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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Friday, February 16, 2007

Export orders for lanka’s Micro Reton

Daily News: 16/02/2007" By Shirajiv Sirimane

NEW SUV: The ultra luxury Micro Reton, sports utility vehicle manufactured in Sri Lanka has received several export orders.

Already they have received enquiries from Germany, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sudan.
Micro Car Company introduced its newest addition a few months ago and already 50 vehicles have been sold in Sri Lanka, Chairman Micro Car Company Dr. Lawrence Perera said.
They have tied up with Mercedes Benz and a leading Korean car company, Sanyong, to manufacture this vehicle in Sri Lanka.

The company is manufacturing two SUV type vehicles, which are priced from Rs. 7.5 million upwards.

“This price is almost 40 percent less of the price of an imported car and the Government has pledged that they would purchase more vehicles from the company thus saving foreign exchange,” he said.

They are hoping to increase production with the intention of re-exporting to Europe. The body of the vehicle, mirrors, seats, and rubber components including the tyres are fully manufactured in Sri Lanka. “We are in the process of acquiring technology to have more local components to this vehicle,” he said.

He said that one of his main priorities would be to do more local value additions to this vehicle in Sri Lanka. “Presently we have 36 percent value addition and we want to increase this to around 50 percent,” he said.

Perera said the first ever Sri Lankan manufactured car named “Micro”, was designed, developed and phototyped locally by Transmec Engineering (Pvt) Ltd., and was officially launched in 2002 May.

“Today we have 52 percent of local value addition,” he said. Only the four-stroke engine and gearbox are imported from Italy.

The project produces 600 cars monthly providing over 3,000 direct jobs and 8,000 indirect jobs by the company.

He thanked the Government for assisting them to iron out problems with regard to the duty that was imposed on the Micro car. “I had made several representations to successive governments and now the company has been granted a duty waiver,” he said.

“The Government wanted me to have at least 30 percent value addition for the car to grant me this concession,” Dr. Perera said.

In addition to the Micro car they have increased value addition in both their Micro Mini Van and Micro Trend which have over 36 percent value addition done in Sri Lanka.

“My ultimate aim is to produce a 100 percent locally manufactured car,” he said.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sri Lanka faces new challenges in reducing poverty - WB

Daily Mirror: 15/02/2007" By Sunimalee Dias

The World Bank yesterday highlighted that Sri Lanka was facing a new set of challenges in terms of growing forth from a low to a middle income country status.

It was pointed out that in overcoming poverty the country was today facing a new set of challenges as opposed to those they faced previously.

These observations were made by the World Bank Country Director Naoko Ishii during the discussion held following a series of workshops held in and around the country in a bid to assess the position held by the people in those areas.

As such during their visits, participants had agreed with the report’s analysis linking high poverty in rural areas or lagging regions with stagnation in agriculture, and lack of infrastructure, access to finance and other factors that limit the size of markets and firms.
While discussions centred on the explanation for these problems the role played by public policies was brought out in particular regarding the agriculture sector.

“There were also concerns expressed about the allocation of public expenditures to poorer province,” she said.

The World Bank held meetings in Uva, Kandy and Ratnapura areas in a bid to assess the situation and the concerns of the people.

She pointed out that participants had also felt strongly about the shortages in quality human resources in these areas, both inside and outside the government, which affects the quality of services.

This factor, it was pointed out would in turn lead to these areas becoming even less attractive to investors, professionals and service providers.

The estate sector discussions saw a wide diversity of views being presented where discussion were based on the links between productivity and profitability of the industry with the welfare services provided to residents.

“Participants also shared their views about the potential gains and risks of systemic reforms that involve moving away from the current “enclave” system of production,” it was pointed out.
Uva as the poorest province in Sri Lanka was the first choice for the discussion which saw most asserting the view that “everyone tells us that Uva is the poorest province but nobody comes to Uva to share the issues and reasons behind them.”

The second outreach event held in Kandy, involved discussions based on the estate sector with the inclusion of academics and students and professionals.

This was followed by a roundtable discussion with stakeholders in the estate sector, including government officials, estate managers/supervisors, trade union leaders, and NGO representatives.

Here the participants had been very articulate and the development challenge facing this sector and the policy options to address poverty was discussed.

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The exacerbating differences between haves and have nots

Daily Mirror: Opinion: 15/02/2007" By Nikhil Mustaffa

The focus this week is on Poverty and from the Executive Summary of a Report released by the World Bank last week. This column features on issues relevant to society and country every week.

Poverty, growth, and inequality trends in Sri Lanka

The growing urban-rural gap is largely due to concentrated economic growth in Western Province. GDP grew by an average of 6.2 percent annually during 1997-2003 in Western Province, and by only 2.3 percent in the remaining provinces'. Western Province's share in national GDP increased from 40 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2002, while that of Uva and Sabaragamuwa fell down from 16 to 11 percent. As a result, in 2002 the incident of poverty fell to 11 percent for Western Province compared with 35 percent for Sabaragamuwa and Uva.
Poverty in the poorest districts of Badulla and Monaragala was more than six times that in Colombo in 2002.

Poverty and vulnerability (the risk of falling into or deeper into poverty) are closely linked, since the poor and those just above the poverty line are more susceptible to shocks.
Current targeted welfare programmes perform well below potential. Despite a long history of publicly funded welfare programmes the evidence suggests that current programmes perform well below potential in protecting the consumption of the vulnerable and the poor.

Shocks affect those near the poverty line the most. The Tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 is likely to have worsened poverty outcomes. Although poverty numbers are not available for districts in the East hardest hit by the Tsunami on December 26, 2004, the average monthly per capita income before the Tsunami in the east was close to that of the poorest provinces of Uva and Sabaragamuwa, so the impact of the Tsunami is likely to have worsened poverty outcomes.

Inequality is increasing. In addition to disparities in growth between the Western Province and the rest of the country, the slow pace of poverty reduction in Sri Lanka is also linked to rising inequality among income groups.

Rising inequality hinders poverty reduction. Had consumption distribution remained unchanged from 1990-91, the 30 percent growth in average consumption by 2002 would have reduced poverty by more than 15 percentage points nationally instead of the observed 3 percentage points.

Household and individual

specific factors

Larger households, especially those with children, are more likely to be poor. Households with a member working abroad, however, have a significantly lower likelihood of being poor.

Low education attainment is strongly associated with poverty. In 2002, well over 30 percent of households with heads with schooling up to and including grade 5 fell under the poverty line, compared with less than 10 percent for heads who completed at least grade 9. Regression analysis shows that a household is significantly less likely to be poor when the head has an education at the A level and above.

The low quality of education acts as an additional handicap for the poor in remote areas. Nationally, students display a low skill level in first languages, English, and mathematics, and these indicators are even lower for non-urban children. Absenteeism of teachers (about 20 percent nationally) is also higher in non-urban schools.

Poverty is concentrated in areas where connectivity to towns and markets, access to electricity and average educational attainment are relatively low, and agricultural labor is an important source of employment.

The impact of internal migration - a consequence of rising regional inequality

Migration offers upward economic modality to those in economically marginal areas. Migration can affect cross-regional inequality by shrinking wage gaps between regions as people move in response to wage differences, and promote development in lagging regions through remittances sent back to the migrants' place of origin. However, migration can also perpetuate regional imbalances, for example when the more educated gravitate toward fast growing cities.
Poverty incidence in the origin district is strongly associated with recent migration to Colombo. Census (2001) indicates that a large number of migrant workers come from poorer districts and districts in the North and East. Thus, poverty seems to act as a "push" factor inducing households from economically disadvantaged areas to migrate. However, migration is more likely to be undertaken by the better-educated. Figure 7 shows that average education among migrants is much higher than those in their districts of origin. This indicates that the better availability of jobs in Colombo acts as a "pull" factor for educated or skilled workers from lagging regions.

