While tea, rubber and cinnamon are some of the products that Sri Lanka is known for abroad as just commodities, there is a need to add value and export them as branded products to the international consumer market. The way forward and the future of Sri Lanka is not exporting commodities but building brands out [...]

Business Times

Sri Lanka must build brands, not be a mere commodity exporter


While tea, rubber and cinnamon are some of the products that Sri Lanka is known for abroad as just commodities, there is a need to add value and export them as branded products to the international consumer market. The way forward and the future of Sri Lanka is not exporting commodities but building brands out of them.

Dilhan Fernando

This was some of the points that emerged at a discussion on ‘Sri Lanka Inc: Challenges and Opportunities’ organised by the Sunday Times Business Club at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo last week. Three eminent panellists expressed their views and concerns on the sustainability challenges in Sri Lanka’s development paradigm.

Ravi Fernando, Malaysian Blue Ocean Strategy Institute Operations Director and INSEAD Social Innovation Centre Executive in Residence, stressed that Sri Lanka remains a commodity exporter to the world without paying attention to branding and its abundantly available natural resources. “Sri Lanka should be making lots of strategic alliances for distribution, research and development. The country’s future is not about exporting commodities, but building brands,” he added.

Abundant titanium and graphite
Mr. Fernando stated that Sri Lanka is the ninth largest titanium producer in the world with 73.8 per cent pure titanium readily available. “We export 150,000 to 200,000 metric tons of titanium annually,” he noted while adding that value addition can generate much greater revenue and recognition to the country.

Graphite is another natural resource that is abundant in the country and plays a major role in today’s electric vehicles. It is well known that the electric vehicle market is growing worldwide where in the next 30 years petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned by most countries.
Graphite is also used in the nose area of space shuttles. The product is manufactured in Germany with raw material imported from Sri Lanka, added Mr. Fernando.

Sri Lanka is also the only country in the world that has pure cinnamon. Cinnamon, tea and rubber are the most common resources that Sri Lanka is known for in foreign countries.

Rathika De Silva

In the field of tourism, sustainable tourism is growing around 26 per cent per annum globally, noted Mr. Fernando while adding that the government needs to strategize and implement policies focused on sustainable tourism.

Mr. Fernando also mentioned that 20 to 25 districts are facing a drought in the country. “There is a shortage of rice and we are importing rice today. Sri Lanka collects only 29 per cent of rain water that falls on the ground for harvesting whereas Singapore collects 75 per cent of rain water.”

Tell a story to create the brand
Dilmah Tea CEO and Director, Dilhan Fernando elaborating on the company’s portfolio stated, “Dilmah Tea is established in 100 countries. We don’t invest in other countries, but we tell a story on the quality, brand value and incredible context of our tea to the customers. Most Sri Lankan natural resources have a story to narrate. Today’s millennial want to see and know the story behind the brand, which many neglect and fail.”
Dilmah Tea has reached out to the extent of explaining how planters’, cultivators’ and tea pluckers’ families and kids are benefitted by being a part of the company, stressed Mr. Fernando. “To achieve sustainability, you need to look after the nature carefully and nurture families of workers. You have to build sustainability in an economical and environmental friendly manner. People will pay more for ethical and quality products. Good ethics results in good business. Use natural resources to sustain the product,” he noted while adding that selling a product that has a deep story behind it for a cheap price is definitely not a sustainable way.

Ravi Fernando Pix by Priyantha Wickramarachchi

Go around the world to build the brand
He also mentioned that businesses in Sri Lanka cannot afford to look at politics in the country. “You cannot just sit and wait. Identify the places, go around the world, go from one hotel to another and tell the story.” Building a business including aspects of biodiversity and renewable energy, will be successful. “You are looking at a generation that is born with a mobile device in their hand. Doing business with them can be challenging, but rewarding when you give the best possible shot,” he added.

Food security
DNV GL Business Assurance Sri Lanka and the Maldives Country Head, Rathika De Silva emphasised that sustainability is important if you are talking about tourism and environment. Food security is very relevant to Sri Lanka and can affect tourism, food and beverage, banking and many other sectors. “Sri Lanka has to be prepared by 2020 to face the scarcity of water, land for agriculture and wastage of food that will impact the food security in the country,” he stated.

“Cost of food is rising while there is insufficient access to nutritious food. Poor quality food is due to lack of sufficient controls due to excessive use of pesticides, adulteration, use of unsafe preservatives, use of hormones and unsafe chemicals. Poor packaging, distribution and storage also affects quality,” noted Mr. De Silva.

To achieve a sustainable food and nutrition security in the country while developing livelihoods in the rural agricultural sector, three outcomes in the food crop sub-sector can be looked at: Improvement in national food and nutritional security from non-rice food crop sector, increase in farmer income from cultivation of vegetables and fruits and reduction in land-related disputes.

“A potential aspect for Sri Lanka to drive down the cost of food from where we are today is large scale green-house farming,” noted Mr. De Silva while encouraging people to promote a lifestyle shift from a typical heavy rice consuming nation to a more nutrition conscious nation.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.