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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, April 27, 2007

Spreading wings of development

The Island: 27/04/2007" By Brian Tissera

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) has joined hands with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) to organise the Sri Lanka Economic Summit for the second consecutive time, a CCC spokesman said. It is to be held from June 6-8, 2007 at the Cinnamon Grand, Colombo.
The chamber attempts to identify and address future economic and commercial trends and to develop appropriate strategic plans to meet these challenges. A nexus between the business community, civil society and the state sector is needed to fulfil national aspirations, the spokesman added.

By sharing views and past experiences, it is hoped that national priorities could be stimulated towards realising the objectives of the government’s ten-year plan. Key policymakers could also join top business leaders of the country to present Sri Lanka as a foremost destination for foreign investment.

On the first day of the summit, the macro economy and fiscal policy with be discussed in the context of trade and investment. The second day will be dedicated to reviewing the key thrust business sectors of the economy and decide the strategies to meet future challenges.
The inaugural session will be addressed by the Chairman/Managing Director of Rediffusion - Dy & R. Arun Nanda. He will speak on "Branding Sri Lanka for the global market." He will be followed by the Guest of Honour, Minister of Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Sarath Amunugama.

A number of distinguished speakers would address the summit the next two days. Among them are Secretary to the Treasury Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, who will speak on "Macro economic framework of the ten-year development framework," Country Director, A. D. B. Richard Vokes on "The Asian experience," Minister of Export Development & International Trade, Prof. G. L. Peiris on "Trade and Investment Unleasing the Potential," World Bank Country Director Ms Maoko Ishil on "Public-Private Partnerships for Infrastructure Development," Commonwealth Advisor Dr. Sampath Sirinivasan on "Fast Tracking Implementation," Minister of Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services Maithripala Sirisena on "Development of the Agricultural Sector and Minister for Industrial Development Kumar Welgama on "Industrial Growth and Competitiveness."

Minister of Telecommunication Rauf Hakeem will speak on "Telecom Policy in Sri Lanka", while Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda will speak on "Strategy for Development of Tourism". The Governor of the Central Bank, Ajith Nivard Cabral, will speak on "Positioning Sri Lanka as a Financial Hub" and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board Renton de Alwis on "Destination Sri Lanka - Moving up the Value Chain".

The economic summit hopes to provide a strategic insight to foreign and local investors on investment opportunities, explore product development and market development opportunities, provide the private sector with opportunities to form new alliances and identify emerging growth sectors.

A report will be handed over to the government on specific facilitative support expected of it in order to attract private investments.

It will also highlight issues that impede development and suggest strategies and actions to overcome impediments and also propose strategies to accelerate sectoral development, the spokesman said.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Economic development through solar drying technologies

Daily News: 24/04/2007"

Wiji Senadeera, School of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, University of South Australia, Australia and Dumindra Senanayake, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, India


Processing of vegetables into durable products during surplus production and seasonal super-abundance can go a long way in reducing the post harvest losses. Sri-Lanka is a producer and consumer of vegetables.

The processing food industry and export market of vegetables can be an instrument of diversification for generating income and employment for small and marginal farmers.
Processing of various vegetables is picking up in other countries in the SAARC region. The processed form of vegetables can be exported easily and in turn help to earn much needed foreign exchange.

Vegetables are an important constituent of diet and provide significant nutrients depending upon their nature especially vitamins, mineral and fibres. Some vegetables like carrots, cauli flower are highly seasonal and are usually available in plenty in some seasons of the year.
In the peak season, the selling price becomes too low leading to heavy losses to the grower and also there is an unnecessary stock in the market resulting in the spoilage of large quantities.
Because of its seasonal nature of availability, a need was felt to preserve the vegetable over a period of time to use it during off seasons. Preservation of vegetables can prevent the huge wastage and make them available in the off-season at remunerative prices.

In recent food technology literature, processing and preservation of numerous vegetable products have been reported. Because of its seasonal nature of availability, efforts were made since from the past to extend the shelf life of vegetables by dehydration, in order to use it during off seasons.

Various drying methods such as hot air, freeze microwave, infrared and fluidized bed drying have been practiced for dehydration of vegetables. These technologies need sophisticated equipment and skill training, the adoption of which appears difficult at field/rural level.
Though mechanical dryers, powered by electricity or fuel, help in producing quality products in mass scale, they are seldom adopted by small- scale entrepreneurs and farmers of most developing countries, due to heavy installation costs involved and large operating cost because of it being energy intensive process.

To save the energy and thereby reducing the operation cost, use of a solar collector in conjunction with- mechanical dryer (convective dryer) could give synergetic effect i.e. producing quality dried product at low cost. Solar energy is fast becoming an important alternative source of energy as it can be tapped at selectively low cost.