Migrants are also likely to be better-educated than long-term residents of Colombo. Migrants to Colombo City are almost twice more likely to have tertiary-level education than non-migrants already living in Colombo city. Similarly, the proportion of migrants working in elementary occupations is much smaller than that of non-migrants.

Poverty in selected sectors and regions

Poverty is more prevalent in the estate and rural sectors and is likely to be a serious problem in the conflict-affected North and East. The unique circumstances in conflict-affected areas deserve special attention, especially as more empirical data for this region becomes available, although geographical coverage of household surveys remains incomplete. Poverty in the estate sector remains endemic and is related to issues that are specific to the sector, and thus worthy of special attention. The rural sector is home to most of the poor (88 percent), which implies that significant poverty reduction can only occur when key factors restricting incomes in this sector are addressed.

A. Social and economic conditions in the conflict-affected North and East

Over two decades of conflict in the North and East have had far-reaching economic and social repercussions for the country. Over 65,000 people have died, nearly a million citizens have been displaced, private and public properties and economic infrastructure have been destroyed, local economics and community networks have been disrupted, and health and educational outcomes have deteriorated. The macro-economic impact of the conflict is estimated at 2-3 percent of GDP growth annually.

The conflict-affected regions lag behind the rest of the country in availability of economic infrastructure, access to financial services, and key human development outcomes. Only 40 percent of the population in North and East have access to safe drinking water, compared with 62 percent for the rest of the country, and less than one-half of households have access to water seal toilets (Table 2). In the North and East 26 percent of children had low birthweights compared with 18 percent for the rest of the country and 46 percent of children aged 3-59 months were underweights compared with 29 percent for the rest of the country. The literacy rate in Eastern Province is the lowest for the country. Per capita incomes for Northern and Eastern provinces, however, appear similar to those for other provinces with the exception of Western Province, probably because significant inflow of remittances has safeguarded incomes to a certain degree (Table 2). These figure are, however, based on data that do not cover the entire North, including some of the likely poorest areas, and do not take into account spatial price differences that affect comparisons of incomes between provinces.

The Ceasefire Agreement signed in February 2002 and subsequent cessation of hostilities spurred economic recovery in the North and East. Real GDP growth in Northern Province increased four-fold to about 13 percent while that of the Eastern Province doubled to 10 percent from pre-ceasefire (1997-2001) to post-ceasefire (2002-03) years. Unemployment fell from 13 to 9 percent in the North and from 16 percent to 10 percent in the East from 2002 to 2004, while the national unemployment rate dropped only marginally from 8.8 to 8.3 percent.
Significant constraints to sustaining high growth in the North and East remain. These include (i) poor availability and access to financial services, (ii) poor access and quality of economic infrastructure (roads, telecommunications, and water), (iii) time restrictions on the use of the A9 highway, (iv) fishing restrictions, (v) limits on mobility in certain areas such as Jaffna, and (vi) out=migration of the better-educated to the rest of the country or abroad.

B.Poverty in the estates

Higher poverty among estate households is associated with the remoteness or lack of suitable year-round roads linking the estate to the nearest town. Nearly 42 percent of estate households cannot use the road to the nearest town at all times of year. Another social factor that emerged from the Estate Survey was alcoholism. About 80 percent of estate respondents mentioned alcoholism as a problem, and 75 percent of community informants reported no improvement over the last 15 years.

A majority of households interviewed in the Estate Survey reported an improvement in their household conditions in the last 15 year, despite the overall deterioration in the conditions of the estate. This difference in perceptions is partly explained by the increasing role of non-estate employment among estate residents, which may partly de-link the condition of the estate from that of the household.

Nearly 30 percent of the population in the estate sector is poor but only 13 percent of the households interviewed reported receiving cash transfers from government welfare programs. The actual coverage rate in the estates contrasts sharply with the Samurdhi coverage rate for the rest of the country (40 percent).

Qualitative analysis indicates that a real cause of persistence of poverty in the estates is the unique organization structure of estates. Historically, the estates have employed resident workers who originally came from a foreign country and even today, much of the labor is provided by a resident workforce. The relatively unchanged estate organization structure is found to contribute to a sense of marginalization, leads isolation, and adversely affects economic decisions of households. The long-term future of the sector appears to be in moving away from resident labor structure and toward a standard employer-employee relationship.

C. The challenge of rural poverty

Poverty reduction in the rural sector income to 80 percent of the population and about 3.5 million of the country's poor-has been stymied by stagnation in the agricultural sector. Nearly 58 percent of the rural population depends on agricultural, at least partially, for their livelihood. Agriculture GDP growth slowed from 2.8 percent during the 1980s to 1.6 percent during the 1990s and to 0.9 percent during 2002-04, while national GDP has been growing annually by 5 percent since the 1990s.

Conclusions

The country as a whole has four macro-challenges. These include the impact of the ongoing conflict, the failure of the Tsunami recovery highlighted in the 2nd Year Report which shows a half-done job literally, the challenges thrown up by poverty as shown in the text and the need for the country to progress and show growth in real terms. These are compelling challenges which are not insurmountable.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Science and technology in economic planning—a reply

The Island: 14/02/2007" By a junior academic (AJA)

Prof. O. A. Ileperuma’s thought-provoking article titled "Science and technology in economic planning: the missing link" (Midweek Review, 31 January 2007) should receive the attention of all those who desire a better tomorrow for our country. He argues that "science and technology" can propel us into prosperity and, if anybody needs evidence of this, gives examples from recent times and from our own region. He has cried out for a prominent role for "science and technology" in development, and has propounded for this purpose a bigger role for scientists in policy-making and planning—the veritable portals of power. He points out that it is necessary for them to get involved in this process to the extent that we become a "technocracy" (a word the obscurity of which, in itself, points to the abeyance of these aspects in the portals of power in Sri Lanka). There is a need, he also points out, for sweeping changes in the field of education, for it is from here that future scientists are harnessed and trained from amongst the new generation and by which we can further improve their quality.

I cannot imagine that he must be the first scientist who said all this. But unhappily, no one whose thoughts have run along these lines before him seems to have been able to convince our society of their wisdom. Why was this so? Why is it that scientists have "the magic tool" in their hands and yet are unable to give its benefits to society? Until we find the reason for this and correct it, Professor Ileperuma’s article cannot be salvaged from the same fate as previous, similar articles.

But before we proceed, it is important to realise that science and technology are different. Science is an attitude of mind, a method of inquiry into nature; it serves its possessor well at all times. Technology is a series of examples of the application of existing knowledge that help us to make our lives longer and better in physical quality (except when it is being used to blow us up, but that was not what interested Professor Ileperuma). Education should seek to impart a scientific attitude to all students: the detailed study of the various ‘sciences’ and of technology, on the other hand, will need to be carefully developed in a few ‘gifted’ students, and promoted and used by a selection of learned men and women for the benefit of the whole society. Science is an invaluable attitude of mind: technology is (hopefully) a useful tool.

It is important that we do not fail to see the value of the scientific attitude in education. Quite apart from anything else, I will argue shortly that this has important relevance to the discussion at hand, which is in essence concerned with the role of technology in development. But to impress upon the reader this importance, I cannot do better than to refer him or her to Bertrand Russell’s excellent essay "The place of science in a liberal education" which appeared in the book Mysticism and Logic (Routledge: London). Beyond this I will not concern myself with this issue here. But I would like to use the word ‘science’ here in this broader sense, hoping that it would not confuse the reader for having read Professor Ileperuma’s article first.

Two easy mistakes

One must be cautious here and not make two very easy mistakes. We should not think that we are living in a time when the power and potential of technology is not known to (firstly) politicians and (secondly) the populace at large.

