The Sunday TimesBusiness

1st June 1997



Wayamba's natural way of exports

Wayamba, situated in the NWP of Sri Lanka has come up with exciting new ideas to reuse waste produce strewn around the area. Jak leaves, mango seeds and coconut palms are sun-dried and painted in vibrant hues before they are made into innovative products like flowers and streamers. Coir fibre is transformed into Christmas trees and stars.

Mango, pineapple, waraka (ripe jack) and papaw are sliced and systematically dried for 12-18 hours, before being exported to Maldives and Europe.

The Industrial Service Bureau (ISB) is the engine that is steering the region to economic prosperity through the most simple, well thought export avenues.

Coconut, is Wayamba’s main agricultural crop. Natural produce like fruit and vegetables, minerals and even waste from these products are transformed into lucrative foreign exchange earners.

With the introduction of the provincial administration, it was our aim to make Wayamba an export oriented province of Sri Lanka, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, MP for Kurunegala District and former Chief Minister of NWP has said at a recent seminar.

Since the Central Government does not like to decentralise their duties to the provinces we wanted to break free from the government red tape and run a company on the lines of the private sector, where even the officers are able to think independently, he added.

Looking back to the inception of the ISB Mr. Perera said, that in 1988 only Candy Garments had a factory in the province. With the establishment of the provincial administration, his team of officials were seeking ways to develop the area. They were sent from pillar to post for nearly two years with not much success.

Finally, he turned to Werner M. Prohl former resident representative of the Konrad Adenaner Foundation (KAF) of Germany to give some suggestions to develop the province. It was Mr. Prohl who came up with the idea to create an Institiution based on the lines of the private sector, to develop the agro-based produce in the province.

The introduction of provincial governments created a greater awareness about rural development amongst Sri Lankans. Wayamba was no exception said M. P. G. Silva, consultant attached to the ISB. There was an eagerness for economic development, specially for agro-based industries. Hence, there was a need to create a separate institution to fulfil these needs which led to the creation of the Industrial Service Bureau (ISB) in 1990 under a resolution passed by the Wayamba provincial council, he said.

The aim of the ISB is to develop small and medium scale industries within the province, and since its inception in 1990, they have supported nearly 25-30 cottage industries, employing around 3,000-4,000 people he said.

Wayamba boasts of four industrial parks. Namely, Heraliyawala and Dhanpitiya (situated in Kurunegala), Makadura in Pannala and St. Martins in Chilaw. Leading multinationals like Nestle (in Pannala), Lever Brothers, Hayleys and Morrisons have established their factories in the province.

Coconut is the most economically important agricultural crop grown within the province. The coconut triangle consisting of the three districts of Kurunegala, Puttalam (in Wayamba) and Colombo, together cover about 66 percent of the total coconut acreage in the country. It is the third largest industry in the agricultural sector, after tea and rubber. The acreage under coconuts in Wayamba is 196,298 acres. This is about, 48% of the island’s total acreage under coconut cultivation ISB officials said.

Coconut processing is an old industry in Sri Lanka. The industry is organised into major product areas: copra, oil, desiccated coconut, carbon, charcoal, brown fibre, white fibre and compacted Coir fibre pith.

Of this, Coir fibre is the major export of the province. At present, there are about 600-700 fibre mills. In 1996, the province export about 20,000 MT of Coir fibre pith, mainly to Japan and Korea. Around 8,000 persons are employed in the manufacture of briquettes, rugs and other related products.

The coconut palm offers numerous opportunities for the manufacture of a wide range of products and at present research is being carried out to develop new products. One such product is decorative dried foliage. With growing awareness of using environmentally friendly biodegradable products, and the phase out of plastic and synthetic products, consumers in the west are on the lookout for dried foliage to decorate their homes. Bearing this in mind, the ISB has enlisted the help of a Filipino consultant with the assistance of the KAF to make such ornaments as a cottage industry. Leaves are dried and dyed to be made into flowers and streamers. At present, there are 12 centres engaged in this project which employ around 300 people. This relatively new product which commenced production four months ago, has already exported around Rs. 10 million worth of products to Germany.

Coir fibre is also used to make ornaments like Christmas trees and stars for export to Germany. Since these are mostly cottage industries, the finished products are collected by Wayamba Export Trading House (Pvt) Ltd., (WETH) - the commercial arm of the ISB, to be bar-coded and packed for exports.

Another new venture is the export of dehydrated fruits. Pineapples, mangoes, papaw and waraka are some of the fruits being dried for export. The staff is well trained and high quality standards are maintained, the ISB officials said.

Wayamba is also blessed with large deposits of non-metallic minerals like clay, sand, quartz and limestone which are found in large quantities closer to the surface. Clay and clay-based products are virtually a traditional industry in the province. There are a few thousand brick and tile factories and pottery centres around the province. Dankotuwa Porcelain, one of the largest porcelain factories in Sri Lanka, have located their factory within the Wayamba province.

The ISB has identified prawn mariculture production as high potential for export. A number of prawn farms have been established exporting mainly to Japan and the USA.

Sri Lanka’s leading export, the apparel industry has also made its presence felt within the province. Companies like Tri Star Apparel Exports and Candy Garments have set up factories. The development of the garment industry has created a need to establish large scale textile industries. With this in mind, the South Lanka Textile (Spinning & Weaving) factory has already been set-up in Pannala with an investment of US$ 30 million and employing 1200 persons. Kuruwita Manchester Textile Finishing Plant is another factory established at Pannala, with an investment of US$ 1 million and employment of 200 persons.

The ISB mission statement reads ‘’all services provided under one roof’ - a statement which they follow by providing the necessary infrastructure for potential investors. They lease the land, provide water, electricity, telephone and security services to the industries in the industrial parks. They also attend various trade fairs to exhibit the numerous products made in the province. Recently, they participated in a trade exhibition in Male - the first province to do so. To commemorate their 7th anniversary, the ISB has launched a website, bringing Wayamba once step closer to the global market.

Their efforts have been recognised by the government of Mongolia, who have invited a team from the ISB to visit their country. This has been made possible by the former resident representative of the KAF Mr. Prohl who is based in Mongolia at present.

The government of Mongolia are keen to introduce similar export oriented companies in each of their parliamentary districts and would like the ISB team to share their knowledge and experience with them to create a similar export-oriented market.

Wayamba has been transformed to an export oriented province within the short span of 7 years. Exports have brought in much needed revenue to upgrade living standards and curb unemployment. People of Wayamba are excited about the new changes taking place, and look forward to putting Wayamba on the global map, by making it the best export province of Sri Lanka.

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