rubber to rambutan
failed rubber estate at Etanawala, now produces crops of luscious
red rambutan, fast outgrowing the traditional rambutan land-Malwana
By Kumudini ettiarachchi
Luscious red rambutans, dripping honey. No, not from Malwana,
famous for its home gardens with rambutan trees but from Etanawala
just off Dummaladeniya in Warakapola.
A lazy poya
afternoon and most people are having a snooze, but a rubber factory
in Etanawala on the Colombo-Kandy Road is a hive of activity. Thousands
and thousands of mouth-watering rambutans are being unloaded from
a pick-up amongst the machinery for making scrap rubber.
'pocket' and 'small': Women sort out the rambutans at Etanagama.
Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara
can earn more from rambutan than rubber," says Etna estate's
hands-on Superintendent Chandra Ehelepola, explaining what made
them switch crops in the mid-1990s. "Rubber was not doing very
well and prices were tumbling. We decided to look at other crops.
Taking the climate and several factors into consideration, a decision
was made to replant our rubber estate with rambutan. It seems to
have been a wise move."
Wearing a T-shirt
that matches the crop he has nurtured carefully, he moves among
the women who are seated on the factory floor before heaps of rambutan
branches laden with fruit, sorting and grading them. Almost lovingly,
he picks up one here and there to stress that they are quality rambutans.
This is the
last of the crop, as the rambutan season comes to a close in the
first week of August. This plantation consisting of 34.12 hectares
(84 acres), is run by RPK Management Services (Pvt) Ltd., a joint
venture between John Keells Holdings and Richard Pieris & Company.
A BOI company had been floated in 1993 by the name of Exotic Horticulture
(Pvt) Ltd to grow and sell rambutans to the local and overseas markets.
And not only
exotic, but also unique is the Etanawala plantation, for it is the
single largest rambutan estate in the country, with one more 15-hectare
estate in Udapola, Polgahawela run by the same company.
is from June 25 to August 5, so now you are seeing the last of the
crop," says Mr. Ehelepola.
It was a difficult
decision to uproot all the rubber trees and grow rambutan. The area
had to be cleared, 3'x3' holes dug leaving a distance of 25' between
them. Then, it was time for the Superintendent to go in search of
the right plants. He selected Malwana special, a budded variety.
"After planting, the fertilisation and nurturing begin. In
three and a half years the first harvest of fruit can be got. Thereafter,
the trees usually bear every year for about 45 years," says
When the first
three years pass and every farmer's heart would warm at the sight
of the flowers, the right thing to do is to strip the branches of
them. Why? To improve growth and branching of the trees.
What is the
yield? A thousand fruits per tree, though all trees won't bear at
the same time. One hectare accommodates about 175 trees but only
about 125 will bear during the season. The others may get fruit
out of season, so you can earn something even then, he says. His
face clouds over as he recalls a "very bad season" last
year because there was a fly attack. "The crops got spoiled
and 75% of the fruit fell off," he says with regret.
But the fruits
of his labours were evident this year. Dubbed a successful season,
the proof was actually in seeing the buyers flock to Etanawala,
instead of Malwana, even before the rambutan were picked. They came
from Colombo, Kandy, Kalagedihena, Hanwella, Thihariya, Katugastota
and Mawathagama and each day before the labourers could pick the
target of 5,000 fruits they were snapped up for tiny street stalls
dotting the main roads. This season the wholesale price of a fruit
is Rs. 3.25.
who had come in a trishaw had just paid money for 1,000 fruits and
the women were counting out the rambutans. "I have five stalls
by the roadside in Kalagedihena, which I run with my wife and golayas.
I took 4,500 yesterday and they are all sold out." For how
much? About Rs. 4 per fruit, he says reluctantly, then adds that
sometimes it goes up to about Rs. 5. "I have to make a small
profit and also pay my golayas," says Weerasinghe. In earlier
years, before this plantation put out its crops, he used to travel
to the interiors of Attanagalle, Madakotuwa and Malwana to get his
requirements from home-gardeners. When rambutan is out of season,
he sells fish.
Sunil Shantha too is from the same area. He has been in the rambutan
business for 18 years. He too bought the fruit from Malwana those
days but now comes here for his supplies of 2,500 fruit.
thiyedde apita kiyanne puluwan mada hondata gelwena wada kiyala,"
he says with pride. That's why they keep coming back to Etanagama,
for the test of a good rambutan is that the flesh should come off
easily and be tasty at the same time.
The women sort
and grade the fruit into three heaps - "good", "pocket"
(not mature or puhu) and "small". Earlier, they too were
into rubber but moved with the management to rambutan. "It's
convenient because we live in this area. We work about eight hours
and get Rs. 98 per day," says 38-year-old G.M. Kusumawathie
who has worked in this watte for 10 years. The workforce consists
of about 15, comprising mainly women who weed, pluck, help transport
and sort the fruit. They are paid an additional Rs. 14 per day if
they clock 70% attendance.
It's not labour
problems that keep Superintendent Ehelepola awake at night but worries
about fruit robbers. "Some of them even come in vehicles in
the dead of night and vanish with several thousand rambutan, before
the watchers can alert me or the police."
(name changed) was one such who was caught red-handed robbing rambutan.
But last Poya, he was at the factory, not as a culprit but a buyer.
When caught stealing, the Superintendent warned him to turn a new
leaf and offered him an option. He would "lend" Ratnapala
about 500 fruit to sell and earn a living. He did just that near
the Ambepussa resthouse. That was three years ago. Today not only
has Ratnapala repaid his debt but also expanded his business to
include thambili and other fruit. "Rambutan dekapau gaman gannawa,"
says Ratnapala carrying two sili sili bags bursting with rambutan.
As we watch
the women counting out another lot for another customer, we wonder
whether they are not tempted to eat a few. "We do pop one or
two into our mouths," smiles Alice Nona (50) who had worked
the rubber rollers before getting into the rambutan trade, offering
us rambutans indicating that they are not forbidden fruit for them.
fortune from Trevi fountain
man has found rich pickings at one of Rome's tourist landmarks -
the Trevi fountain, where visitors traditionally discard coins and
make a wish.
Roberto Cercelletta has been plunging into the fountain in the early
hours, six days a week, and raking in a small fortune. The daily
Corriere della Sera reported that he made as much as 600 euros (dollars)
a week. According to Rome's city authorities, the charities that
are supposed to get the money are losing as much as 12,000 euros
But Mr Cercelletta
said such reports were exaggerated. "I sweep up only about
200-300 euros a day, not what they claim," he told the newspaper.
"I share what I make with two other unemployed people."
Every day thousands of tourists throw coins into the fountain and
make a wish to return to the eternal city.
In 1994 Italy's
highest court ruled that fishing coins out of the fountain was no
more illegal than throwing them in - so the only thing Mr. Cercelletta
really does wrong is jump in the water. Police say they stop him
almost every day for that and issue him with the standard fine of
516 euros. But he dodges the fine because he is homeless and unemployed.
on the sidelines of the law and there's not a lot we can do about
it," said one policeman quoted by Reuters news agency. Mr Cercelletta
described himself as simply a poor old crazy man. "Cercelletta
may seem like a devil but he's really an angel amongst devils,"
he told the paper.