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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. 

Sunday, January 20, 2008

CIC transforming agriculture to a profitable venture

Sunday Times: 20/01/2008" By Bandula Sirimanna

The CIC (Chemical Industries –Colombo- Ltd) group has launched a far sighted initiative to transform agriculture into a profitable venture creating awareness on modern agriculture methods leading to high productivity.

The company has invested one billion rupees for the financial year 2007/ 2008 to implement a massive agriculture production programme, according to CIC Chairman B.R.L. Fernando.

In an interview with The Sunday Times FT, he said the company is the only private sector organisation engaged in the production of a wide range of agricultural produce, livestock produce and marketing of agricultural inputs like fertilizer, agrochemicals, green houses, and micro irrigation systems. He said there is nothing that should be discarded or destroyed in a farm where anything can be used to enrich the fertility of the soil.

The traditional Sri Lankan farmers adopted such methods and reaped bumper harvests.

The latest Israeli irrigation technology introduced by the company is proving to be of great benefit to the Sri Lankan farmer and is being widely accepted for cultivation of Horticultural Crops, Cash Crops, Ornamental crops and vegetables, he said. CIC Agri Businesses, a member of the CIC Group, will export new varieties of rice to France and Australia under the CIC brand, he said. Fernando revealed that CIC has four rice varieties for the export market and has already introduced new red rice ‘Basmathi’ and a new coloured rice variety to the international and local markets. These two rice varieties were specially targeted at upmarket clients and there is a good demand for these types of rice varieties overseas, he said.

Currently Sri Lanka imports around 200.000 metric tons of high quality premium rice. “By cultivating the crop CIC hopes to reduce the quantity imported by around 10 per cent. Farmers will benefit from the project as they will be able to increase their income. They will be provided technical assistance and will be supported throughout the programme,” he said. Fernando added that “although there is a demand for high quality premium rice in Sri Lanka the country is not in a position to produce such rice due to the poor quality of rice mills.” It is to this niche area that CIC Agri Businesses has entered with an investment of over Rs. 110 million and the installation of an innovative rice processing facility at Maho following a tie up with Satake of Japan, rated as the world’s leading producer of rice milling equipment, Fernando said. The mill will provide 50 direct job opportunities and expects to commence commercial operations shortly. Nearly 2,000 out growers will supply paddy for this mill. The company will purchase paddy through a forward purchase agreement with these farmers.

Following comprehensive research and a development programme carried out in its farm, the company has developed over 10 rice types. Many traditional varieties such as Kalu Heenati, Elvee and Suwadel with attributed medicinal values have been identified and developed with improved productivity and aimed at international markets.

All these rice types are now marketed under the “Golden Crop” brand. In addition to growing in its three farms the company has acquired the services of over 3,000 farmers in the Mahaweli System B, C & H and have entrusted them with the task of multiplying the rice varieties identified and developed by the company.

Fernando noted that the country could achieve self sufficiency in rice through a well planned programme to improve the quality of seed and the capabilities of local farmers. “In most instances, the size of the land is small, therefore mechanisation is difficult while the younger generation doesn't like to till the land as the returns are small. As a solution to these problems, we are demonstrating techniques used in our farms to improve the agricultural practices in the country. We have also set up a lab in Pelwehera to analyze the soil and as a result we are in a position to recommend the fertiliser depending on the type of soil,” he said.

“CIC Agri Businesses has done well," Fernando said. "We moved up the yield from 55 bushels an acre to 125 bushels at Hingurakgoda. We're now supplying a fair quantity of seed paddy to the market. We want to raise the yield to 175 bushels." An example of the success of the company's technology transfer programme to farmers was the 200 bushels an acre achieved by farmers in Ampara. "So there's no reason why we can't get 175 bushels," Fernando said. "We need to resuscitate the soil - we collect cow dung, husks, and grow glyricidia on our farms to put more green matter into soil as this will increase yield.” Our focus is on soil and water management while streamlining the fertilizer regime," he added. "Till now we put one particular mix into all the soils. We're now looking at specialised blends for different soils," he said.

To improve CIC’s portfolio the company moved to the agricultural sector with the acquisition of the Mahaweli Farm in Thalawa way back in the later 1990's, as well as Hingurakgoda, Pelwehera Mahaweli farms and 50 acres at Dehiattakandiya. At present CIC is the largest seed paddy producer in the country and the market leader in fertilizer imports. The company is also engaged in the animal feed and pesticide businesses.

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