Monday, May 24, 2010

Soursop known locally as "Katu Atha"

Sour sop with a Latin name of Annona muricata has suddenly hit the news lately due to the claims that it is 1000 times stronger than Chemotherapy for cancer patients and cancer fighting agents.

I am being inundated with requests for this fruit, which I sell for Rs100 each, but which I find difficult to grow. I have about 8 trees and only two actually produce any fruit. I am told that sometimes these trees don't have any fruit for a while. I also have two trees in Polonnaruwa which have yet to fruit.

I prefer to eat it as a drink which is made by liquidizing the fruit pieces after removing all the seeds. One of the common mistakes made is that people pluck the fruit before it is mature, and therefore it does not ripen well. The reason for this is that the period it stays mature is so short, perhaps three or four days on a tree before it becomes black in places and begins to spoil. It is impossible to sell a fruit that looks spoilt, though the spoilt parts can be cut out as the rest actually taste better, because it has fully ripened on the tree. This rule of thumb holds true for most fruit and in Sri Lanka due to the lack of refrigerated transport, the tendency with all fruit is to pluck prematurely.

It is important that tissue culture is done on the good bearing Sour sop trees, and new plants are available in order to get consistent planting material to ensure a good yield. As usual the pundits come up with you must grow a whole area with these trees, but I have yet to be able to source good and reliable planting material, something which we are currently woefully lacking in for all types of fruit trees.

This is an added reminder that in order for us to maximize our potential for increasing our supply of fruit, the planting material is of the utmost importance as one does not have the luxury to experiment as these trees and in the case of the above take about 4 years to properly fruit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tender vegetables - "lapati elavalu"

As I am in an enterprise, where I grow and deliver my produce to customers who then consume them, I am in the unenviable position of having to explain if I can even do that, about a various range of questions to do with my produce, as my customers are critical and picky and want to know the whys and wherefroms etc.

Some of them range from "last week they were less ripe, and this week they are more ripe", or "the earlier oranges when squeezed were yellower when compared with the riper ones you supplied last week". "The rice was a little darker this week when compared with last" and so on and so forth.

A new one this week from a Lady whose husband is the chairman a large garment conglomerate said she prefers the Okra very tender and similar with Aubergine and so on. It got me thinking that we really ought to have a different product as these are usually plucked a lot earlier than normal and so is tasty especially in its raw form for salads or mildly cooked form and for example in the case of tender aubergine, if lighty grilled, is delicious on its own as a bite.

I guess the way to start it is encourage the Food City stores in upper income neighborhoods to sell tender vegetables in a seperate section at a different price point. One main reason that these are not plucked is that its weight and therefore farmer income is less. So farmers wait for them to grow as big as possible. The way we cook our food by boiling to high heavan takes away all taste and so even too mature vegetables can be cooked and eaten.

Anyway it was telling that this lady also confirmed my worst fears about Cargills Food City that all the talk about slected especially direct from grower is a load of crap as she said that the quality of their fruit and vegetable really sucks. In her own words and not mine, they just dont do any quality contol and buy any rubbish that those supposed outgrower farmers supply them. They need constant monitoring and quality control, as only a big organization like Food City can technically do given their vast resources and unlike the normal food chain are able to deliver in plastic containers in cooler trucks to preserve and maintain the freshness.

For those interested in a new venture, tender pathola, watakolu, beans, makaral and even tiny carrots can form this product list. The question then becomes how much of a premium can you charge, as you have to double the price to differentiate and cover the costs of this re branding and different display. It is not easy to evaluate the economic viabilty without trying. I have to train my johnnies to pluck at the tender stage and that in itself is asking too much!

SO what comes first changing the eating habits of the locals to eat more fresh and less over-boiled or to sell the tender ones and give them new recipes in cooking. Both are insurmountable tasks.

Over to you commentators for your thoughts. How about growing your own in your kitchen pots or patches so you can ensure a continuous supply of organic and fresh the only sure way to be certain!!!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The case for scale in Paddy Cultivation in Sri Lanka

I have been asked by a friend overseas to give him an idea of the costs of rice production in Sri Lanka, to determine if he wants to invest in an agricultural venture to grow paddy. This is like asking the proverbial “how long is a piece of string?” type question.

I tried to explain, much depends on the land extents envisaged to be cultivated, as well as the land availability that is suitable for cultivation. Usually this means that existing paddy lands have a greater suitability, as basic infrastructure is in place, but the more productive the soil, the purchase price reflects this.

In order to be practical about this it is almost impossible to come across a 50 acre minimum land size that is suitable and available for paddy cultivation, as I believe this extent is required as a minimum if one is considering giving up whatever it is including common sense to go into paddy farming.

In order to satisfy his request, I will base my assumption on a 50 acre size and make the following assumptions. The main one being that the land is available and purchased, as it would only be a wild guess as to how much such an extent of land would cost. It would be a minimum of Rs20M.(in the US rice extents are cheaper) The other assumption is the availability, of water from a canal fed by an irrigation source. Relying on rain fed paddy is too risky not something to be tried and the use of pumped water for such an extent would also change the dynamics of the project.

If average land yields 100 bushels per acre for each season, the harvest for a year will be 10K bushels or 200,000KG of paddy at an average selling price of Rs30/kg would give a gross income of Rs6M a year. If the direct costs cannot be less than Rs3M then this project is not worth it as otherwise the Rs20M can yield a better return in most other safer investments with a lower risk.

It is easier to work backwards from this direct cost, which for a season for an acre runs at Rs30,000 as a maximum. So how does this stack up with outsourcing the work. It will go as follows. A) tilling the land 3000 B) preparing the fields 3000 C)Sowing 1000 D) Fertilizer 5000 E) Pesticides 5000 F) Husbanding the land during the growing process 3000 G) Combined Harvester to cut and thresh 8000 H) Drying and cleaning as well as bagging for sale 2000. Realistically it is difficult to do it for any less, with the only flexible one being the use of the combined harvester, which due to the extent of the land can be bargained down to even Rs 5000 per acre. The important point to note is that the yield is the most unpredictable, and the most likely contributory factor for either profit or loss.