A study of history shows us that politicians and other powerful leaders of society (let me generically call them kshatriyas, derived from the name of the ruling plus trading caste in ancient Indian society) have known this long before the populace had. Virtually every civilisation teaches us this. While Archimedes was using the method of exhaustion to anticipate integral calculus – and incidentally discover the value of ? – he was kept busy helping his state’s leaders develop the weaponry to face their enemies. There is a wry joke about what engineers do: mechanical engineers design weapons for warfare, and civil engineers, the targets. Queen Isabella probably was not impressed by Columbus’s ideas on the shape of the earth: she was looking for a shorter, more profitable passage to the bounties that India offered. Even in ancient Lanka, the benefits of technology (such as is found in irrigation and dagoba construction), while helping enormously the ruling dynasties and their supporting clergy, did not quite percolate to the lower levels of the masses. Our current kshatriyas are, I would imagine, no different. (And yes, of course, technology had existed before science.)

Then, there was indeed a time when the populace (in contrast to the kshatriyas) did not know of the value of science but, happily, that must have been centuries ago. At that time, perhaps, it would have been necessary for the few who propounded science to convince their society that this was the way forward for the prosperity of the masses. They may have had to build, slowly and over decades or even centuries, a critical mass of ‘believers’ to push through the necessary changes successfully, and then also of ‘performers’ to achieve the initial, crucial successes. I do not know when and where this may have started (was it with optics, which gave rise to spectacles?) or culminated (was it in post-Renaissance Europe, perhaps with Francis Bacon and the royal societies?). I do not know, and I do not care: the fact is that today, we all know that we know all this. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the people or the politicians are unaware of this and waste our energies trying to convince them: I do not think that ‘science popularisation’ and ‘obtaining political commitment’ are the answers. The people already do know that science and technology help, and so do the politicians.

Science and power

The problem is that scientists are not powerful enough to freely harness their capabilities in the service of humanity. Science is compelled to sell itself—to those who can afford it and thence control it. It is then ‘owned’ by the kshatriyas, and it goes on simply to serve the narrow objective of strengthening their power further. Education will serve the purpose of identifying the next generation of ‘science servants’ for the next generation of kshatriyas. In fact, free education—by making the process of harnessing talents more comprehensive and by transferring its costs right back to the public—may actually make matters more convenient and congenial to the kshatriyas! People are smart, and politicians smarter: our efforts at science popularisation will simply enthuse the smarter members of the public to invest in it for their personal benefit, and our efforts at winning commitment from politicians will simply play us right into their laps.

Of course, the individual persons, families or creeds that move in and out of the portals of power will change over time and across generations – but the percentage of the population who obtains the benefits of technology and enjoy prosperity will remain essentially the same. If current world trends are anything to go by, the situation will actually worsen with time: the rich becoming richer and technologically more endowed, and the poor becoming poorer and technologically more impoverished, both trapped between an unwanted technology (traffic jams and television junk, for example) and a degraded environment (dengue and the effects of global warming, for example). The message is simple. If the kshatriyas wanted to use technology to bring prosperity to the people, the gap between the rich and the poor would have narrowed, not widened: they simply never wanted to.

‘Wisdom’ of the fools

All this does not mean that the kshatriyas were right and the rest of us wrong: I know that Professor Ileperuma is right to feel urged and even indignant. The kshatriyas are actually silly themselves, in spite of their successful methodology.

They, like us and everybody else, want only one thing: a better tomorrow for oneself and one’s children. (A "better tomorrow" here would refer to a higher physical quality of life, as would be made possible by the use of technology.) There are two ways (let me call them paradigms) to achieve this: either by achieving a better tomorrow specifically for one’s own children, or generally by achieving a better tomorrow for everyone’s children (including, automatically, one’s own). Both ways are extremely difficult to achieve, especially initially.

The first paradigm has the advantage that one has more control over the process and its outcome (especially if one was not a kshatriya to start with). But it also has disadvantages: it lacks a safety net and it is unstable on the long term. If one fails (for instance, due to an unforeseen sickness that strikes one in one’s youth—and there are always potent and common examples of these) the results to one’s children are miserable. And after one’s own lifetime and once one’s own earnings are exhausted by one’s children, the children’s children will have to leave the kshatriya comfort zone. A minister might have three houses in Colombo 7 for his children: but the descendants of former ministers who had 3 acres in it 50 years ago are now nowhere in sight. Look around you: this is what our social history will teach you.
The other silly mistake that the kshatriyas are making is in investing in comfortable lives abroad. While some of these countries have already achieved ‘a good future’ for their progeny via the ‘second paradigm’, they still seem to be forgetting that the lives there have less of other things that are desirable. Let me call these ‘values’, and postpone for the moment an exposition of this.

Approaching the real missing link

Prof. Ileperuma’s last sentence handsomely, if inadvertently, encapsulates the reason for the scientists’ failure: "Let us hope that the politicians will see the wisdom of using science and education to take our country forward". Such hope is obviously inappropriate. When will scientists see the folly in depending on kshatriyas to deliver our country from its misery? When will scientists achieve the wisdom of realising that the kshatriyas who reach the high portals of power are actually smarter, not duller, than them?

Human behaviour is a very strange phenomenon: to assume that it follows logical reasoning in an egalitarian, leave alone altruistic, way is to assume a lot. Let me give you one personal example.

When I went to England for my overseas postgraduate training, I was struck by a very strange observation in their hospitals. Since smoking is banned in public places there – I mean, really banned – there are small, enclosed cubicles outside hospital buildings for those who wish to satisfy their desire for a quick puff without having to break the law. Even on an icy cold winter evening, I was surprised to see a long queue of pregnant mothers who were shivering and waiting outside for their turn to go inside these cubicles; their husbands or partners were close by too, having themselves brought and delivered the cigarettes. Just as I entered the hospital from these inhospitable surroundings into the warm, inviting corridors inside, there was a big poster: can harm your baby – it can make your baby smaller". (This was a layperson-friendly way to communicate the fact that smoking causes intra-uterine growth retardation, putting the baby at risk of several complications once it is born.)

I spoke to my colleagues about this phenomenon, and that was when I realised how I had assumed too much. The mothers were not smoking in spite of the poster – they were smoking because of it! They had decided to purposefully smoke and make their babies small, so that it would be easier and less painful to push them out at labour! They were not concerned about the complications that the baby would have afterwards, because they felt that once the baby was born, it was the hospital’s duty to put right whatever was wrong with the baby! Many of them were apparently taking up to smoking, in fact, because of the pregnancy! If a woman at the threshold of her motherhood, in a society that apparently has more discipline and civic-consciousness than we do (and that is true) can take this course of action, I think I can rest my case about human behaviour.

The reason why those mothers would do that while our own mothers would not, is simple: our mothers have ‘values’. Their education system is truly remarkable, in that it has achieved a degree of discipline and civic consciousness that ours has not: but our culture is also truly remarkable, for it has been endowed with values that theirs is not. I hope that this gives food for two strands of thought: firstly, about the ‘wisdom’ of the kshatriyas who are investing in a future for their children overseas; and secondly, for our educationists who are working in isolation from our sociologists.

Giving individual people chunks of technology or asking politicians for commitment won’t make any difference to the country’s long-term picture. In general, human beings don’t behave in an egalitarian way, and the ‘egalitarian tool’ will simply be grabbed and used by a few. As far as I know, the only situation where egalitarianism existed in society in large measure – when large numbers of kshatriyas (by whatever name) left their comfortable abodes and loved ones to find a way of emancipation for all human beings – was in north-eastern India for a brief period about 2½ millennia ago. Civilisation has otherwise been the saga of the four castes.

But all this only makes a complete circle and brings us to where we started: scientists who wish to give the benefit of their magic tool to the country at large must have a bigger say in policy-making. Nevertheless, I hope, we can now see the circle itself in a different light. What, then, is the way to use the magic wand?

