SOFA, Sri Lanka

Bright mornings dawn on the mountains of the Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka. Intercut by deep valleys, this semi-tropical climate and elevation is ideal for growing world-renowned Ceylon teas.

The small holdings forest tea gardens of SOFA (about 1.5 acres each) are dominated by tea bushes, intercropped with spices and plants that provide shade and erosion protection from monsoon rains. Previously operated as a monoculture plantation, SOFA and Bio Foods have transitioned to certified organic farming, focusing on organic compost, manual weeding, and companion planting to reduce pests. Older, less productive plants have also been replaced to improve harvest yields.

Through a series of land reforms in the mid-1970’s, abandoned tea plantations were divided by the Sri Lankan government and sold to some of the tea labourers. Low tea prices and isolation left these farmers vulnerable to exploitive middlemen. SOFA was born from a vision of Bio Foods founder, Dr Sarath Ranaweera, an organic agriculture and tea specialist. Bio Foods processes and exports the agricultural products that SOFA farmers produce, but had to work to gain the trust of the farmers by initially guaranteeing to purchase the entire green tea leaf crop.

Managed entirely by elected farmer members, SOFA has become a sustainable model of Fair Trade in Sri Lanka. The equivalent of over $50,000 (Cdn) is received annually in Fair Trade premiums directed to initiatives that improve the standard of living for these farmers and the surrounding communities.

Quick Facts

Name: Small Organic Farmers’ Association (SOFA)

Country: Sri Lanka

Date Established: 1997

Members: 26 farmer societies (blocks) and about 1600 individual farmers

Products: Organic black and green teas, herbal teas, desiccated coconut, spices, and some vegetable crops for local use.

Social Premium Programs:

Clean drinking water

Community centres

Agricultural training (e.g. organic farming and farm management)

Cows and goats for milk

Financial support to assist parents with school costs

Central drying and processing factories

Employment projects (e.g. basket making and computer training for young people seeking jobs)

Road repairs