Tuesday, October 30, 2007

land of the thousand lakes

I have noted earlier that I chose to live in the land of the thousand lakes, namely the Polonnaruwa District and here are a few of the lakes I saw on my early morning drive on October 26th.It is just breathtakingly beautiful and I recommend that time when kids go to school and dawn breaks and morning hues abound

school run

I took the pic above after I had transported a pick up full of school children from various places on the road to their school near the Dimbulagala Temple at 6.30 am on Friday October 26th a lovely time for a drive.I left home when all my staff were still asleep.

Some kids have to walk a long way to the bus halt to take the school bus, through footpaths across rice paddies.There are many farming communities in this newly opened zone where landless peasants were given farmland as part of the Mahaweli scheme.

Actually the facts are not what they seem.Many people got state land from political patronage and hence do not work the land or do they in some cases know exactly where there land is as they live as far away as Kandy.They have given the land to landless farmers who have built shacks in the fields and work the land for a rent paid in the form of paddy to the owner. The owner therefore gets a free rent for doing nothing out of land he got free from the government while the landless peasant farms this for his income. That is the reality. Some of these kids are here. Some leave home without breakfast and are provided some hot meal at school.

Hundreds of thousands of acres have been opened up but there are vast swathes of uncultivated land that just had its timber plundered and land left fallow.All part of the bureaucracy that is the Mahaweli scheme. Of course there are many positive examples too mainly those of very hard working farmers who have diligently and intelligently cultivated and profited while there are as many whose dreams have been shattered by a combination of bad luck bad weather or alcohol dependency.

Monday, October 29, 2007

peace bridge

The Japanese funded peace bridge was formally opened on Poya day thursday the 25th of October in Manampitiya crossing the Mahaweli. Previously the road and rail bridge was shared for the past 80 plus years. I was most disappointed in the bridge which I drove over on friday 26th and 6 am. It is only two lanes both ways and the road that is being constructed is a 4 lane highway all the way to Batticaloa.I am appalled that 1,500 Million rupees was spent on this.Even if the span was 300 feet the coverage over the river is 200 and I am sure a four lane bridge would not have cost more. I am sure someone or many ones had a hand in their pockets on this one. It is a crying shame.

The other scene I was privy to was the whole sale slaughter of the Mahaweli for its sand just a few hundred yards away from the bridge. Truck loads of sand being carried away to the building sites in Colombo and a cut or the contract being in the palm of an influential politician in the land. The environmentalists probably have no access to see the extent of the damage and so there is no comment on that.

The third observation is that there are 100 lorry loads or more of sand being trucked at great expense to Colombo when the railway line is almost at the same point the lorries are being loaded. It is easier to load the rail cars and take the sand that way with much less energy cost and more money to the government and not the hands of the businessmen who use millions of litres of fuel in hauling at greater environmental cost. Why is something so basic not even being talked of in this country with supposedly intelligent people!!!! Does it fall to a farmer to see through this?

Monday, October 22, 2007

going forwards in reverse

I was just the other day presented with a book of writings by a man who is advocating going back into organic cultivation and undoing what we have done in terms of not using chemical anything be it fertilizer, pesticides or weedicides. I was contacted today by a nutritionist who has a phd and who did her thesis on Milk production and consumption and she said how harmful the milk powder touted by all is. Now that we have a milk powder shortage, we need to extol the virtues of drinking whole milk and more to the point give positive encouragement to milk production. I am a milk producer who only drinks milk from my cows and not condensed or milk powder. However I am losing money in this venture due to a whole host of reasons not least being the Rs 20 a liter I get from the Milco company. I am now trying my best to get my neighbours to buy my milk at Rs a bottle which will help me a long way in reducing the loss. I also have to get some good milking cows and do away with the pin gonas that people dump on me which I have to feed at vast expense for no reward.

In this same vein I saw an interesting sight in Kithulgala yesterday, where buffaloes were ploughing the fields. I have to share those photos here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

living at the edge of reason

The photo is a view from my new kitchen into the river in front where the fair damsels bathe in the 'diyaredda' at all meal times!!!

Yesterday was an interesting day in that when I left Hingurakgoda, I gave Sudath the last of the money I had, Rs 2800/- for his expenses on various things he was asked to do till my next visit on Wednesday night.That was the balance of all the money I had in the world!!! I had no money in the bank other than a minimum of 1000/ for bank charges and no money on me when I drove at night alone from Polonnaruwa to Godagama.I estimated that I would have just enough diesel to get me home and believe it or not the red low fuel light started flashing about two kilometers from destination!

About an hour from destination when my sister called me and asked if I would be able to make it to a stag night of a family member in Colombo, she was totally unable to accept when I said I did not have the money for the diesel to come to Colombo.

