September 17, 2014, 12:00 pm
By Steve A. Morrell
At the head table, Secretary Ministry Plantation Industries Dr. Ms. Damith De Zoysa, Secretary General PA Malin Goonetileke, Dr P.B. Jayasundera, Deputy chairman PA Sunil Poholiyadda. -
Pic by. Ranjith.
‘The plantations of Sri Lanka should get back to their prestigious position when their contribution to the economy was 90 % of the country’s exports. Currently their performance was less than 5 % GDP, Secretary, Minstry of Finance and Planning and Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera said. He was addressing the 160th annual general meeting of the Planters’ Association of Sri Lanka as chief guest at the Galadari recently.
‘There are other plantation crops that have emerged. Papaya, pineapple, mangoe, dragon fruit, strawberry were all export oriented products which cater to foreign markets.
Similarly, tea as a prime export product should regain its prime position and it was time the tea industry emerged to its pristine position.
‘your tea should be selling at $ 50 per kilo and not $5. Tea no longer enjoys its economic prestige as it did in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Jayasundera said.
‘How did your industry lose out?’He said there has to be a complete break from the past. ‘At the time you refer to, your prime markets were some European Countries; but now markets have shifted; take China, India, they are the economic leaders you should look to. Each of those countries have populations in excess of one billion people.
Continuing, Dr Jayasundera said there were other industries, ahead of the plantations, which contributed substantially to the economy. He made pointed reference to the garments industry and the prestigious brand and legend ‘Made in Sri Lanka’. Garment exports, including Intimates, have now reached substantive reputation for high standards and compete with acknowledged leaders. The ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ legend is strong internationally for garments exports.
IT, too, had gained export recognition. Their target for 2020 was a growth level of about 750 million dollars.
‘The plantations should have a clear vision of focus and inevitable challenges that loom ahead could be overcome.
‘Economic vision for Sri Lanka was $ . 7000 per capita income by 2020. But that was only a "transit step" for further economic progress. Ultimate aim was $ 40,000 per capita by 2040. Singapore was currently at $ 50,000 per capita, Jayasundera said.
‘There must be a complete break from the past. Move up in the value chain and achieve your goals.’ Jayasundera, urged.
‘Before estates were re-privatized in 1992, the Treasury had to bridge plantation losses incurred at that time of about Rs. 400 million each month. ‘Had the state continued to run the plantation sector concurrent losses would have now amassed to a staggering loss of about Rs. 100 billion, said Chairman, Planters’ Association of Sri Lanka Roshan Rajadurai in his address.
Rajadurai traced the history of the plantations and the PA, and reverted to the glory days of the industry and its contribution to the economy at around 37 % GDP in the 1950s.
‘The estate sector was in debt under state management and had to depend on the Treasury for its existence. Four hundred and forty nine estates were handed over to 23 Regional Plantation Companies.
Rajadurai said that Until then the government incurred an operational loss of about 1.5 billion rupees each year, maintaining the plantation sector.
He also referred to improved quality of life currently enjoyed by workers in the plantations. That too after 22 years of private management.
‘There are estates currently managed by the Janatha Estates Development Board, and The State Plantations Corporation, ( state agencies), who do not have funds to pay workers’ statutory dues. In effect, they work contrary to existing labour laws, Rajadurai added.
‘The Plantation sector provides direct livelihoods to about 1.1 million people; all of them resident on these plantations.