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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, May 11, 2007

SME Bank loans for successful business woman

Daily News: 11/05/2007" By Anjana Samarsinghe

GEM CARPETS: The SME Bank’s first loan recipient Kumuduni Weerasekara is to venture out on a Rs 5 million project on manufacturing gem carpets and rugs.

Managing Director of Hashani Gem and Jewellery, Kumuduni Weerasekara told Daily News that she expects to manufacture carpets and rugs through waste collected at the gem cutting centres. During the gem cutting process a large amount of gem parts are removed as waste. Many gem cutters have a large stock of these gem parts at their cutting stations.

These waste gem parts could be used for value addition and to manufacture utility products such as carpets and rugs, she said.

The new project will generate around 100 job opportunities and she is targeting the local market as well as the international market. The factory will be located in Kandy.

Kumuduni who is involved in the gem cutting and polishing business took a Rs 600,000 initial loan from the SME bank to invest in new machinery to cater the international market in 2005. At the moment she is exporting gem to America, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.
The new project will cost Rs 5 million and Kumuduni expects to raise another loan from SME bank to invest in new machinery.

‘I will be investing my own funds for the buildings and raw materials. SME bank is providing an excellent service for the local SMEs,’ she said.

However she has planned to commence the project before end of this year. At the moment she is on the process of designing the products and conducting market research for the product.

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The humble plantain tree as an income generator

The Island: 11/05/2007" by Apeksha Senadheera

The plantain or banana is a fruit that can be cultivated in any part of the country. It is also the most consumed fruit by Sri Lankans. It commands respect in the marketplace.
Not only the fruit, but the peel of the plantain tree, flower and core of the stem are used to make edible dishes.

The plantain tree is in itself a mine of medicinal properties. Each part of the tree, such as the leaves, inflourescence and the core of the stem, is enriched with medicinal powers. In our country, we use the leaves of the plantain tree for wrapping food as an alternative to lunch packing paper. And we have a belief that hot meals eaten off a plaintain leaf adds to the flavour of the food. Moreover, it is said that it is good for our eyesight and enhances physical beauty.
When the core of the stem is used as curry (dish),the fibrous part of the stem is removed. This fibrous part was considered superfluous. However, the National Crafts Council (NCC), for the first time in Sri Lanka, has deemed the fibrous part of the plantain stem as an income generating source.

A special project has been initiated by the NCC to educate plantain tree farmers on how to eliminate the fibres from the stem and make elegant handicrafts from it. These fibres could be used in the preparation of handbags, mats, rugs, carpets and eye-catching ornaments.

Initially, the NCC chose Embilipitiya to kick off with the project. NCC sources said that plantain tree farmers were able to earn an additional income of Rs.5000 from one plantain tree through merely using its fibres productively in the making of handicrafts.

The NCC intends to spread the project to the other districts as well in time to come. "This kind of initiatives are vital to expand and uplift the handicraft industry of the country. On the one hand, we are converting discarded plaintain fibre into an income generating source.

"On the other hand, it opens up a number of self-employment opportunities for rural housewives," said NCC sources.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2007: “Enhancing Competitiveness Through Productivity”

Daily Mirror: 10/05/2007"

Chaired by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, The Presidential Secretariat and Co-Chaired by Dr. Kamal Weeraperuma, Director-Operations, Haycarb Limited, Session 4 of Economic Summit 2007 will tackle the timely topic of “Enhancing Competitiveness Through Productivity”.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), in partnership with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI), is organizing the Sri Lanka Economic Summit (themed this time as “Spreading the wings of Development”), for the second year in succession.

Although National Competitiveness is hard to define, it is understood as a Nation’s ability to compete in the international market, while at the same time providing a rising standard of living for its people. Policy makers of a country have a significant impact on National Competitiveness, and it is for this reason that comparative studies of competitiveness levels of countries, such as the Global Competitiveness Report have tremendous value. Our relative strengths and weaknesses are highlighted and could be used for remedial policy formulation. The newly formed Economic Development Council could be the initiator of a policy and strategic plan based on the findings of this reportA National Productivity Policy and a National Quality Policy are already in place. Therefore, this session will cover the political will and the policy frame work being provided by the Government and discuss the areas which need further inputs to ensure a high level of national competitiveness through higher Growth Competitiveness and higher Micro Competitiveness. The business community would be able to gain an awareness on the initiatives already in place and how they could benefit from them and also generate further discussion on what else need to be done as suggestions towards the formulation of national strategies.