The use and application of solar energy therefore, cannot be under emphasized. Development of a solar assisted convective dryer will help in drying a variety of fruits and vegetables under controlled conditions at relatively lower cost and is expected to be well adopted at farmers level, as well as fruits and vegetable drying industries.

Drying and dehydration technology:

Drying and dehydration technology would be one of the best practices towards increasing the consumption of the population under the current insufficiency in vegetable consumption. Besides, the precooked and dehydrated convenience items, which are ready to eat, will serve people, in highly urbanized cities, in many ways. The lower-mass, compact size and stability of dried foods make them ideal in any situation.

The principal of using drying as a preservative method is that enzymes responsible for the breakdown of foods or the growth of microorganisms are inhibited when the amount of available water is very low. During the past few decades, considerable efforts have been made to understand some of the chemical and biochemical changes that occur during dehydration and to develop methods for preventing undesirable quality losses.

Longer shelf life, product diversity and volume reduction are the reason for the popularity of dried fruits and vegetables, and this could be expanded further with improvements in product quality and process applications.

Solar drying technologies developed in other countries:

Solar drying relies, as does sun drying, on the sun as its source of energy. Solar drying differs from sun drying in that a structure, often of very simple construction, is used to enhance the effect of the insolation.

Compared with sun drying, solar dryers can generate higher air temperatures and consequential lower relative humidities, which are both conductive to, improved drying rates and lower final moisture contents of the dried crop. As a result the risk of spoilage is reduced, both during the actual process and in subsequent storage.

Development of solar drying technologies in Sri-Lanka

It has been reported that there has been very little actual penetration of solar drying technology so far in Sri-Lanka. In the initial phase of their dissemination, identification of suitable areas for using solar dryers would be extremely helpful in providing the required momentum for their market penetration.

One of the possible areas of immediate intervention in this direction appears to be the solar drying of cash crops such as tobacco, tea, coffee, small cardamom, chilli powder, coriander, ginger, turmeric powder, pepper, onion flakes and garlic flakes etc.

For such crops, even with the capital intensive nature of solar dryers, the unit cost of solar drying is expected to be a small fraction of the selling price of the final dried product.

An initiative by Sri-Lankan scientists has to be started estimate the potential of solar crop drying and the useful energy required for drying of different cash crops, the fraction of the total production of different cash crops which can be dried by solar dryers, and solar collector area required for this purpose has to be estimated.

The amounts of different fuels that would be saved by solar drying and the Co2 emissions mitigation potential of solar drying of crops in Sri-Lanka is also an important study.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rotting vegetables at the Economic Centre at Dambulla pose economic hardships and environmental hazards

Sunday Times: 22/04/2007" By Malik Gunatilleke

Unplanned cultivation and lack of government support for vegetable farmers in and around the Dambulla region have forced many of them to feed their produce to the cows and elephants, while consumers in other parts of the country are paying high prices for vegetables, The Sunday Times learns.

This situation had apparently got worse during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as many farmers had attempted to maximise their profits by increasing their production, only to find there were no traders to purchase them.

The Dambulla Dedicated Economic Centre (DDEC) set up in 1999 enabled farmers in the area to market their produce even at night. About 200 lorries from outstations line up daily at this centre to purchase vegetables and transport them to various parts of the island. However, over the past three months the number of lorries coming to the centre have steadily dwindled and farmers have been struggling to find buyers for the large quantities of vegetables flowing into the market.

While some farmers are being forced to destroy their crops others are quitting farming due to the low prices they are receiving.Though the farmers complain they are receiving low prices for their produce, consumers are paying high prices, with the middlemen involved in transporting and selling vegetables in Colombo and other areas making huge profits.

Farmers who sell their vegetables at DDEC have called on the government to enforce fixed prices to curb the middle man from thriving in the situation of varying prices.

R.G. Henry, a vegetable farmer from Nakyanweva told the Sunday Times that he gave up paddy cultivation and started on vegetables because of insufficient income, but now he was in the same plight. He also charged that the government had failed to keep their promises and give concessions on fertilizer.

“We have not received any support from the government for fertilizer. Even the machine we use to spray the insecticide costs us about Rs. 65,000. With the prices we receive how can we afford this?” he asked.

A. M. Abeysinghe, a farmer from Galenbindunuweva said due to heavy transportation costs, local farmers hardly earned enough to even feed their families. He said the low prices they received for their vegetables at the Economic Centre had aggravated the situation.
Despite the government’s claims to have spent over Rs 5 billion on fertilizer concessions many of the farmers who sold their crops at the DDEC complained that they had not received a single rupee from the government.

