Thursday, April 30, 2009

The farmer faces many hurdles- this takes the cake – every nut must conform

Delivering King Coconuts to shops today, instead of the club!

Amongst the many products I grow and market, my single largest revenue earner as noted before is from the sale of King Coconuts, and my largest individual customer was the Golf Club in Colombo, to which the land in Godagama has been supplying King Coconuts for over 10 years. We have had to make extra efforts to supply them with this twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, averaging 500 a week.

I missed my Monday delivery to them as the man who climbs the tree and cuts them did not turn up despite a search for him all over area on Monday, and was only able to track him on Tuesday. So I had 150 specially cut as early as possible that morning and I personally took it to the club that day, not a short drive away, for a special delivery.

I was told that the Chef had to be called to pass the sizes of the nuts and once he came he said he could only take two bunches as the others were smaller than the mandated sizes. I then learnt that a member of the club had hauled both the chef and the manager in charge of ordering, and given them a talking to, saying the club’s king coconuts were too small as compared with those that appear for sale on the roadside.

I had no option but to tell them that we have made every effort to bring fresh King Coconuts, direct from our property and these were about two hours from plucking, and that I was not willing to cut my king coconuts and select those that adhere to a dimension that is stipulated and then bring only them to the Club. They either take what I have or not take any, as they just cannot pick and chose, much like in a super market, as that is another purchase, where the source cannot be guaranteed, and they are only purchasing on size with no other guarantees. I promptly took all the king coconuts and sold them on the road side within minutes of leaving the club, breathing a sigh of relief that I will no longer be stressed out to ensure the plucker comes twice a week to satisfy this want.

For all the trouble of plucking, where the plucker gets Rs2 for each nut, the transport, labor and my effort I get Rs15 a nut from the Club. I get Rs20 for my home delivery ones, admittedly at a lower volume and I was not going to give the customers smaller sizes for more money reserving the larger ones for a lower unit price at the club.

Anyone who grows King Coconuts will know, that in a 100 trees, the sizes of the nuts vary substantially, and some bunches can be as small as 5 and others as large as 35. In addition, sometimes the smaller nuts are deceptive, having more water than the larger nuts, and then due to rainfall and seasonal variations there are different sizes of nuts on the same tree at different times of the year. So if they want to source it from one location, that is the variation they have to accept, as I cannot then dispose of the smaller nuts elsewhere. Additionally trees go into hibernation sometimes and while the club requires a standard level of supply, I have to limit my supply to others due to lower harvest.

I consoled myself with the thought that the person complaining about the nuts was a 25ml shot drinker who thinks King coconuts are made to exact standards, a typical attitude of a townie. Nevertheless I still lost a significant customer. An added risk of farming!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tools of the trade

I went to one of my neighbors in Rotawewa, Minneriya where I also collect fresh forest Bees Honey, to pluck oranges as they are now ripe to be plucked. He was getting ready to leave his lovely ranch full of fruit trees, to go to his fields. The picture shows, his mammoty, his water bottle and hat, the basics he needs in his field. He is of the old school and still rides his bicycle, now the young ones ride their motorcycles to the field, with basically the same extras!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The exasperating saga continues. All I want is increased output farmers please!

My pleas just fall on deaf ears, when my mission as well as this blog is to get our growers to grow more, better, more efficient and so to reduce agri-produce costs to the consumer. The latest example is over these few days. I was caught in the depression in the Bay Bengal! Which resulted in some unusual and excessive rain over the Avurudhu period.

Taking advantage of this to my benefit, I had my whole field ploughed up as it had been less than a month from the past harvest. I would have preferred to use the deep plough which I used last time, but as the boy I engaged to do this wanted out quick, I had to use the rotary instead, and while the ground was wet had it completely turned over so all the “ipanalla” or uncut part of the paddy plant and the straw would be mulched into the soil and get a chance to deteriorate to form some good soil conditioning and improve fertility.