A combination of efforts between educationists, sociologists and (technology-based) scientists will certainly be necessary and useful, since by this conglomeration alone can the foundation necessary be arrived at. All 3 spheres are various forms of science: scientists need look no further than themselves to do it. The main purpose of this effort – the ‘foundation’, as I put it – should be to promote the scientific attitude in the entire student population, not simply those who are destined to be scientists. The scientific attitude is not to make them half-baked scientists. It is to make them capable of a dispassionate examination of issues, especially political ones, and enable them to evaluate and appreciate which kind of politician is likely to succeed in uplifting the lives of the largest number of people – rather than that of one’s own kith and kin specifically.

Beyond the foundation

But this foundation alone is not enough: we also need to push the technology agenda into the portals of power, rather than merely the portals of the powerful. I once had the naïve belief when certain university academics entered the political network (by invitation, as the story had it!) that this would begin to happen, but the march of time has since cured me. Rather than intellectualising politics, as I had hoped would happen and as Professor Ileperuma explained happens in India even now, their intellects simply became politicised instead. That was a false start.

We often have the notion that all this is the fault of our politicians, and in a way, of course, we are right. But there must be a reason why the wrong politicians are in power in a democracy: we have the wrong voters (or wrong voting behaviour). Politicians do behave abominably – but only because they were elected, and then again because it helps them to survive. We cannot expect the wrong politicians elected by a wrong voting public to behave rightly!

We must begin with the public, not the politicians. If the public expected differently, either different politicians will get elected or the elected politicians will behave differently in order to survive (or both). (Remember, our people did once elect people like Maithripala Senanayake and S.D. Banda to parliament.) If people are stupid, then politicians will learn how to serve stupidity: if they are intelligent, they will no doubt learn how to serve intelligence.

But how do we access the public? I have already partly mentioned the role that education will have to play here. It will also have to propagate a wider understanding of civics, values and the need to be informed and decide correctly. But the most important role here is with the media. The media needs to change from one that gives the consumers what it wants to one that gives it what it needs in a manner that it will want. It is a challenge. Is the media capable of meeting this challenge?

I think that this calls for a major cooperation between the media and the intelligentsia of the country: only these two groups in unison can save it.

The universities

The intelligentsia itself needs its own vision, leadership, independence and strength of character. I am inclined to think that the natural place to find all these virtues is the university, but even a cursory look would immediately engender in anyone a desire to look elsewhere. Are the university academics in our country capable of coming together in cordial unison, in an atmosphere of intellectual discourse and meet the challenge that our present times throw at it? This is where the journey that Professor Ileperuma’s article demands should commence. Every other start is a false start.

We have the right to see the universities play this wider role in society – not just under ideal circumstances, but even under fairly reasonable circumstances. But alas, this is not to be.
Universities in Sri Lanka – and these are all state institutions at present – are busy going from bad to worse, having the important business of meeting their destiny – of being gone for good – in the near future. An impatient society is busy building its own viable alternatives. Private sector institutions are springing up like mushroom to take care of further (in contrast to higher) education. Foreign universities, sensing the insatiable desire that parents have to give their children a decent education at whatever cost, are moving in with flexible and innovative ideas to take over the production of the professionals and the intelligentsia for us, even if less affordably than our universities. I cannot yet see any alternative institution stepping into promote a high quality research culture, but then who cares about high quality research? The last remaining business of the universities – that of playing the role of a cultural centre to give shape to our society’s future – will soon be taken over by the mass media: newspapers such as yours, and perhaps a separate radio or television channel in the future.

Nowadays, one can get a better dose of cultural discourse from The Island than from the universities. Even when university academics themselves engage in a high quality debate, they do so in your newspaper—such as, for instance, the recent debate on Sunday Island between Dr G. Uswatte-Arachchi and Professor Carlo Fonseka.

The universities, in the meantime, will continue as usual: graduating from inefficiency to ineffectiveness, from inertia to fossilisation, from violence to brutality. Eventually, we can all take a cue from the academic staff at the Fine Arts University and resign or retire en masse.
In the brief intervening period between now and then—the remaining moments of a giant, morbid corpus breathing its last – we shall continue as usual. The Universities Grants Commission will continue to confuse and be confused. The vice-chancellors, deans and senior academics will engineer backstabs and profess subservience. The junior academics such as myself will run the race of writing rubbish papers and spending funds to become senior academics. The administration, lacking ability to as little as twitch a muscle, will continue to embitter the juniors to get back the satisfaction it gave the embittering seniors. The non-academics and the students are hardly recognisable from one another, separated by a thin red line and enveloped by a thick one.

It is true that a few isolated faculties, schools and postgraduate institutes are doing their service to the nation notwithstanding. But a true university system as a corpus cannot be sustained for long by a few organs spared of the malady and functioning in isolation. Professor Ranjith Senaratne, in a series of articles in your newspaper in May last year, begged for a change, and I myself implored in response (on 22 May 2006), adding more items to the agenda.
The society at large is happily going back to the intellectual Stone Age (albeit armed with Industrial Age tools); we have already gone back well past the Axial Age. The way – the only way – out of this mess for our country is through politically de-mothed universities with a liberal, scientific attitude and a cultural nobleness. Are they up to the challenge?

The missing link

The missing link is not to educate politicians about science – to think so has been our mistake. It is to elevate the standard of the kshatriyas who join the political foray, and to divert their efforts to ‘the second paradigm’. To do this, we must first raise the intellectual standard of the polity itself, and divert them towards the second paradigm too (and by this is not meant cheap Marxist propaganda which, if anything, is the antithesis of a scientific attitude). That in turn can be done only by our intellectuals, exemplified and led by the universities, and aided by a media that is up to the challenge. The crucial step is to bring about a change in people’s behaviour, and the key, I should think, is with social scientists.

This is how I would re-write Professor Ileperuma’s article in view of the big blunder inherent in his last sentence.

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Science and Technology in economic planning: The missing link

The Island: 31/01/2007" By Prof. O.A.Ileperuma, Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya

Recently a Presidential Economic Commission was appointed to plan the future economic development of Sri Lanka.. Unfortunately ,this commission does not have a single scientist or a technologist in its composition amply illustrating that our leaders have not yet realised the importance of science and technology for the development of the country. We never had a leader of such calibre as Jawaharlal Nehru with a futuristic vision to develop the country. The planning commissions in Sri Lanka typically comprise economists, who think that industry is only garment industry and totally ignorant of the prospects of mineral based chemical industries or using education as a natural resource for development. Nor are they aware of how India has succeeded in achieving an impressive economic growth using its highly trained scientific human resources in outsourcing, Information technology, Bioinformatics and the Drug industry. Economists and politicians have done our planning since independence. What good has this achieved other than double digit inflation rates and an increasing foreign debt ? What is needed is a paradigm shift in planning with the participation of technocrats combined with the political commitment at the highest levels.

A survey of the countries with impressive economic growth in recent times shows that, without exception these countries have used science and technology as the engine of economic growth. South Korea, which experienced a phenomenal economic growth in the last two decades, increased the percentage GDP spent on science and technology from 0.2% to around 2.8% over the last three decades. Scandinavian countries spend nearly 4% while India is planning to increase its current 0.8% to around 1% this year. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has gone on record stating that this should be increased to 2% to remain economically competitive with the western world. Sri Lanka meanwhile is spending even less than Bangladesh for science and technology with a meagre 0.16% last year, down from the 0.30% we spent in 1966 ! This clearly shows that our political leaders have not realised the importance of science and technology as the major tool of economic development. Numerous administrative establishments have appeared with some relationship to science such as the creation of a National Science and Technology Commission through the Science and Technology Act No. 11 of 1994, creation of a separate ministry of Science and Technology and the creation of National Research Council (NRC). Most of these are top heavy administrative structures and with the exception of the NRC have not done anything tangible to improve the quality of science and technology in Sri Lanka.

