Sri Lanka's tea industry has survived world wars and global depressions - but now it's really in jeopardy

Sri Lanka's great tea industry has survived world wars and global depressions, using methods that have barely altered. But now all that is in jeopardy.

Expert hands pick only the right leaves, leaving the youngest shoots and avoiding the darker older growth. It is painstaking manual work under a hot sun but has endured the test of time, until now.

The women who do it can fill their huge baskets in a morning throwing the plucked leaves over their shoulders as they chat to others up the line. For generations they have passed down these skills.

But their livelihoods are now threatened and their lives have become much harder.

"We don't know what will happen in the future," Marie Amarawathy told Sky News. "We have something to eat now but we don't know about tomorrow.

"It's hard to live right now."

Gannapathy Vallimail joined in: "This month we manage but don't know about the next."

The economic crisis making their lives barely supportable is undoing their industry too.

Global economic headwinds have swept through Sri Lanka as they have other countries but doing more damage and bringing more chaos. Rising fuel prices, food and fuel shortages, inflation, the legacy of the pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine have all played a role.

But the crisis is homegrown, too.