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Trickling down the benefits of Ceylon tea

In the land of Ceylon tea, Sri Lanka, Merrill J. Fernando takes a humble approach to cultivating and selling his herbal product. The 86-year-old founder and chairman of MJF Group has built a successful enterprise by globalizing Ceylon tea, and he channels the profits back to his country.

“Tea was a blessed divine herb in China, but through global business was turned into a material commodity by profit-driven companies,” he told The Korea Herald last week. “I take pride in bringing integrity, freshness and quality to our customers with our tea. Of 100 percent single origin, it is grown, processed and packaged in Sri Lanka.”

Fernando, who also helms subsidiary company Dilmah Tea, came to Korea to participate in the 2016 International Rotary Convention. The moniker Dilmah comes from the names of Fernando’s sons: Dilhan and Malik. The company produces 350 different tea varieties that are extracted from just above the sea to the high mountains. 

Merrill J. Fernando, founder and chairman of MJF Group and Dilmah Tea (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Merrill J. Fernando, founder and chairman of MJF Group and Dilmah Tea (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

As Sri Lanka was a colony of Portugal, Netherlands and Britain, it has for centuries supplied raw materials to the colonialists, the entrepreneur explained. British colonialists introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, harvesting, branding and profiteering.

“Tea producers watched in poverty, pain and anger,” he said. “I launched my brand in Australia and New Zealand when I was 24 years old. Since then, it has become the world’s first and only ethically produced tea, with the profits staying within Sri Lanka to help the poor.”

His MJF Charitable Foundation runs various humanitarian programs to help underprivileged people in Sri Lanka, many of whom were wounded during the three decades of civil war that ended in 2009. Collecting 10 percent of all earnings from different businesses, Fernando has helped children with disabilities, autism and Down syndrome, as well as abused women.

A charity center in the town of Moratuwa south of the capital Colombo provides vocational training, education and cooking. Graduates are given opportunities to work at hotels across the country through legal arrangements. The center also has a child care facility for working mothers.

“The fruits of any business success should flow to help the poor and disabled. Only then wealth does not become a bad word,” he said. “I started my life in humble circumstances, and made it my duty to contribute to the poor along with the success of my business.”

Tea consumption is growing around the world, with people becoming more conscious of their health and well-being, he underlined. The benefits of Ceylon tea include helping to reduce tooth decay as it contains fluoride; inhibiting harmful microorganisms in the mouth and improving oral health through polyphenols; boosting the immune system; and helping digestion by eliminating harmful bacteria in the intestines.

It can also increase alertness and decrease drowsiness, fatigue and stress through caffeine; reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke through antioxidant polyphenols; slow the process of aging; lower diabetes levels; and hydrate body tissues.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

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