The Science and Technology Act of 1994 specifically states, inter alia, in section 2(a) that one of its objectives is, "to promote the use of science and technology as an integral part of the effort to achieve rapid economic development and improved quality of life and to alleviate poverty , and to involve scientists and technologists in the formulation of policy and in decision making".
It is pertinent to explore how far this objective has been achieved. It is this writer’s opinion that with most of what is achieved is limited to annual "talkshops" where nothing tangible in terms of changes to scientific policies for national development have taken place. There is no place for innovation, international patenting , creating centres of scientific excellence, improving education system to meet the challenges of the new millenium etc.

Education and Innovation

We have an archaic education system which has not created the necessary conditions to promote innovativeness, motivation to succeed and impart practical experience through "doing things". It simply bogs down our students in a competitive rat race where the fittest survive. Since we abolished the practical examinations from our GCE (A.L.) science subjects, students who could not carry out simple practical manipulations enter our universities and continue to practice rote learning with no creative spirit. Our universities too have not promoted innovativeness, creativity and critical thinking largely due to the suppressive influence of highly politicised student unions. Our undergraduates are even prevented from asking questions in class thanks to the political thuggery and brainwashing by these so called student unions controlled by sinister political forces. The teacher centred education does not promote innovativeness nor new discoveries. We do not encourage those with the ability to "work with their hands" to blossom. Our school education system results in the early bifurcation into different streams such as Arts, Commerce, Science etc. instead of giving a broad education first with the ability to problem solving with diversification restricted to a later stage. Practical work and working with hands is almost non-existent in our schools and Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country in the world where students enter the universities to follow science based courses without facing any practical examinations.

The bifurcation even in the science stream to physical sciences and biological sciences is highly undesirable and practised only in Sri Lanka. Even in neighbouring India, there is no such bifurcation. Science is getting highly interdisciplinary and the traditional borders between physics, chemistry and biology are fast disappearing. A knowledge of mathematics is essential for all biological stream disciplines such as Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary science. Similarly, a knowledge of biology is essential for a good physical science student to pursue studies in challenging frontier areas such as Molecular biology. All science faculties in the university system have recommended to the University Grants Commission, at least on two occasions, that all A.L. science students should offer Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics as subjects. However, these proposals have fallen on deaf ears and the wishes of an individual or two has determined the entire fate of the educational reforms. Thus, one individual decided that the four subjects at the A.L. should be reduced from four to three and this got carried through against overwhelming opposition from the academic community.

Science and Technology policies-Lessons from India

Indian science and technology policy received the priority it deserves very early largely due to the efforts of Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime minister of independent India. He had the vision to realise the value of science and technology to achieve economic prosperity. Prime minister Nehru started many research laboratories and gave their control to top scientists. A particularly successful example is that of Dr. Homi Bhaba who started and headed the Indian Atomic Energy Commission. Nehru started the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology in the mid-1950's against much criticism and these have more than achieved their intended goals by producing world-class scientists and technologists who are now carrying India into the developed country status. While our politicians, for securing votes at elections, even abolished the English stream for sciences in schools in the 1960's, India retained English as the medium of instruction in most schools and the universities. The IT boom in India, which has brought in prosperity to a significant population in India, is primarily due to the abundance of universities both private and public and the excellent level of English of its graduates.

Unlike in Sri Lanka, in India, there is a well-reputed scientist with a distinguished research record as the Prime Minister's science advisor. What is more remarkable is that the current science advisor to the Prime minister, Dr. Chidamabaram has served even the previous Bharatiya Janata party government as its science advisor. Scientific merit is the sole criterion for such appointments and that is why science is thriving in India. This position is considered on par with that of a cabinet minister, with all attendant rights and privileges, and shows the importance the Indian government has placed on science. In sharp contrast, in Sri Lanka, presidential science advisors are appointed solely on political hegemony. These advisors have no track record of a research career and they are most likely kicked out when heads roll within the same political party. Some agencies such as the Indian Space Research Organization and the Indian Atomic Energy Commission come directly under the Prime Minister and hence are free to carry out their jobs without any political interference. The situation is quite the opposite in Sri Lanka. Here heads of research institutes are appointed on political merit rather than scientific merit and the politicians decide whom should be recruited and who should be promoted. In our own University system too, all appointments except the academic ones are currently made from the political lists supplied by the politicians.

Another major factor for the advancement of science in India is that technocrats run ministries connected to science and technology. The secretary to the ministry of science and technology is always a well-respected scientist. Its current secretary, Dr. Ramasami is a scientist of international repute and served earlier as the head of the Central Leather research Institute in Chennai. Mrs. Indira Gandhi during her tenure appointed several technocrats as secretaries to key ministries such as Agriculture, Milk Production, Telecommunications and Defence. She received the wrath of the Indian civil service for these appointments but what these appointments did to the country is phenomenal. India achieved the status of the largest milk producer in the world owing to the effort of a professional, Dr. Verghese Kurian who was appointed to the ministry dealing with milk production. Similarly Dr. Swaminathan, who was appointed as the Secretary to the ministry of Agriculture is considered as the father of the Green revolution largely responsible for India's self sufficiency in food. Similarly the Telecom revolution brought about by Dr. Sam Pitroda and developments in rocket technology by Dr. Abdul Kalam are clear examples where Indian scientists at key administrative positions have played pivotal roles making India an economic tiger in Asia.

Scientific research and Tertiary education

There are many lessons we can learn if we compare a graduate from a good Indian University as against one from Sri Lanka. While the two cultures are very similar, the Indian students are highly articulate, often questioning their teachers in the classroom which is non-existent in Sri Lanka. Our students are prevented from asking questions in class by their own student leaders. This comes from my own personal experience of teaching chemistry over the past 37 years at the University of Peradeniya. The private sector feels that our graduates are worthless compared to those who graduate from private universities here and those who graduate from foreign universities. Even in the selection of graduates to the private sector, an interesting observation was made recently by the human resources manager of a leading multinational company. According to him, the private sector does not want to hire those graduates from universities where ragging is prevalent and violence is rampant between student groups. Some universities such as Katubedda are lucky to have completely eradicated ragging and their graduates are recruited without second thoughts compared to those from some other universities including my own university here at Peradeniya., where the majority of students either actively or passively condone ragging as a necessity of University life.

Science and Technology

One may question what relevance these acts of ragging have on the use of science and technology for economic prosperity which is the central these of my article. Ragging involves complete brain washing of the educated cream of this country where young people are robbed of their independence of thought , innovativeness and critical thinking. Instead, they are taught to hate the society, industrial establishment and the private sector. It is no wonder that most present day graduates contribute very little to the development of this country.

The other aspect which is equally crucial is the administrative structure. In Sri Lanka, when a university professor was appointed as a secretary to the education ministry several years ago, there was a howl of protest from the administrators. No wonder we are still struggling in our development. It is unfortunate that a lot of administrators have come from the Arts stream and with no knowledge of how to use science for development. These administrators who formulate economic policy are not aware of the vast mineral based industries which can be exploited to bring economic gains. While I have no objections to qualified Arts based graduates at the top administrative positions, they should learn to harness the expertise of scientists in formulating policy for any meaningful economic development.

Increasing money given for scientific research alone is not sufficient to achieve success. It is important that scientific leaders should be appointed to lead these efforts. In the past foreign loans given to the country have been totally misused. One such example was a substantial ADB grant given for Science and technology a few years back. Some of the expensive equipment that have been procured through this grant are still in their crates since the funds were given in terms of friendship and influence rather than on the need and academic merit. If a proper assessment is done, some startling facts will emerge. A lot of foreign loans are wasted through lack of proper scientific leadership.

