The Alumni Association of the National Institute of Plantation Management (NIPM) held a webinar recently, to discuss the “Role of the Plantation Industry to Strengthen the Sri Lanka’s Economy”. The vibrant and timely webinar was organized by the Association’s recently appointed Committee, in line with their policy to share knowledge with members and stakeholders. Active participation was witnessed during the webinar, as the key speakers made their presentations and a lively Q&A session followed thereafter.
Industry experts, Dr. Dan Seevaratnam was the key note speaker and Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, served a panellist. While Senior Prof. Aruna Kumara, from the Department of Agriculture at the University of Ruhuna, joined as an external resource person. In addition to this, Mr. Asoka Siriwardena Chairman–of the National Institute of Plantation Management and Director/CEO Dr. Prasad Dharmasena, also participated in the discussion, as special invitees. The Moderator for the session was Mr. Yajith De Silva, the President of the Alumni Association of the NIPM.
Speaking during the webinar, Dr. Seevaratnam stated candidly that, “The current plantation model is not viable; we can’t live in the past and expect different results in the future”. Discussing the tea industry, Dr. Seevaratnam added, “For decades, Sri Lanka has enjoyed a reputation for Ceylon Tea, but that is eroding fast. Thus, it’s not a day too late for the industry to realize that its survival hinges on its ability to differentiate Ceylon Tea as a high-quality product. Tea factory owners should be encouraged to produce higher quality tea so that the country does not face further economic challenges.”
Going on to address some of the challenges faced by the sector, Dr. Seevaratnam highlighted the unavailability of foreign exchange and the fertilizer ban which, according to him, has caused the industry to take a huge hit economically, and in terms of morale and productivity. He also highlighted the need to create new export markets for Ceylon Tea and other produce, stating that huge amounts of potential remain untapped due to a lack of any concerted effort to take our produce to unpenetrated global markets.
Dr. Seevaratnam poignantly pointed out that, “Inflation was 17% in November and 22% in December. It will keep on increasing if policymakers and relevant authorities don’t take any meaningful action. We have agricultural workers and farmers who are exceptionally skilled at cultivating the land, but due to short-sighted policies, we don't have fertilizer. We also don't have agricultural chemicals, so farmers can’t help to support local food production.”
Drawing attention to the challenges faced by plantation workers, Dr. Rajadurai, in his address said, “Plantation workers, particularly youth are unhappy to work in the plantations are considering migration, due to traditional approach and dignity of labour. To grow the plantation economy, Sri Lanka needs to generate more produce for export and also the authorities should allow the planation companies to proceed with crop rotation without any hindrance and to replace the traditional crops with most suitable corps in deferent agro climatic regions , which will make our plantation sector more dynamic and productive, helping to strengthen the economy and incentivize plantation workers to continue their work, while overcoming the challenges they face.”
Adding to the discussion, Senior Professor Kumara commented on the Sri Lanka’s multifaceted economic portfolio saying, “Policymakers must be flexible to assist the plantation industry. This can contribute to higher dollar earnings, along with increasing production.” He went on to further emphasize the need for diversification within the plantation and agricultural sectors, explaining the need for planting new and unique crops to supply local and foreign demand, while also pivoting away from crops with low productivity, prices and yields, and towards crops that are more economically viable, such as oil palms, sugarcane and others, including spices like pepper, vanilla and cacao.
The webinar, which was highly timely and allowed for a much-needed discussion on how Sri Lanka’s plantation and agricultural sectors need to adapt to changing times, concluded with a lively Q&A session, which saw active participation from the audience. The Alumni Association of the NIPM is committed to continuing to create conversations around this topic, to raise awareness and foster a movement for positive change and responsible policy-making to support this vital and valuable sector of Sri Lanka’s economy.