This means that when I get the water from the Minneriya tank for cultivation on May 10th I will have already taken the first steps in the soil and field preparation. Without water on the fields it is difficult to do and this was an opportunistic moment. Remember I have barely been a paddy farmer for 3 years, and most of my neighbors are lifers. They concurred with my efforts and when I asked them why they did not also follow, they just shrugged their shoulders in SL fashion and smiled. They are just too lazy, thinking more of the drinking and games of Avurudhu. They have the money for the diesel, the tractors and the expertise themselves. I hired a boy to work the tractor as I was alone.

It boggles the mind that the average Joe in SL does not seize the moment to improve his return, and just follows time honored traditions slavishly. “It is unheard of in these parts to plough the fields in preparation prior to Avurudhu!” What absolute crap I ever heard. “pardon my Ffrench!”. Tell me how I can I even attempt to make a difference with attitudes like this. I know I am always called a fool on my blogs, saying that the Sinhalaya is one who only gets off his backside only if he desperately needs something, and then only if he cannot steal it will he then work for it!

I cannot go on accepting such euphemisms describing my countrymen with a straight face when there really is a job to be done. All those Sri Lankans overseas, namely those of you who have been frustrated by the inner workings of the SL mindset and have decided to go to sunnier climes in search of both being more productive in your host or adopted land, think for a moment. We have lost your talent and are left with the rest.

How can we get you back? We need you! I cannot do it alone. It is a fight we must win, otherwise don’t even brag about the motherland you left behind and how good the “good ol days were” and how bad it now is. When you leave it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and when you return we can change it. Who said it is easy, but take some time read my blog share my frustrations and my hopes and don’t forget the sacrifices I have made. It is still a noble cause, and look ahead to your own future and that of your children if there is no Sri Lanka to brag about, but a basket case of inebriated louts living off charity and someone else’s gravy train. You may as well disown your heritage in that case. We can turn it round. It is just a mental thing, a moral boost and hope in our future.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 80/20 principle as it applies to agriculture

In my previous entry where I stressed the need for greater efficiency and productivity in Agriculture, one of the comments I received was on the 80/20 principle. I agree that even in this context the principle applies and the question is from which point to which would it move to affect the efficiencies I envisage.

To put it in perspective lets say that there are 200 farmers producing output of 100units costing 100 and for a revenue of 100. This is a case of average subsistence breakeven farming, overwhelmingly the case today. I expect in 10 years, those 200 farmers to drop to 100 as very few young people are going into agriculture, but I would like to see them produce a cumulative output of 200units costing 100 for revenue of 150.

Doing the math we are looking at a 400% increase in the average production per farmer. This will make farm incomes more viable. As you can see income per farmer is 3 times higher if we assume a price reduction on average of 25%. I also fairly make the assumption that to achieve a fourfold productivity increase his costs will also double giving him a profit margin from break even earlier to 33% of Revenue.

These are all achievable targets and following discussions will go into all the areas that require measures to reach this goal. The skewing of the rule referred to above will now change from 30% producing 80% of a pot called 100, where 10% will produce 80% of a pot called 200. This is as numbers dwindle and productivity of the large units surge by much higher proportions when economies of scale and mechanization take place to reduce unit costs many fold.

I use the analogy often where one farmer in California farms a 3000acre paddy field, which is fully mechanized and in Sri Lanka over 3000 farmers work the same acreage for a lower yield. No wonder the Californian rice is produced at a lower cost than ours, and that farmer can still earn 1000 times what our farmer earns.

Now that we have a labor shortage in the rural areas, we should not feel that we must still hang on to old ideas to give employment as most income in the rural areas is from the service sector, be it security forces, education, state sector or the retail sector. 80% of those who have land in the rural areas don’t even produce enough rice to feed their immediate family, so apart from encouraging organic home gardens, to increase the nation’s output, there is no rational reason anymore to ask them to break their backs to increase output more than what is reasonable given the resources they have access to.

Needless to say when we double our National output we will have surplus to export to niche markets in both the Maldives and the Middle East. They now amount to small quantities of exceptional quality goods that have a higher value added factor. We cannot supply all the requirements of the export agricultural sector which certainly has a lot more room for growth, and if the examples of some of our niche market agricultural exporters are anything to go by, there is much we can do without brushing into each others markets, as even they face severe product shortages for export.