Competitiveness can be evaluated at two levels; the Macroeconomic or growth competitiveness and the Microeconomic competitiveness. The latter is more dependant on the industry environment and the ability of the enterprise itself. Therefore any action plan has to essentially tackle both levels as they interdependent. Sri Lankan enterprises have already embarked on many programmes to improve its Microeconomic Competitiveness but much more is required at both levels.

One of the simplest methods of measuring the results of competitiveness is the per capita GDP of a country, and this also reflects the standard of living of a country. Sri Lanka could learn from the experiences of some countries such as Japan which was well below USA in terms of per capita GDP several decades ago and is now closer to that of USA. Japan has “leap-frogged” through a combination of policy measures and the promotion of higher productivity and high quality as a national exercise. Although individual enterprises in a competitive environment would be naturally interested in optimum levels of productivity, a national programme such as the programmes in Singapore and Malaysia are interesting case studies of State Sector led productivity movements which have made a considerable impact in those countries.

Topics brought forward in the Session on “Enhancing Competitiveness Through Productivity” would be “Leveraging on Productivity for the Decade Ahead” (Mr. Sunil G. Wijesinghe, Chairman/ Managing Director-Dankotuwa Porcelain Ltd), “Improving Public Sector Efficiency” (Mr. Upali Marasinghe, Director-National Productivity Secretariat), “Education & Skills Development: adapting to the future” (Dr. T.A. Piyasiri, Director General-Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission) and “Succeeding in a Dynamic World” (Mr. Franklyn Amerasinghe, Director-Emsolve Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, followed by a Q & A session.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Back To Life After The Tsunami

Sky News: 09/05/2007"

When huge waves surged up the coasts of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand on Boxing Day 2004 the devastation of the Tsunami brought forth a surge of generosity the likes of which the world has rarely seen.

In a matter of months the coffers of the Tsunami Appeal had swelled to around £2bn, writes Sky's Ross Appleyard.

Two-and-a-half years later, estimates show less than half of that money has been spent on the ground.

Bureaucracy among the major charities and governments of the countries affected appears to be interfering with the job of rebuilding houses and schools and caring for the thousands of children orphaned by the disaster.

One small charity based in Dublin is known for its efficiency on the ground and has an outspoken founder who has an interesting idea to put to the world community.

John O'Shea, of GOAL, believes there should be an organisation run by the international community to co-ordinate all the charities in the event of an international disaster.
He invited me to Sri Lanka to see what GOAL has achieved in the remote Ampara region of the country.

As we descended in our small seaplane towards the coast the scars of the Tsunami were still evident.

Along the shore, houses, factories and schools lay in rubble. As I walked up the beach I asked our guide what all the small sticks in the sand were for. "That's where we buried the victims," he said.

Because of the Muslim tradition of burying the dead before sunset local people were overwhelmed with the task as Boxing Day grew to a close.

Huge mass graves were organised once the sea subsided and the bodies were simply covered over with sand.

There is still a great sadness about the people of Sri Lanka but there is also optimism.
GOAL has a policy of building better than before and their schools programme has been a huge success with 65 state of the art schools refurbished to accommodate 38,000 pupils.

Roads and bridges have been replaced and the infrastructure to support this small fishing community has been put back in place.

In all GOAL has spent around £14m - a tiny percentage of what was raised overall.
The charity has given hope to thousands of children and the economy of Ampara is now heading in the right direction.

If small charities can accomplish all this in such a short space of time the question has to be asked: "Is O'Shea right? Is it time for an internationally co-ordinated response that could help people more efficiently and quicker the next time a Tsunami-like disaster strikes?"
:: GOAL UK urgently needs doctors, nurses, nutritionists, engineers, accountants, project managers, logisticians and anyone with overseas development experience.

