20th July, 1997


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Sunflowers catch farmers' eyes

By Ishan Sheriffdeen

Sri Lankan farmers could economically cultivate Sunflowers to produce oil which is presently imported, an NGO which works in the agriculture sector has said.

Local farmers could produce up to 2000 kg of sunflower seed from a hectare giving them an income of Rs 30,000 the USAID funded project AgEnt said.

AgEnt had started working on the feasibility of introducing Sunflower as a suitable crop to the local agricultural framework in 1994.

The Sunflower which has a history of over 3000 years in America, is popularly known as a valuable source of nutrition worldwide. Sunflower oil is said to be low in saturated fats and is touted as a health food.

The research work of AgEnt has revealed that the dry zone this country consists of ideal conditions for this crop and fits well to the farmer’s cropping system.

“Research has also shown that Sunflower is adaptable to varying soil conditions and is best suited for the Maha season,” David Anderson, Managing Director of AgEnt said.

“Based on these findings, AgEnt initiated a trial crop in 1994/95 Maha season with six imported Sunflower varieties from Australia and Thailand.”

The trials carried out in the Southern, North Western and North Central provinces indicated a potential maximum yield of 2500 kg per hectare, proving it a successful local crop.

The cost of production per hectare is around Rs. 15 000 to produce an average 2000 kg of Sunflower seeds. These seeds could be sold for about Rs. 15 per kg, giving the farmer an average income of Rs. 30 000.

At present, 65 acres of land is used for the cultivation of Sunflower during the Yala season, AgEnt says.

AgEnt which provides assistance and new machinery for this project, has identified Adamjee Lukmanjee & Sons Ltd. as the processor of Sunflower oil and Harischandra Mills Ltd. as the potential distributor.

The Sunflower cooking oil which will be test marketed shortly says Charmarie Maelge, Marketing Development Advisor of AgEnt.

Garment sector need s anew suit

Sri Lanka would have to rely on capital intensive technology to remain competitive in the garment sector, a top European equipment supplier has said.

With labour costs going up Sri Lanka is increasingly finding it difficult to compete with other emerging countries on price.

“Using computer aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) can be an answer to remain in business,” Pieter J. Bok South East Asian Director for Lectra Systems of France said.

The group having a turnover of more than one billion French Francs is a top supplier of computerized pattern making and automated cutting machines to the global garment making industry. More than 70 per cent of its revenue comes from the garment business. Its other areas of business includes supplying industrial machinery to the shoe industry, hosiery and automobile airbag manufacture.

Lectra Systems is represented in Sri Lanka by Apparel Technologies (Pvt.) Ltd.

In addition to helping cope with lower manpower, hi-tech CAD/CAM systems also reduces waste.

Though initial investment in a cutting system may cost more than US $ 200,000 the cost could be recovered in one to two year from fabric saving Mr. Bok said. A computerized cutting system could save up to 7 per cent of fabric, he said.

“Sri Lanka has to make the change,” Mr. Bok said. “The quota system will end after 2005, and people are beginning to realize this.”

Already the company had 40 customers in Sri Lanka. Mr. Bok says with the need to be more competitive becoming more intense they expect the market for their products here to grow.

The group’s fastest growing markets are Asia and South America.

“Sri Lanka is a very important market in the region after Indonesia and Malaysia,” Mr. Bok said.

Pragmatic Environmentalism

When environmental laws and regulations were first introduced and implemented in Sri Lanka, industrialists reacted negatively. The general attitude was that these laws and regulations would hamper economic development. The typical thinking of industrialists and developers was along the following lines.

Environmentalism was a fad thrust upon developing countries by the west, which could afford to be "green" since it had already industrialised. In a developing country like Sri Lanka, stringent environmental regulations and standards would result in high costs of compliance and this would threaten the viability of industries and development projects. Moreover, Sri Lanka did not have the technology or expertise to engage in environmental management.

Years later, the situation is somewhat different. Experience has shown us that environmental management is not just a fad. We have seen the damage that uncontrolled pollution can wreak. In industrial areas such as Moratuwa-Ratmalana and Ekala-Jaela, pollution is a major health hazard to resident communities. The use of Lunawa Lagoon as a dump for industrial effluent has killed all the fish in that water body, thus destroying a local fishing industry.

A few months ago, a mishap at the Biyagama Export Processing Zone resulted in untreated effluent from a textile factory being released into the Kelani River (upstream of the Ambatale water intake). This caused a temporary stoppage of water to the Greater Colombo area and demonstrated clearly that effective environmental regulation and management was required to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the population. This was agood wake-up call for the nation.

Industrialists and developers are increasingly beginning to realise that pollution is not the only environmental issue and that compliance is not the only aspect they should be concerned about. More and more business people are beginning to see environmental management as an opportunity and not as an obstacle.

Particularly in the tourism industry, it has been recognised that natural resources are our greatest asset. We have seen the consequences of bad planning and poor management in places like Hikkaduwa.

Companies like Aitken Spence have understood that protecting natural resources is also a long-term strategy for promoting tourism. Aitken Spence's Kandalama Hotel successfully draws on and conserves surrounding forests and wildlife as a means of attracting tourists. Many other hotels and tour operators have also embraced this concept.

Export-oriented enterprises are becoming more aware of the importance of demonstrating environmental responsibility in order to access certain western markets. In many western countries, compliance with environmental norms and practices is now considered as important a factor as health and safety standards.

Therefore, Sri Lankan exporters are now faced with environmental standards such as ISO 14,000 and other instruments such as ecolabels. Although obtaining ISO 14,000 or an ecolabel entails a considerable expenditure , it enables exporters to gain entry into lucrative markets and provides an edge over competitors.

It is evident that Sri Lankan business people are responding positively to the reality that there is money to be made by "being green" Many retailers such as Odel use their "nature-friendly" image to capture niche markets and also charge a price premium for their "nature-friendly" products. The number of small retail shops selling handmade paper, herbal products, and traditional goods has increased exponentially in the past two years.

Even in the area of pollution control, many industries have found that huge savings can be achieved by minimising, reusing, or recycling waste products. The Distilleries Corporation of Sri Lanka has seen large savings by introducing changes in their production process to minimise waste and maximise production.

Several Haycarb (subsidiary of Hayleys) companies use waste heat to produce steam which, in turn, is used to generate electricity. In this way, a waste material has been converted into a valuable input in the production process.

In only a few years many Sri Lankan business people have not only adapted to environmental regulation but also demonstrated their entrepreneurial skill by using the concept of environmental management to their own advantage. Other industrialists, who still remain in the mode of complaining and blaming the West, should try to adopt this proactive approach.

The pressure to be environmentally -friendly is not only coming from the West but also from local communities who value a safe, clean, and healthy environment. Enviromental management is not only a legal obligation - it can also be turned into a golden opportunity to save and make a considerable amount of money.

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