Monash University
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Food standards and governance in the tea industry in Sri Lanka: a value chain analysis

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posted on 2017-02-27, 03:16 authored by Wijayasiri, Janaka Yasovarma
This study examines the implications of food standards required by international buyers and markets for exporters, manufacturers and producers and governance in the tea value chain in Sri Lanka. Currently Sri Lanka is one of the world’s largest tea producers and exporters, but the industry is increasingly subject to stringent product standards, process standards, multiple private standards, and standards covering social and environmental issues. The study explores governance in the chain, stakeholders’ perception of food standards, their response to emerging standards and the impact of these on governance. It adopts a qualitative case study. It involved interviews with 45 key informants in the tea industry. In addition, documentary analysis and direct observations were utilised to triangulate the data collected and analysed. The study reveals the following key findings. First, the Sri Lankan tea value chain is complex, consisting of a number of stakeholders (smallholders, collectors, regional plantation companies, private factories, brokers, and exporters) who undertake various tasks (cultivation, collection, manufacturing, marketing, and exporting) and add value to the product as it moves along the chain. While the overall chain can be best described as buyer-driven, different parts of it (cultivation, manufacturing, marketing and exporting) are governed in distinct ways (market, relational, captive and hierarchical). Second, the tea value chain is increasingly governed by a number of public and private standards that cover not only the product but also the production process. These standards are set and monitored locally and internationally by governments and private businesses and organisations. Compliance with public mandatory standards is high, because they are required by regulation, whereas compliance varies in the case of public and private voluntary standards and depends on end-consumers and markets. Compliance has brought a number of benefits to stakeholders (efficiency, discipline, reduction in wastage, market access and product and process assurance), despite the costs (capital costs, consultant fees and training costs, new staff and additional time, and input costs). Most stakeholders perceived benefits to outweigh their costs. Third, the industry complied with emerging standards rather than adopting a strategy of voice or exit; most stakeholders saw the benefit of compliance and fell into line. The industry complied both proactively and reactively – proactively in the case of voluntary standards, but reactively in response to mandatory standards. The industry rarely adopted a strategy of voice or exit. Fourth, complying with standards has neither altered the governance relationships between exporters and their international buyers nor those between exporters and the manufacturers. However, the linkages between manufacturers and smallholders further up in the value chain appear to have become closer and tighter subsequent to the introduction of food standards; it was observed that factories are increasingly assisting and monitoring smallholders. Given the growing importance of standards in global value chains, the government of Sri Lanka and industry associations should together provide necessary support to stakeholders to meet the challenges of standards to ensure the continuity of Sri Lanka’s prominent position in the international market, because this is increasingly under threat. This will require a multi-pronged approach, which would include promoting awareness of standards, providing financial assistance, training workers, improving institutional capacity, targeting low-income markets, harmonising standards and participating in standard-setting bodies. The study has contributed to the existing literature on global value chains and standards by mapping the tea chain in Sri Lanka, exploring the governance types in the chain, documenting various food standards in the industry and their implications for governance.


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Principal supervisor

Ramanie Samaratunge

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Business and Economics

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