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Dilmah CEO Says Millions Would Be Replaced By Robots In The Tea Industry In A Few Years

Dilmah CEO Says Millions Would Be Replaced By Robots In The Tea Industry In A Few Years
The livelihoods of millions of workers in the tea estates – who are mostly low paid ones, is likely to be hit in the tea industry globally by a major robotic disruption, believes the CEO of a global beverage business.
Dilhan Fernando, chief executive of Sri Lankan tea company Dilmah said that humans had been largely involved who handled the process of tea picking which is one of the key step in the tea production process.
But According to Fernando, the existing workers would be soon superseded by a high level of expertise in artificial intelligence.
"I have no doubt that within a few years, particularly after seeing Sophia this morning ... we will see robots or drones picking tea," Fernando said. He was referring to Hong-Kong based firm Hanson Robotics’ developed humanoid robot.
The speed at which t he AI and robotic engineers are able to resolve a number of existing challenges will be the broad determinant about the time frame that AI solutions can be broadly adopted in the tea industry.
"With tea, to pick the two leaves and bud, you need to be able to understand the different colors [and] gradations. That, a robot can do. But it's also [about traveling] across certain undulating terrain, so it's a little difficult even for a drone," Fernando said.
A huge population would be severely affected as their livelihood could be snatched away in the tea industry if Fernando's prediction turns out to be correct. According to sustainable development agency Solidaridad, it is estimated that more than 13 million people are engaged globally in the process of tea production where most of the planters are smallholder farmers.
And the less wealthy nations are the ones which are home to these small hold growers. This primarily includes the developing nations, including the top producers of tea – China India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. And according to data from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, such countries provide the major contribution to the global tea production.
The CEO said he did not "have the solutions right now," but is of the strong opinion that such solutions would soon be available for the tea industry. He also admitted that technology could present a real problem for the workers at the tea estates.
Fernando said that aimed at generating employment opportunities in varied trades for the younger population in the tea industry, a charitable foundation s also run by Dilmah's founder.
"It's not particularly good at the moment for us where business is concerned. But it's a right that they have, and we have to understand that there are social issues that we have to address," he added.
According to Germany based statistics company Statista, there is an expected growth in the tea beverage market through to 2021 and the total value is anticipated to hit $44.3 billion from the present value of $39.3 billion.
In the state off Assam in India, reports that the tea workers were facing problems of poor sanitation, malnutrition and child labor was rife last year. The supplier from that area was blacklisted and supply of tea was stopped last year by Britain’s top tea brands, Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate and Fortnum & Mason.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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