also prevent soil nutrient leaching, boosting agricultural productivity and reducing the amount of fertiliser needed. As a result, its application is expected to significantly reduce ground water pollution within estates.

    Endana nature corridor

    To Celebrate Dilmah’s 30th anniversary in 2018 and cement Dilmah’s commitment to protecting the fragile ecosystems found in relation to the changing elevations of tea estates, Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando uprooted the first tea plant at Dilmah’s Endana tea garden to create a nature corridor linking the Delwala Kanda and Walankanda Forest Reserves. The initiative is expected to connect a 3 km long gap between the two forests which had been separated by tea plantations and human settlements for the past 100 years. Read more

    Aquatic insects as an indicator of water quality

    Checking Water Quality for Aquatic Index

    In 2011 Dilmah Conservation together with the University of Colombo undertook a project to develop an aquatic insect index that can be used as an indicator of water quality.

    This project fit into a long-term research and teaching programme on ecotoxicology at the University of Colombo in 2012. This was achieved with the support of the World Bank and Government of Sri Lanka funded ‘Higher Education for the 21st Century’ (HETC) Project.

    Almost all the sampled water bodies in Dilmah Tea estates were found to have good quality water according to WHO guidelines. The project resulted in the identification of new sources of drinking water for the estate community.