Advancing the country’s economy by transitioning from traditional plantation industries to new agricultural businesses

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe outlined his commitment to propel the nation’s economic progress by spearheading a shift from the traditional plantation Industries to a burgeoning agricultural enterprise. He emphasized the imminent removal of bureaucratic barriers through new legislation and the implementation of advanced managerial practices in the plantation sector.

Addressing the inauguration of the Athurugiriya National Institute of Plantation Management’s new academic and administrative complex (14), President Wickremesinghe highlighted the institute’s pivotal role in equipping graduates with contemporary skills essential for the plantation Industries’s modernization. The facility, boasting research laboratories, lecture halls, computer labs, and career counselling centres, will also feature a centre harnessing AI and GIS technologies.

The construction of this state-of-the-art facility, amounting to Rs. 750 million, signifies a substantial investment in the nation’s agricultural education infrastructure. President Wickremesinghe, during the unveiling ceremony and subsequent opening, commemorated the occasion by leaving a personalized note in the guest book.

Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera recognized the President’s pivotal role in the event, presenting him with a token of appreciation. President Wickremesinghe further underscored the imperative of agricultural development in alleviating rural poverty, envisioning a regional agricultural landscape capable of catering to the burgeoning middle class in neighbouring nations.

Highlighting recent governmental initiatives, President Wickremesinghe noted the Cabinet’s approval yesterday (13) of draft legislation aimed at transitioning the nation’s economy into a robust export-oriented paradigm.

Expressing his views further President Ranil Wickremesinghe further said;

“Since 1978, there has been a pressing need for a dedicated training institute catering to the plantation Industries. On that auspicious day, M.D.H. Jayawardena, hailing from this very seat, generously allocated the requisite land for this purpose. Back then, this region was far from urbanized. Fast forward to 2016, under the stewardship of Mr. Navin Dissanayake, serving as the Minister of Plantation Industries, a cabinet proposal was tabled to establish this institution, marking the commencement of its construction. Subsequent plantation ministers further championed this initiative.

It’s worth noting that amidst the institution’s development, the decision to relocate one of its campuses to the heart of the plantation zone was both timely and imperative. Establishing a campus in districts renowned for cultivating key crops like Kandy and Matale is of paramount importance. I recall how colleagues employed in this sector had to trek to Nuwara Eliya for training. Such initiatives ought to be expanded to propel our agricultural modernization agenda forward. Today, as we witness the resurgence of the nation’s economy, agriculture stands as its cornerstone.

Upon assuming leadership, the country faced a stark reality of minimal agricultural output, compounded by a downturn in the European economy, thereby curtailing export opportunities for our garment Industries. Consequently, our initial focus was on revitalizing paddy cultivation. The success witnessed during the Yala seasons of 2022 and 2023, followed by the Maha season of 2023, paved the way for sustained progress. It’s undeniable that agriculture played a pivotal role in stabilizing the country’s economy.

Presently, negotiations are underway with our creditors, both governmental and private. As we navigate through these discussions and prepare to address the economic challenges ahead, the imperative of transitioning towards an export-oriented economy becomes ever more apparent. The recent cabinet approval of draft legislation aimed at fostering an export-driven economy marks a significant step forward.

Historically, agriculture in our land has been synonymous with export. From the cultivation of cereals during the Sinhalese kingdom to the production of spices in the wet zone, and the subsequent cultivation of tea, coconut, and rubber during colonial times, our agricultural heritage has been rich. However, post-independence, progress stagnated. Under the visionary leadership of D.S. Senanayake, we merely achieved self-sufficiency in rice.

Presently, our focus lies in the modernization of agriculture and the establishment of a robust export-oriented agricultural Industries. Historically, tea, rubber, and coconut have been the cornerstone of our export crops. However, following the exodus of colonial powers, they replicated our plantations in Kenya for tea production, posing formidable competition. Similarly, the cultivation of rubber in Vietnam presents additional challenges, necessitating a transformation within the plantation sector to effectively compete in the global market.

What our nation requires now is not merely traditional plantations, but a shift towards agribusiness. Converting our estates into modern agribusiness entities and enhancing production are imperative. It’s essential to focus on the development of tea and rubber cultivation and secure markets for these products. The tea Industries has already witnessed diversification, with numerous companies flourishing in this sector.

Furthermore, revitalizing traditional crop cultivation, including cocoa, cinnamon, and other spices, is essential. Embracing new crops is equally crucial. This entails the introduction of advanced technical management practices and the inclusion of small plantation owners in modernization efforts to bolster production.
The eradication of rural poverty hinges upon agricultural development. To this end, we have devised plans to leverage existing crops and land while cultivating 500,000 acres of new land. Achieving this vision necessitates the adoption of modern agricultural practices and the promotion of agribusiness. Agriculture must emerge as a leading export sector in our nation’s economy.

As the population of neighbouring countries is projected to soar in the coming years, it’s imperative to prepare for the escalating demand for food. Positioning ourselves as key suppliers in this burgeoning market requires a departure from traditional plantation models towards innovative agricultural enterprises. I am committed to fostering collaboration among relevant institutions through legislative reforms, fostering an environment conducive to collective action.”

Minister of Agriculture and Plantation Industries Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera;

“This institute holds significant value for young individuals interested in the plantation sector in Sri Lanka. It provides an enriching educational environment conducive to high-quality learning, with the capacity to offer degrees tailored to the nation’s needs.
Plans are underway to elevate this institute into a full-fledged university, expanding educational opportunities within the plantation Industries. Consultations with the University Grants Commission are ongoing to facilitate this transition, with the goal of equipping the institution with all the essential facilities expected of a university.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed leadership during a challenging period for the country. Amidst political turmoil, he steered the nation forward, ensuring continuity and stability. Initiatives were undertaken to support farmers, including the provision of fertilizer and securing essential fuel supplies, enabling a successful rice harvest in recent seasons. Additionally, efforts to revitalize tea cultivation are yielding positive results, with the potential for record production this year barring any adverse weather conditions.

Today, we observe a gradual stabilization of the country’s economy, a testament to the President’s dedication and leadership. Should the program remain unhindered, there is a strong assurance that within the next few years, an enduring economy will be established in this country, resilient to future setbacks.”

Governor of Sabaragamuwa Province Hon. Navin Dissanayake;

“During my tenure as Minister of Plantation Industries, I proposed a cabinet paper for the establishment of this institution. Upon assuming office, tea was priced at Rs. 270 per kilo, yet through concerted efforts, we swiftly raised its value to Rs. 600 per kilo. The strategies I initiated during my tenure were subsequently continued by succeeding Ministers of Plantation Industries.

In our endeavour to bolster the nation’s economy, it’s imperative to consider the role of small tea plantation owners. Enhancing trade is essential for the growth of the tea Industries, with the aspiration for our nation’s tea brand to command a prominent position in the global market. This institution is expected to make significant contributions toward achieving this goal.”

The event was attended by Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, State Ministers D. B. Herath and Kader Mastan, as well as other dignitaries including the President’s Senior Adviser on National Security and Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, and President of the National Institute of Plantation Management Pushpika Samarakoon.