So today I put diesel on a 24 hour credit I was given in Godagama, and came into Colombo to sell my King Coconuts. Amila my driver who was ill all week, came this morning, maybe it was pay day for him so he decided to come in the morning and take the King Coconuts with me to Colombo.Once I sold my produce, set aside the money for the diesel and paid Amila the balance of his month's salary due to him, I did not have enough to buy a Barbara Sansoni sarong I was hoping to wear for a wedding reception tomorrow. The price of the sarongs today were 900 more than they were last I went to there and so I was that much short!! So I guess just pants(another word for trousers) would do!! I have to be thankful that it did not rain today(it has rained all week and I was left with 170 unsold King Coconuts on Monday), as otherwise I may not have been able to sell as many King Coconuts for the immediate debts.

I am due some money from a person I have helped through a crisis but does he realize that by helping him I have actually put myself through a lot of stress in the meantime!! The short answer is no as most people think I am still funded from up above and they mean invisible sources of gold and I mean just the goodwill of the Almighty. This has been the story of the past three years and somehow I have been able to pull this life off in many ways better than those with the largest bank accounts imaginable. So why be sorry!!!

Somehow I have been able to sell today to pay tomorrows debts. I still have not paid my last two months mobile bills, and when my phone is cut off at any moment now the truth will bite! After all I call friends more than they call me and they are all who can afford more than me to call!!! So what does that tell you about my friends! Hey any of my friends reading this don't take it personally, just you are all lumped in!!

I noted earlier that I have to work 7 days a week, and unlike most people I have to earn as well so I have to work in the shop tomorrow morning to sell my produce before going to a family wedding in Colombo in the afternoon. After all most will recall, I had to first sell my produce in the morning in Colombo,before going to my mother's funeral later in the day.That's how serious life is.My staff on the other hand will go to a funeral of an unknown relative rather than work and I still have to pay them.

interesting observation

My business is not merely that of growing, and selling, but also in some cases of buying from other farmers and selling to my customers. I find it more meaningful and rewarding to buy direct from home gardens; namely fruit from the village and selling in my kade or on my home delivery. I do have some more well healed customers who live in Colombo and who have property and sell some of their produce. However the price they are asking for their produce hardly allows me to make a profit and is priced higher than either what my customers in the kade or even my well healed Colombo customers are prepared to pay.

I sometimes pay these prices and offer my customers at prices where I do not make a profit, just so that I have a choice of product and like to have something different occasionally. I make more money selling forest bees honey a product very hard to find than any of these products, because I can buy in bulk when the annual harvest is done and sell throughout the year, with only a holding cost of funds tied up.

For example I purchased nice good large and sweet pineapple from the farm gate at Rs 100/- but I can hardly sell this to make a profit taking into account the 10% wastage. Even the fruit stall I sell my King Coconuts was selling retail in Colombo for 110/- and they don't pay any more than 80/- to purchase this at the shop from the delivery van. Similarly I was offered 1000 Oranges at 15/- when I sell my jungle oranges at 8/- To make any profit I need to sell at between 20 and 25 and this is not easy to achieve unless I was selling at the Kollupitiya market!!

This is therefore a point worth considering when doing transactions with those whole income does not comprise just farm produce. They value their produce at more than is realistic. I guess I do too and that is why I sell direct to customer instead of to the wholesale trade!!! It is just that I am more realistic in what I can get from wholesale than these gentlemen. I am sure they can find a niche market to sell at those prices, but I am afraid I am not the niche!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

life is no party

Photo taken on the way to Polonnaruwa from Anuradhapura before it started pouring buckets

My friends are often under the assumption that I am living a retired life of a country squire. While I say I am living the life of a village peasant. The reality is different to both those perceptions.
Today is Saturday, I will briefly show what I have been up to in the past week.Last Saturday after leaving Galdola Farm with 650 king coconuts, at 7.30 am for Colombo, after selling the lot, I spent a few hours at my sister's blogging, then went back to the farm, closed the farm shop for the day, and went with my father to Paradise Farm in Kitulgala in time for dinner, and meeting after dinner on the plan to manufacture the required 25,000 kg organic fertilizer per month at the farm which is a totally organic farm of 75 acres.
Sunday was spent first visiting a section of the farm I had not visited before, and then discussing the monthly budget of the farm and how to turn the farm into a break even position as quickly as possible after the mismanagement by the last manager who has now been dispensed with. After returning to my farm I had to go to the Meegoda Economic zone at 8 pm to get supplies for my farm shop for the week.
Monday morning was a matter of loading up with produce to deliver to homes and businesses in Colombo. The Tata cab had a flat tire fully loaded and we spent an hour changing the tyre as we do not have a pneumatic jack.The delivery process was delayed accordingly, getting back home at 8pm.
Tuesday I had to be at a meeting in Thalawatugoda at 9am and went to see a canning factory in Gampaha with a view to processing papaya pulp for export. Then back to meetings at Thalawatugoda, on how to improve the running of the farm and dealing with the soon to be fired manager.
Wednesday was a 5am start to Anuradhapura to inspect properties with a view to buy or rent for the factory to process papaya pulp a project I have been engaged to look into as a prospective venture as the export market is available.I saw about 12 properties and then at 5 went to a tank for to bathe before leaving in the lashing rain to my agricultural project in Hingurakgoda in Polonnaruwa.
Thursday was spent collecting produce both from my property and also from my neighbors. I packed two varieties of rice, coconuts from my trees, karavila (bitter gourd) and cucumber and corn on the cob from my field.Kekiri, Murunga(drumsticks),Woodapple,and Pumpkin from neighbors. By the time I left for the Godagama farm it was 4pm arriving at 10 pm.
Friday another day of selling 700 king coconuts, I still have 25 unsold and now I am blogging before going back to Shop duty and taking care of the shop all day tomorrow
That's my week.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

