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FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » DAILY CHRONICLE™ » Food and Nutrition Security of Sri Lanka, CIC Agri Businesses Passion

Food and Nutrition Security of Sri Lanka, CIC Agri Businesses Passion

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arundathi40


Stock Trader

Dr. Keerthi Kotagama

Not many Sri Lankan companies have been bold enough to take a leap in the agriculture sector and make commercial success of it. CIC Holdings PLC joins the ranks of that illustrious club and has now emerged to account for about five-percent of Sri Lanka's agriculture production.


Dr. Kotagama

Like farming, that rare achievement took a few years of hardwork, research and testing, before the group tasted commercial success.

With 56 strategic business units under its helm, the CIC Agri Businesses unit now leads the group's core business activities ranging from growing seeds, to producing rice, fruits, vegetables to livestock development. Strategically spread across the country, these business units now generate income to tens of thousands of rural farmers, while teaching them latest techniques on seeds, crop management, marketing, packaging and even basic business accounting.

"The agriculture sector still remains a key element in our economy, driven by a large number of farmers in remote parts of our country," said Dr. Keerthi Kotagama, Managing Director/CEO of CIC Agri Businesses.

"Our aim is to improve their knowledge, show them ways to increase their output, so that they can uplift their living standards. Farming, if done correctly, can be done in a dignified manner and be a very profitable business," he said.

Dr. Kotagama, who began his long career with CIC as an agriculture graduate in 1991, has seen the sector growing from an agriculture crop trading company. Since then, CIC has invested millions of rupees into backward integration programmes, making the group one of the most sought-after commercial farmers in the island.

Green thumb
Today, CIC is the only local agriculture company that owns and operates a vast range of agricultural process.

"We do everything today, from seed to shelf by managing every part of the production process," Dr. Kotagama said.

Over the years CIC has carefully built-up an entire gamut of activities from laboratory, nursery, field, crop protection, dairy, poultry, extension and promotions - to produce, value addition, packaging. Along the way, the company has also invested heavily to educate and uplift the living standards to the farming community.

"We are the only agri-company to operate our own farms with a significant land bank," he said.

At the heart of all these ventures lies the group's motto - nurturing life.

The group today works with the largest number of outgrowers -- 20,000 and still counting. It remains the only company to own and operate seed and soil laboratories. Its tissue culture laboratory remains the most advanced facility in Sri Lanka.

Seeds of success
The group's foray into seeds began when Dr. Kotagama joined the company to work with farmers in the field.

Starting off with farmers in the Dambulla area, the company began to grow chilli seeds.

They followed it up with their first farm in Aranaganwila in 1992. Spread over 50-acres, the Aranaganwila farm grows baby corn, sweet corn, cantaloupe melons and many other produce.

The Thalawa farm joined their portfolio in 1993, which was used to produce seed paddy.

Today, CIC's agriculture arm continues to be the leading suppliers of seed paddy and vegetable seeds to the local market. In 2011, the sector produced 265,000 bushels of seed paddy, from their own farms and their expanding outgrower partners.

The vegetable seed business also did well in 2011 and continues to show potential for a healthy future.

The company has also contributed generously to the government's drive for people to grow their own produce and help reduce imports of fresh fruits and vegetables.

At the backend, ties with world's leading seed supplies like Syngenta has helped the group to absorb and transfer technology.

The technical tie-up also helps CIC to market hybrid seed of premium quality.

The group's research division is currently working on a new strain of hybrid corn seed which gives a better quality yield. Another group is working on developing new strains of rice that will be packed with more nutrients and could grow under 90 days.

Rice
Rice remains a key revenue generator in CIC's agro portfolio with exports heading off to Australia, the US, the UK, Germany, France and Canada.

They have made inroads into competitive markets despite stiff competition from neighbouring India.

The group's research division is working on developing new strains of rice that will be packed with more nutrients and could grow under 90 days.

Fruits
With over 150 acres of farmland are under cultivation, CIC grows a premium strain of bananas, which are sold in local and overseas markets. The group's fruit cultivation list includes mangos, papaya, guava, pineapple and local favourites such as Ambul, kolikuttu, soursap.

Dairy
The dairy division has grown leaps and bounds since the group took charge of the government's farm in Hingurakgoda.

Dairy herds are also located in Mutuwella and Siddhapura, with an extensive outgrower network in the north central province and eastern province.

To get into the retail chain, Dr. Kotagama said CIC first started producing yoghurt.

Initially launched in the eastern province, CIC yoghurts are now found on the supermarket shelves across the island. Increasing demand has pushed the group to raise yoghurt production capacity to 45,000 cups per day last year.

Production capacity will increase further when a new milk processing plant comes up in Dambulla next year. Dr. Kotagama said the Agri Businesses also offers technical help to anyone who wants to acquire, set-up and maintain agricultural machinery and equipment.

They also lend their knowledge to advise people on fertilizer application and irrigation equipment.

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