What is important is to create conditions conducive to research. One step is to substantially increase the number of locally produced Ph.D. degrees. China has recognised the importance of creating and retaining a critical mass of high quality scholars and scientists to compete with any world class institution. For example, Tsinghua University in China has 4600 faculty members, 26,500 undergraduates and 5000 Ph.D. students. India also took the right step just after independence by starting several governmental research laboratories where Ph.D. scientists found employment and contributed to the national economy.

In Sri Lanka, while the government supports only undergraduate training it does not provide adequate financial support for postgraduate research except those in the Health sector. Universities as generators of new knowledge should be better managed with reputed researchers at the very top of their administration and adopt market responsive strategies. Unfortunately, we have a system here in Sri Lanka, where even Vice Chancellors are appointed based on their political affiliations and personal connections to the politicians at the top and not on academic merit.

A University is a repository of scholarship dedicated to teaching and research in the spirit of free and critical inquiry, tolerance of diversity and a commitment to resolve issues through debate and consensus. Unfortunately the students in most universities are controlled by the violence leashed out by intimidation and thuggery by the student bodies where none of the above characteristics flourish. Our national universities do not produce graduates with leadership qualities and this fact is often overlooked by administrators, university teachers too have a tendency to allow this practice of " business as usual" and little they realise the grave dangers this poses to the entire community in the long run.

Future outlook

The above account necessitates a radical new thinking for using science and technology combined with good tertiary education practices to move forward in our quest for economic prosperity. While an increase in the percentage of GDP for research is essential, its proper management is even more important. More than anything else, there should be a political will to use science and technology in our development plans to achieve economic prosperity. What we need is a new breed of technocrats who will replace the traditional administrative offciers. Education too is an investment that has been a crucial factor in the economic development of India and postgraduate education in the sciences too should receive the highest priority. Let us hope that the politicians will see the wisdom of using science and education to take our country forward.

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Solar power brings light to the lives of tsunami survivors

Reuters: 13/02/2007" Source: World Vision International By Kristy Allen-Shirley and Marianne Albina

Thousands of families have benefited from the installation 1,234 solar light systems across Sri Lanka.

The project is a joint effort between World Vision and Light Up The World Foundation (LUTW). Families living in remote areas, fishermen, and people displaced by the tsunami and civil war have all benefited.

"The LUTW and World Vision partnership is one of our most innovative responses to the tsunami. Working with LUTW, we have been able to provide a clear, friendly light source, as well as creating a safer environment for women and children," said Perry Mansfield, World Vision Lanka Tsunami Response Programme Director.

Project beneficiary Sarammashe, who currently lives in transitional housing in Thampaddai village, said, "Ever since the tsunami we had no electricity and we had to struggle to find money to buy kerosene oil, which is very expensive. But now we have this new light. It is free of charge and does not give out heat."

Nirmaladevi, a mother of three children, said, "My children are now able to study at night. I feel much safer that we no longer use the kerosene oil and that we have this light that can warn us if there are snakes at night."

In Jaffna's east, a 30-40 kilometre long strip of land running between a lagoon and the ocean was hit hard by the tsunami. The community, mostly fishermen, are not allowed to rebuild their homes and had to relocate farther from the ocean, affecting the distance they travel to work and storage of fishing equipment. In response, World Vision designed Fishermen Rest-rooms, a practical building for the fisherman to store their gear and rest between fishing trips. Solar lights have been installed to ensure the rest-rooms can be used safely during working hours. In this same stretch of land, World Vision installed lights in newly built permanent homes.

In Palavi, in the northwest corner of Kilinochchi, families live in relative isolation and had not been able to access electricity. Through this project, solar light has been installed, benefiting key community structures such as the Catholic Church and a schoolhouse.

On the north-east coast of Kilinochchi in Kallaru, 130 shelters which World Vision assumed responsibility for are to be completed and handed over to war displaced families from Jaffna. Solar lights funded by the programme will feature in these homes.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mixed cropping in plantation will uplift SMEs

Daily Mirror: 13/02/2007" By Dr. N. Yogaratnam -Consultant / NIPM

Mixed cropping is not an unknown subject in plantations, although various terminologies such as intercropping, multicropping, supplementary cropping etc., are used. It is a type of agro-forestry system where two or more crops are grown simultaneously on the same land. This concept had been introduced and developed to maximise land productivity and to minimize the risks involved in growing a monocrop.

When properly planned and managed, this has added advantages such as enhanced net returns, favourable economic, social and environmental benefits and increased employment. But, still it remains an under utilized option to boost productivity in plantations.

Tea , rubber, and coconut are perennial tree crops which have a long immaturity period. It is therefore difficult to regulate supply on a short-term basis according to changing market conditions. This is one of the major reasons for prices to remain rather volatile and create uncertainty among both growers and consumers particularly the small businesses. These crops are already grown on smallholder lines covering extents in the region of 65% to 70% of the total extent which are in the region of 180,000, 115,000 and 440,000 hectares in Tea, Rubber and Coconut, respectively. Even a short period pf fluctuating produce prices could be difficult to tide over. This is because small holders have little access to credit or cash reserves to meet such a contingency.

Secondary crops

Crops selected for this system in plantations are of two types, on the basis of their adaptability to the different plantation development stages.

For example, in rubber, the first type includes those fit for immature rubber plantations where there is an adequate solar radiation e.g. pineapple, passion fruit, banana etc. The second type includes those tolerant to limited or higher degrees of shade nd can therefore be grown during both the immature and mature phase. Example, tea, coffee, cocoa, pepper, cinnamon, timber species, is as boundary trees etc.

Economic and Ecological benefits

Economic returns include those from secondary crops via harvesting and from increased output from the main crop as well as cost savings due to mixed cropping. The economic returns of the secondary crops depends on market demand, It can be as high as 1 to7 times that of the value of the main crop output when the market is high or negligible or even a deficit when the market is low.

Systemic mixed cropping has been found to increase the growth rate and yield of the main crop whilst also reducing the upkeep cost and fertilizer applications. Generally, a saving of 45-60 labour days/ha/year can be expected during the immature period of properly mixed cropped rubber stands.

Mixed cropping provides an integrated approach system in the use of agricultural resources. Correct cropping pattern can help to establish as stable artificial ecological community in plantations to form a favourable recycling system and improve the ecological environment. This makes it possible for satisfactory sustained growth and production from both the main crop and the secondary crops.

Higher biomass production is demonstrated by higher total yield from the main crops and the secondary crops due to normal growth of both crops. In addition, a large amount of litter is a common phenomenon in some mixed cropping combinations such as rubber/pepper ( creeping) which contribute litter of 7545-9200 kg/ha/year which is higher than that of rubber legume cover ( Pueraria 5350 kg/ha/year).

This system would provide innovative approaches for either shortening or even avoiding the period of soil reconditioning after uprooting tea. Thus eliminating the cost of this operation and the 2-year unproductive period.

Higher output and land use capacity

The commodity output rate per unit area in properly mixed cropped plantations is higher than that of the monoculture system, generally 05- 1 time higher.

This is due to faster growth and higher yield of trees, assisted by certain produce from the secondary crops. Ecologically, this is due to the favourable environment of the new ecosystem formed.

Generally, intercrops do not require the planting density to be changed drastically when planted between the trees or in the inter rows. This facilitates a higher land use capacity per unit area. Land use capacity can be increased by 30 – 50% with a maximum of in the region of 75%.
Analysis of soil nutrient contents of some mixed cropping combinations indicates higher soils organic matter content, N,P and K with rubber/tea, rubber/pepper and rubber/sugarcane combinations. In some cases, micronutrients are also brought into circulation.