corn on the cob

Last evening I plucked 300 corn from my field and brought back to Godagama, for sale. I brought the rest of the plant also, for my cows and food before it dries up. So now I am struggling to sell this corn as there are so many reasons for people to complain why they cannot boil it because the gas cost has gone up. On the way side and in villages the corn is boiled using locally gathered firewood, but in Colombo and suburbia that is not possible, so the gas cooker is the only option, and cost of boiling the corn exceeds the cost of the corn. So bear this reality in Sri Lanka, the high cost of energy, be it electricity or gas for cooking.

So I will now have to boil the corn in my shop on the farm and sell to those who want to instantly eat them. I will have a supply of corn for the next month as I have planted them in stages. I also have a cost of energy in using pumped water to irrigate the corn fields. My breakfast plate above is fresh corn plucked and boiled in the open firewood fire in Hingurakgoda on this trip.

realities of life and expectations

I have been at every stage had trouble blogging. I only get a chance to do so when I go to my sister's house in Colombo once a week and invariably there is come reason I cannot get on line. The most recent being that the keyboard was broken. Incredibly the reason is always different!!!!

I have finally after more than two weeks been able to get on line.I spend a lot of time trying to get an agricultural operation viable in the Polonnaruwa district. I have two lads, who live there, who I provide all their living comforts and pay a daily wage which they can bank(they never can due to all manner of reasons)

The elder Sudath and his nephew Gamini live there. Sudath is 34, with a wife in Saudi and a daughter and son with his mother in law. On September 28th his only brother a few years older and not yet forty, and unmarried, committed suicide using a common pesticide called curator that farmers use for all manner of bug infestations.

The following day was the funeral in the village where his mother lives and as funerals are expensive events, they look to me to help with funds, even though there is a promise to repay from future earnings. Not only that, one is also expected to come for the funeral, as non arrival is also a slight on the person.As the deceased is a close relation of both my staff, I had to leave Amila in charge of the property with specific instructions to chase the parrots away from eating the corn, which I was expecting to harvest the following day to take to market in Godagama and Colombo. In true village style there were 10 who wanted to go to the funeral, 185 KM away from Hingurakgoda, Polonnaruwa property.They are all friends of Sudath. So we all piled in, with me having to drive as Amila had to take care of the place, and I don't know how they managed the hot sun on their backs for the 5 hour journey as I only have a open back, pick up truck into which I put some mats and a mattress. The two oldest gentlemen sat in front with me and all the others piled in the back.

We only arrived just as the coffin was being closed in the house, and taken outside for the Buddhist priest to invoke his blessings etc. Each village has different customs on procedure.The coffin was carried by the males all the way to the cemetery 2km away by the males, with female members staying home.

Once buried as is custom, ( we all piled into the grave diggers van to come back to the house as another 2km walk was out of the question!!!) the 4 grave diggers have placed in their path at the home entrance, food (mala bath) which they are meant reject and throw way, and then break the pot in which it is cooked shown in one of the photos. The top most photo shows all but two of the crowd who went from here, at the grave site.

Needless to say I had to accommodate the insatiable appetite of these people for alcohol, about 4 bars on the way back. They were blind drunk when they got home at 11pm and I was exhausted having to be aware of the risk of these guys at the back in the pick up in various states of inebriation.

To put it in the best light I just have to shrug and say "it is all down to experience of life amongst the majority in the land."

Friday, October 5, 2007

keeping mossies and bugs away in the village

I live most of the time in a small agricultural plot in Hingurakigoda, where I do not have electricity or running water. We live out in the open with only a roof for cover and the breeze through in the verandah does the work better than an electric fan. However there are mosquitos that have to be dealt with and we sleep under mosquito nets, if we are to get a good night's sleep. Before bed however, one method of keeping them away is to light one or two mosquito coils, and or rub oneself with citronella oil and make sure one either has a sarong and have hands covered to reduce bites.

Instead of all of the above, what we now do is to use the plentiful supply of Margosa (Kohomba) leaves to burn in a pot, and the resulting smoke keeps the mosquito and other night flying insects away.

The photos show Amila in the process of lighting it and the other the lit pot in the verandah where we live. It has now become a daily routine at dusk.The awful smell of mosquito coils is no longer an issue using this natural remedy.