The charity is holding two information evenings in London on May 18 and June 20.
For more information contact Laura Byrne on lbyrne@goal-uk.org or 0207 631 3196. www.goal-uk.org.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Switch to organic crops could help poor

The Island: 08/05/2007"

Organic food has long been considered a niche market, a luxury for wealthy consumers. But researchers told a U. N. Conference Saturday that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger, while improving the environment.

Crop yields initially can drop as much as 50 percent when industrialized, conventional agriculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is converted to organic. While such decreases often even out over time, the figures have kept the organic movement largely on the sidelines of discussions about feeding the hungry.

Researchers in Denmark found, however, that food security for sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if 50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020.

While total food production would fall, the amount per crop would be much smaller than previously assumed, and the resulting rise in world food prices could be mitigated by improvements in the land and other benefits, the study found.

A similar conversion to organic farming in sub-Saharan Africa could help the region’s hungry because it could reduce their need to import food, Niels Halberg, a senior scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and Farming, told the U.N. conference on "Organic Agriculture and Food Security."

Farmers who go back to traditional agricultural methods would not have to spend money on expensive chemicals and would grow more diverse and sustainable crops, the report said. In addition, if their food is certified as organic, farmers could export any surpluses at premium prices.

The researchers plugged in data on projected crop yields and commodity prices until 2020 to create models for the most optimistic and conservative outlooks.

Alexander Mueller, assistant director-general of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, praised the report and noted that projections indicate the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa was expected to grow.

Considering that the effects of climate change are expected to hurt the world’s poorest, "a shift to organic agriculture could be beneficial," he said.

Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, an FAO official who organized the conference, pointed to other studies she said indicated that organic agriculture could produce enough food per capita to feed the world’s current population.

One such study, by the University of Michigan, found that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day, just under the world’s current production of 2,786, and as many as 4,381 kilocalories per person per day, researchers reported. A kilocalorie is one "large" calorie and is known as the "nutritionist’s calorie."

"These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts," Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference.

However, she stressed that the studies were only economic models.

The United Nations defines organic agriculture as a "holistic" food system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, minimizes pollution and optimizes the health of plants, animals and people.

It is commercially practised in 120 countries and represented a $40 billion market last year, Scialabba said.

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Phone-sharing connects the hinterland

The Island: 08/05/2007" by Steve A. Morrell

A Nokia innovation that could solve rural communication glitches

In rural communities throughout emerging markets, phone- sharing could become a way of life. One member who owns a mobile and subscribes to the network service could share the facility. Others in the community can take turns using the phone. Nokia has developed easy-to-manage solutions such as cost-and time-tracking to provide the phone’s owner with a way to control usage. Some of Nokia’s mobile phones have the capacity for multiple phonebooks.

In urban centres in emerging markets, phone sharing becomes even more entrepreneurial. Enterprising local business owners have developed mobile phone booths including bicycles with phones mounted on them, which can follow the urban flow of people to wherever they need to make calls.

Given the chance, most people would like to own a mobile phone. However, in many emerging markets, lower income consumers face financial barriers that make it impossible to own a mobile phone. There is a way to increase opportunities for connectivity for these important entry-level consumers which is phone-sharing.

Phone-sharing can take various forms from unofficial sharing between friends, roommates or family members to small businesses that allow consumers to make calls or send text messages for a minimal fee. This enables the lower-income consumer a chance to connect with family and friends without the burden of paying for a device or being committed to a network service.
Whether it is a remote village or fast-paced urban centre, phone-sharing is making it possible for more people to stay connected. Business or pleasure and, above all, the latitude of connectivity is perhaps limitless, said, Director, Solutions Development, Nokia Siemens Networks Rauno Granath. He made these observations at the Nokia Convention titled ‘Every one has a reason’ last week in New Delhi.

Phone-sharing also offers the opportunity for entrepreneurship in many rural areas in emerging markets. Access to connectivity is available through Village Phones, mkrofinanced small businesses. The Village Phone kiosk also often serves as a meeting point in the village where people gather and communicate.

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