Steady Micro-environment

The thicker canopy of mixed cropped plantations reduces the airflow rate while increasing the solar absorption and reflection rates. Therefore, less sunlight reaches the ground and there is weaker air turbulence at ground level and a lower wind velocity. Hence, evaporation is decreased but the relative humidity and the soil moisture content is increased. This is especially marked during high temperature period when the under-canopy temperature is lower to form a favourable microclimate for growth and yield. This is also true for the soil to maintain a steady micro environment.

Reduced soil erosion

It has been shown that properly mixed cropped plantation can reduce surface runoff and soil erosion due to the better raindrop interception capacity of the thicker canopy, thicker litter coverage and better soil structure.

However, not all mixed cropped plantations can reduce soil erosion. Soil erosion can occur in plantations on steeper slopes where soil tillage is required or down slope planting is practiced. This is true even in those plantations with good mixed cropping combinations, if no mulching or cover crop establishment is made in the early stage of the plantation.

Social implications

Mixed cropping can produce more products and goods for the market and increase the income of growers. Plantations are sometimes in peril of natural calamities such as wind damage, drought stress etc. Mixed cropping can help to reduce the damage in terms of economic returns.
More job opportunities are created. For example a field worker can take care of about 1.67-2.0 ha. in conventional immature rubber plantations, but in mixed cropped plantation each field worker can take care of only about 0.27 – 0.67 ha. thus increasing job opportunities by 3-6 times.

In mature monoculture rubber plantations, each field worker can be responsible for about 1.0 ha. on the conventional tapping system but each field worker can take care of only about 0.32 – 0.33 ha. in mixed cropped stands thus increasing job opportunities by 1-2 times.

Mixed cropping policies

Adoption of mixed cropping policies in plantations should be therefore considered as an exercise to;
• Utilize the inter-row space in plantations to generate an early income from the land during the unproductive period.
• Generate an income even during unflavourable weather conditions when harv esting may not be possible from the main crop and thereby to provide a steady stream of income for the grower.
• Generate an income during adverse trading conditions for the main crop.
• Increase the productivity per unit area of land.
• Develop agricultural soils, degraded due to mismanagement and continuous adoption of monocultural cropping systems.
• Shorten or eliminate the period of reconditioning of tea soils prior to replanting.
• Convert marginal / uneconomical areas into better use with a view to make such units more profitable and economically viable.
• Generate or reduce employment ( depending on the type of previous crop) which would enable estates to utilize the available labour resources more efficiently and effectively.

Rubber and Tea

Cropping of tea and rubber together is considered feasible in the agro-climate regions; Low Country Wet Zone ( WL1, WL2, WL3 and Wl4), Mid Country Wet Zone ( WM2 and WM3), Low Country Intermediate Zone ( IL1 and IL2), Mid Country Intermediate Zone ( IM3)and Up Country Intermediate Zone ( IU2 and IU3), where conditions are favourable for the cultivation of both these crops.

Guidelines provided for this system indicates that it is possible to have 70 percent tea stand and 70 percent rubber stand as per individual mono crop stand or in another system where it is possible to have 70 percent tea stand and 65 – 70 percent rubber stand as per respective monocrop stands. In both systems, the land use efficiency is in the region of 140 – 150 percent.

Tea based systems

It has been established that Tea and Coconut can be grown together under three systems of cultivation; Intercropping tea and coconut simultaneously, Intercropping coconut in tea lands and Intercropping tea in coconut lands . These are feasible in the mid and low country in the agro ecological regions where both tea and coconut can be cultivated.

Among the export crops, pepper ( piper nigrum) is the most compatible with tea of all types. The pepper vines are easily trained to grow on shade trees such a Gravellia rebousta and Gliricidia maculalata in tea. As coffee is more suitable for seedling lands, where tea stands are average to poor, Robusta could be considered for mid elevations and Arabica for high elevations.
It has been reported that it is also possible to intercrop fruits tree species such as citrus, mango, avocado and rambuttan with tea in fields with a low tea plant density.

Coconut based systems

It has been recognized that coconut based farming systems provides the best option for optimizing the productivity and augmenting the economic viability of low productivity coconut lands, particularly on land suitability classes S3,S4 and S5.

A range of acceptable crop/farm models for coconut, have been proposed. The models include integrated livestock farming with forage grasses for zero- grazing and legumes for stall feeding, secondary crops such as banana, pineapple, cashew, cocoa, coffee, tea, vanilla, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, betel etc. Establishment of honey bee colonies in such mixed cropped areas in the wet zone is also possible.

Gliricidia

Gliricidia sepium is known to be an ideal perennial tree crop to be grown either as a monocrop plantation or as a mixed crop in coconut, tea and rubber plantings. Although gliricidia had been grown historically as a boundary fence and subsequently introduced as a shade tree in plantations, but it is now popularly grown as a green manure crop in plantations and more recently for biomass power generation.

As a green manure crop, it provides nutrients in the region of 12,000 kg of N per hectare per year ( equivalent to 300kg of urea). Other benefits include, alleopathy, a natural phenomena of repelling pests and suppressing weed growth and the foliage is also used as cattle fodder . All these promote successful integrated farming systems in plantations, known to be an effective technology in coconut. Bio gas units can also be established in such systems with cattle / goat dung as raw materials.

As a biomass power generation crop, it provides wood yield in the region of 30 mt/ha/year which could partly meet the energy requirement of some of the domestic, industrial and commercial sector industries. It has been identified as the most suitable source for thermal / electrical wood-based power generation.

Mixed cropping models

More, technically feasible, economically viable and socially acceptable crop / plantation models based on Tea/ Rubber / Coconut / Gliricidia, that are adaptable to diverse identified agro-climatic considerations, growth stages of plantation crops and platation sectorial divisions should be developed to meet the emerging needs of the plantation industry in particular the smallholder sector who are more vulnerable to changes than the corporate sector.

This becomes more relevant to the current scenario when attempts are being made to extend plantation crop planting into non-traditional areas as smallholder farming models and out-grower systems.

The area under mixed cropping in Sri Lanka is still rather small, constrained by available resources and knowledge. Research and development and extension services on mixed cropping in plantations are also very limited and superficial.

As market mechanism will play more and more important role in regulating and maintaining the sustainability of mixed cropping, the selection of annual or perennial crops for the use as mixed crops in plantations must take market demands into consideration quite apart from the technical know-how availability based on research findings.

Some traditional mixed cropping models can be continued with but some new intercrops with high market potentials must be introduced into the cropping scheme, for this system to be more attractive and profitable.

Environmental concern must be a further factor for consideration in mixed croping. Final aspect of importance is that of rural social development and political commitment. Integration and not proliferation of subjects / departments / ministries, will help in this regard.

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The entrepreneur whose will even the mighty tsunami couldn't conquer

Daily News: 13/02/2007" By Ruwanthi Abeyakoon

INNOVATIVE MIND: Looking for something new and innovative a young man from Wadduwa entered the business world, making beautiful candles in various shapes and colours. He lights up the halls with these decorative candles. Today his creations are widely known and are flourishing though several challenges affect his progress.

"After my A/Ls I wanted to start my own business and do something new. In 1996, I started making candles as a small-scale business. I followed the training course on candle making and motor mechanism at St. Vincent Home, Maggona. It helped me to commence my work," Lucian Fernando, Proprietor, Mihikatha Creations, Wadduwa reminisced on the origins of his business.

Fernando said that he commenced his business obtaining a loan. " With the bank loan I bought a few moulds and made candles for churches and festivals. At present I supply decorative candles such as floating candles, scented candles, spiral candles, insect candles, birthday candles and Christmas candles. I also make ornaments and jewellery out of clay," he said.

