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Transforming Sri Lanka’s farmers to grow healthy food courtesy Cargills

By Quintus Perera


Thambuththegama – Cargills (Ceylon) PLC’s Sarubima programme has transformed the traditional vegetable and fruit farming community in the country with a new farming method tried out among the company’s 5,000 farmers spread across the country.

Rich cucumber harvest.

The approach is multi-pronged intended to change the traditional farmer mindset and to provide the option of following modern farming, increase their overall income and drastically cutting waste. The company’s main aim is to get the farmers to adopt the ‘Good Agricultural Practices’ (GAP), the hallmark that is now practiced all over the world as it is ‘good for the people and for the environment’. This enables GAP products accepted locally and internationally and enables exporting large quantities as the local GAP is followed by international GAP.

Cargills with a spread of supermarkets around the country and a different system of outsourcing their vegetable, fruits, rice, meat, fish and other items has eliminated the middleman by collecting from the farmer direct and selling them to the consumer in their outlets. Earlier the lion’s share of the income went to the middleman. Now these benefits are shared between the farmer and the consumer with a reasonable profit for the company.

Unlike other corporate entities which have separate CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programmes, Cargills’ entire outsourcing has become CSR. Throughout the years they have established a unique relationship with the farmers, by providing them guidance, assistance and educating them on farming and uplifting the education of the farmer children as well as meeting other social needs of the farmers.

In a close relationship with the farmer, Cargills attempts to elevate the living conditions of the farmer by increasing their overall income and that is where Cargills Sarubima Agriculture Modernisation Project has launched. To achieve the purpose, they selected an Indian model, after a team led by Haridas Fernando, Deputy General Manager – Agribusiness, Cargills, visited several countries.

Cargills was satisfied with the model of an Indian company, Jain Irrigation, and several local farmers were taken to India to show the success of this model. Fully convinced, the farmers returned to Sri Lanka and were able to convince their fellow farmers to adopt the new concept.

This model is now adopted in 80 Cargills farms – 35 from Thambuththegama, 35 from Thanamalwila and 10 from Norochcholai. The Sarubima project commenced in January 2019 and has already seen tremendous successes with signs that this new concept could create ‘millionaire farmers’.

Brinjals ready to be packed, labelled with GAP certificate to be taken to the Cargills collection centre.

To profile the success of these farmers’ achievements, Cargills took several journalists to Thambuththegama to meet some of these successful farmers.

The old farms have been completely reorganised. They are ideally one acre farms. The new farm is enclosed with a 3-metre high plastic net fence.

Plants are now not watered by hand, but through a mechanized pump that takes water through drip irrigation. Drains are dug by machines and plant plots are on a plastic mulch, preventing weeds.

Water is pumped through an irrigation well and only for one hour per day; the exact water, chemicals and fertilizer requirement for the plant is through a mechanized system.

The new method saves tremendous cost on labour fertilizer, chemicals and water by around 50 per cent. The water, otherwise obtained from Mahaweli water reservoirs, ensures huge saving of water.

The cost for cultivation of the new plot is around Rs. 500,000. Out of that Rs. 250,000 is awarded from the Cargills Sarubima Fund as an outright grant. The Central Bank has allowed the farmer to obtain the balance Rs. 250,000 as a loan at a nominal 6.7 per cent interest.

The Business Times spoke to meet N.S. Prematilleke in Thambuththegama on his new cultivation plot and revealed the experience he gained in India. His cultivation is 1.5 acres, all planted with brinjal. He said the savings from chemicals, fertilizer and weeding would come to around Rs. 400,000. “Now it is a matter of switching on the machine and water, chemicals and fertilizers drain through the drip for one and a half hour, and the switch is automatically off,” he said.

Earlier, he said 150 bags of fertilizer were applied and now that saving is enormous. “I am now cultivating under the guidelines of ‘GAP’ certificate and use of fertilizer and chemicals is minimal and the cost now is drastically reduced,” he added.

‘Gentleman farmer’ N.S. Karunatilleke sharing his experiences with the media group. Behind him is Haridas Fernando.

Meanwhile, he said under the GAP guidelines these substances are now applied at only tolerable levels, guaranteeing ‘safe-food’ that would have a greater demand nationally and internationally, enabling them to export large quantities. Insecticides are not required as the net repels them.

The net also prevents the other animals like rats, rabbits, porcupines, birds and even peacocks attacking the crop.

Only post-harvest losses are counted that would be in the range of 40 per cents. Out of 1000 kg yield the pre-harvest loss now is 150 kg compared to 400 kg earlier.

“Thanks to the GAP Certificate, I have made a great saving,” he said adding: “I have already recovered my total expenditure of Rs. 500,000 by the already harvested yields and further I can go on for another two years while the infrastructure would sustain for another 10 years.”

Other farmers in the area have similar success stories, vouching that after this cultivation they would continue, without any loans and grants, and having savings.

Mr. Prematilleke appears to be a millionaire now and could be called a ‘gentleman farmer’ commanding respect in the society. With the income of his farm he has already put up his own house spending Rs. 3 million.

Mr. Fernando, while spending time with the journalists, gave details of the project. The main aim, he said is to popularise among consumers the fact that farmers have obtained GAP certification, ensuring ‘safe-food’ for the consumers locally and world over to ensure a healthy nation consuming chemicals-free fruits and vegetable.

Mr. Fernando said that they have already committed Rs. 30 million on the new concept and are willing to provide the balance for the 80 farmers already registered to undertake the cultivation, under new technology farming.

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