Tea in Sri Lanka is one of the country's biggest cash crops. One-and-a-half million people - or some 5 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million population - who work in the tea sector. But families working on tea estates are among the nation's poorest in terms of earnings as well as nutrition, say experts who back regional approaches to tackle nutrition disparity.
One in every five children younger than five is malnourished nationwide and one in six newborns has a low birth weight, one cause of infant deaths, according to a recent study from the Colombo-based Institute of Policy Studies. But the situation is worse for children of tea estate workers, with one in three classified as underweight and 40 percent of babies born with too-low weight. The most recent national poverty study conducted in 2009-2010 noted that 11.4 percent of these families lived below the national poverty line of 3,028 Sri Lankan rupees per month, or roughly $27. Household income plays a major role in determining nutrition levels of under-fives, with those among the country's poorest 20 percent three times more likely to be malnourished as those in the richest quintile.
Poverty and poor living conditions created an inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.
"The disadvantaged kid grows up to be a disadvantaged mother, often with early marriage, teenage pregnancies or starting off pregnancy with both micro- and macro-nutrient malnutrition; in turn she has a low birth-weight baby and poor pregnancy outcomes." Angela de Silva, a lecturer at the University of Colombo's Faculty of Medicine and vice-president of the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka said.
Government welfare policies dating back to independence in 1948 have largely failed to achieve long-term nutrition improvements