"I use a Chinese wax to make these products. Some of my main customers are Trans Asia, Taj-Exotica, Hotel Eden, Tangerine Hotel, Royal Palm Hotel, Unawatuna Beach Resort and Triton Hotel. I also make vases, candle containers and wedding cake boxes," Fernando added.
He had also conducted demonstrations in several schools introducing his creations to the youngsters. "I taught children in Grade one and two to make simple things like animals. I had ten workers under me. My business was flourishing when tsunami occurred destroying my whole factory," Fernando said.

The tsunami could not destroy his determination he had. After three weeks Fernando started rebuilding his business. He did not wait for the tsunami funds but found his own way of earning a living. "I started a herbal drink stall to earn money without waiting for donations. Then, Hillsburg Austria built a hut for me and helped me financially to develop the herbal drink stall.

Professor Gunapala Nanayakkara, Lakmal and Mahesh of Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Jayawardenepura provided me with a kiln to start the clay industry," he said.

"Wadduwa Villagers also supported me to get back to business. My earlier target was the tourists but with tsunami it was difficult to find the market. Then I ventured into making jewellery with clay. Kalutara District Chamber of Commerce and Industry assisted me in this. At the moment I provide employment for eight villagers," he explained.

Recognizing his talents and creativity, the Chamber directed him to take part in the `Back to Business' exhibition at BMICH.

" That was a good exposure. I found a lot of contacts and I was selected by the Export Development Board (EDB) to represent Sri Lanka at Serendib 2006 exhibition. I also had an exhibition in Scotland sponsored by Shyam, where I demonstrated the making of jewellery using clay," Fernando said.

"I had a good response abroad for my work. I want to take my creations to the international market. My aim is to improve this business. There are many issues that hinder the progress of the business. Modern technology should be introduced.

Technical knowledge should be there. New moulds and new designs should be brought to compete with other countries. If these necessities are supplied I can take these creations to the international market," he said underlining the obstacles on his way.
He said that a way should be paved for small-scale industries to move into the large-scale category.

" I get orders but without the technology I can't accept a huge order. Exhibitions alone will not support the business," he explained.

Last December Fernando won the second runner-up and the provincial award at the Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 for his exquisite creations. " These awards have been very important in my life. My herbal drinks are also successful.

I will supply several companies and schools with herbal drinks. I am hoping to get SLS certification before I take up the orders. I hope to develop my factory also," he revealed his future plans.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Estate sector poverty persists -World Bank

Daily Mirror: 12/02/2007" By Sunimalee Dias

The poverty headcount in the estates increased between 1990-91 and 2002 and is now 7 percentage points higher than the national average with the poverty in the estates being one of "stagnation"

The estate sector comprising 5% of the country’s population poses a significant challenge to Sri Lanka’s poverty reduction with “mainstreaming” the way out, the World Bank stated recently.
The estate population represents the mot significant challenge to poverty reduction in the country, the World Bank said recently in releasing its report on Sri Lanka’s poverty assessment.

The poverty headcount in the estates increased between 1990-91 and 2002 and is now 7 percentage points higher than the national average with the poverty in the estates being one of “stagnation”.

The report also revealed some crude facts that stated the “higher poverty among estate households is associated with the remoteness or lack of useable year-round roads linking the estate to the nearest town.”

It noted that the long term solution to poverty in the estates “clearly lies in mainstreaming the sector.”

The estate sector was reportedly posing the highest incidence of poverty with a headcount of 30% in 2002 which was significantly above the 1990-91 levels.

In addition it was pointed out that consumption in the estates has also become more highly concentrated in a narrow interval around the poverty line in contrast to the country, the concentration in estates has increased between 1990-91 and 2002.

The World Bank highlights the need for ensuring the labour force living within the commercial property to have improved movement to and from the towns.

The report points out that severing this link, perhaps by providing and rights to long term residents, would relieve management of welfare responsibility toward resident and the obligation of residents to provide labour to the estate.

This would therefore assist in changing the current parameters of the employer-employee relationships, it was asserted.

With more than 40% in the estate households relying solely on estate wages for earned income, but it was observed that while wage employment outside the estates was not associated with significantly higher welfare or earnings, households that receive income from enterprise tend to fare better.

Further it was stated that although today, estate residents were able to earn most of their income in wage employment on a plantation, two decades back, the labour force in the plantations declined by more than 50%, from a 542,000 workers in 1980 to an estimated current figure of less than 269,000.

While a majority of households had asserted there was an improvement in their household conditions in the last 15 years, this was despite the overall deterioration in the condition of the estates.

With the estate housing stock consisting of single houses, attached houses and annexes, line rooms and row house, and shaties, the proportion of line rooms is still much higher than the country average. In addition, a sustained effort is being required to close the gap between living conditions in the estates and other sectors.

While nearly 30% of the population in the estate sector is poor only 13% of the households interview had reported receiving cash transfers from government welfare programmes, the bank’s report stated.

Other factors playing a crucial role in the estate sector posting the highest incidence of poverty is due to the multidimensional nature.

As such it was reported that both male and female literacy rates in 2003-04 are 6 and 16% points lower than the rural averages, respectively. 2003-04 has posted a literacy rate of 81.3% overall compared to the rural sector posting a higher literacy rate at 92.8%.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Only 51 % of tsunami housing completed

Sunday Times: 11/02/2007"

A new government report has slammed the pace of post-tsunami work saying only 51 percent of housing construction was completed even after more than two years since the December 2004 disaster.

The report titled “Tsunami Recovery: Progress, Challenges & Way Forward” by B. Abeygunewardane, Director General – Department of National Planning, Ministry of Finance and Planning, found that while the south had a high completion level at 89 percent the north was extremely low at 22 percent. Housing construction in the east was also low at 43 percent completion while 56 percent of the work was done in the west.

The report looked at progress in the four main recovery sectors – housing; livelihood; health, education and protection; and infrastructure. Under livelihoods, it said 70 percent of the fishing industry had been restored, 90 percent of the hotels were back to normal while 10,000 business enterprises had been restored. The report said some of the challenges and problems included rising construction costs, conflict impact on reconstruction and coordination.

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Business training for tsunami affected SMEs

Daily Mirror: 10/02/2007"

Thousands of tsunami-affected entrepreneurs have received accredited business management training under the brand of "Start and Improve Your Business" (SIYB), since the 2004 Tsunami. The entrepreneurs benefited by receiving business start up or business improvement training in which the application of better business practices such as business planning, record keeping, costing, marketing, stock control, and buying were imparted to enable them to reach their financial goals.

The training was provided by ILO certified SIYB trainers. The SIYB training is specially designed for adult learning so that in-depth knowledge is gained on how to re-start the business or how to improve the business and support them in introducing new knowledge practices in their own business. The SIYB training is being undertaken through partnership with International Labour Organization, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), and World Vision. The support schemes such as supply of equipment, grants and loans, and marketing linkages provided by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and FCCISL were able to add value to this training.

2240 entrepreneurs had made excellent progress by attending the SIYB training.

Mr. Jayantha Abeyaratne Project Manager, The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, said that the training was helpful for the entrepreneurs to re-structure their business in a focused manner and set up a benchmark to monitor the progress of their business, which was a lacking factor in any enterprise at this level.

Mr. Sam Stembo Project Director of back-to-business project of FCCISL, pointed out that the business plan drawn up at the 5-day SIYB training had helped to manage their business systematically and also to apply for a loan to any financial institution. The SIYB training intervention had added advantages of increasing the entrepreneurs' motivation, and improving the business networks and exchange of experiences with other business people in the sector.

According to Chief Executive Officer of the Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) Association of Sri Lanka, an affiliate of the global ILO-SIYB program, Mrs. Swarnamali Abeysuriya, the SIYB training provided for these affected entrepreneurs had helped not only to restart or build back their businesses but also to carry them out in a more viable manner.

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