On an average upto 20 trucks can be seen taking the excess vegetables to be dumped in the surrounding areas. Vegetables brought by the farmers during the day are loaded into tippers and taken to the Dhigampathaha forest area to be disposed off.

Minister of Trade and Consumer Affairs, Bandula Gunawardena told The Sunday Times that the recent landslides in the Nuwara Eliya District had resulted in an over production of vegetables . Elaborating on this he said as many crops were destroyed in the Central Province due to heavy rains and landslides in December and January the farmers had increased their production during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year to compensate for their heavy losses.

“Even though the production increased dramatically, the demand remained the same. There weren’t enough traders and consumers to purchase all of the farmers’ extra crops. This was the root cause for the disposal of vegetables ,” he claimed.

Minister Gunawardena said the government was unable to control the prices in the DDEC as the government only provided the infrastructure for private traders to buy goods directly from the farmers. The DDEC is now owned by private parties further limiting the government’s authority over traders, he said.

Apart from the problem of over production, traders complain that reports regarding a possible attack by the LTTE on the DDEC had resulted in a decrease in the number of buyers who come to the Economic Centre during the week.

“If there are such specualtions the government forces should at least provide more security at the Economic Centre and clear any fears the public may have,” a trader said.

Meanwhile Dambulla OIC L. De Silva said police had provided the centre with additional security and had even appointed a Sub Inspector to oversee the security of the centre.
“Security is not the issue here There were long queues of buyers from all over the island last week,” he claimed. He said however police have been conducting routine vehicle checks in and around the area in addition to tightening security near the economic centre.

Something rotten in the Dhigampathaha forest

Due to the large quantity of vegetables going to waste at the DDEC, many traders opted to dump the extra vegetables at the nearby Dhigampathaha forest reserve, causing a serious threat to the habitat and wildlife of the area.

As over 100 tons of vegetables including polythene and plastic bags, were dumped in the forest, herds of elephants could be seen helping themselves to a New Year feast of rotting vegetables . Dr. Vijitha Perera, a Veterinary Surgeon from the Wildlife Department cautioning about this situation said, “firstly, the elephants could get used to the taste of vegetables, which are not part of their usual diet and they may venture into neighbouring villages to find vegetables, causing damage to crops and homes.”

Dr. Perera also said that due to the elephants inability to separate the polythene from the vegetables they would consuming large quantities of polythene, which could cause a complete blockage of the animal’s bowels. However, little has been done to curb this situation as the government claims it was unaware of this situation despite many media reports.

Apart from the Dhigampathaha Forest Reserve, vegetables are being dumped in acres of land in Habaraththawala.Sunil Jayaratne whose land has been used for dumping the refuse complained that about 20 tractors make way to his land daily to unload the rotting refuse.

“My Cashew farms have all suffered due to this waste, as an increase in insects has completely destroyed the crop,” he said.

Meanwhile Environment Ministry media secretary Aruni Muthumali said the ministry had not been informed of the situation in the Dhigampathaha forest.

“This seems a serious issue. We will look into it immediately to see that this crime is checked forthwith,” she said.Ms. Muthumali blamed the local authorities including the Municipal Councils for not acting immediately.

However, the Sunday Times learns that some private contractors have been given the authority to carry out the vegetable dumping in the forests and surrounding areas.

Trader who felt the pangs of farmers

Nissanka Senaratne, a vegetable trader at the DDEC was among the unsung heroes who had bought much of the poor farmers stocks at reasonable rates to allow them to enjoy the New Year.

Mr. Senaratne had spent over Rs. 250,000 out of his own pocket to purchase all of what the farmers brought to him. However, his generosity had little use for him as the vegetables had been thrown away into the nearby forests.

“I have to protect my farmers because I know what it is like to be in that state. I too was a farmer before I became a trader ,” he said.

A few of the farmers who benefited from Senaratne’s generosity stood outside his shop and openly showed their appreciation while unloading their goods.
Chaminda Kumara, a young farmer from Dambulla said that they received Rs 60,000 each for four lorries of vegetables.

“Although an excess of vegetables had been produced, Nissanka’s generosity saw that we got a decent pay for this month,” he said.

Kumara said about 15 farmers who always sold their goods to Mr. Senaratne were able to enjoy their New Year because of his generosity.Among the many farmers who congregated around his shop to show their gratitude, was Ajit Weerasinghe.

“If we hadn’t got this money from Mr. Senaratne, we would not have been able to enjoy our New Year,” he said.

But most of the farmers were not so lucky and they had no alternative but to sell their products at low rates or see them being dumped in surrounding areas.

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