Opinion: Positive happenings in Sri Lanka in 2021

By Asela Atukorala

Sri Lanka is unfortunately in a sad state right now with its biggest problem being the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also the X-Press Pearl ship tragedy which is causing a serious marine environmental disaster as well as the floods and landslides. As a comfort to these difficult times, I decided to provide a list of positive incidents that occurred in Sri Lanka during the first half of this year. As I heard many of these stories from the companies responsible, I would like to say that I have no affiliation with any of these companies. I’m not trying to downplay or deny the problems facing Sri Lanka. I’m showcasing a side of Sri Lanka which gets less attention. I feature stories relating to exports, agriculture, sustainable business, the environment and more.

Tea Export Increases

The first three months of this year saw an increase of tea exports compared with the first three months of last year despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In January to March 2020, Sri Lanka exported 59.58 million kilograms of tea. This figure rose to 69.89 million kilograms of tea in January to March 2021 reporting a 17.3% increase. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s tea production in those periods increased by 34.2% from 53.68 million kilograms in January to March 2020 to 74.03 million kilograms in January to March 2021.

Spotify Sri Lanka

On the 24th of February, Spotify launched in Sri Lanka. Spotify is a popular global streaming service allowing people to listen to music. Spotify’s launch in Sri Lanka is part of its expansion into over 80 new markets globally. Spotify’s free service has restrictions, most notably its advertisements. Spotify Premium is the paid version of the service that is ad-free and allows downloading songs for offline listening. Spotify Sri Lanka has different premium plans for student, individual, duo and family. Listeners in Sri Lanka can listen to both international and Sri Lankan music on Spotify. An international album I recommend is the 1989 album “Sleeping With The Past” by my favourite singer Elton John. It features the hit songs “Healing Hands”, “Sacrifice”’ and “Club At The End Of The Street” which are well known in Sri Lanka (links lead to those songs on Spotify).

Sustainable Business

In early April, it was reported that Cargills initiated the first car park made of non-recyclable plastic in Sri Lanka. They partnered with AGC Innovate to launch the initiative “Paving with Plastic” where they made the decision to pave their Food City car parks using Plastic Modified Asphalt Concrete (PMAC), a green form of concrete using plastic. Plastic after use causes environmental problems due to staying in the environment without decomposing. The first car park constructed this way is the car park of their new Food City outlet in Walgama, a suburb of Matara. This car park has an area of 2100 square metres constructed using 800 kilograms of plastic waste which is the equivalent of 200,000 plastic bags.

Similarly, later that month Cargills teamed up with Unilever to reduce plastic waste for a recycling initiative. This initiative is a sustainable plastic waste management system that is operating at nine Cargills Food City Colombo outlets in addition to one KFC restaurant. There are bins at these locations where customers can dispose of hard plastics (cubs, tubs, bottles) or flexible plastics (wrappers, shopping bags). This plastic waste will be taken to a collection hub where it will be further segregated. The recyclable plastic waste will be sent to recycling centres and the non-recyclable plastic waste will go to waste-to-energy recovery centres for incineration. Cargills hope to eventually extend the project to cover all of their Food City outlets.

Unilever, the partner on Cargills’ plastic waste management system, revealed on this year’s World Environment Day (5th of June) that they’ve reduced their per tonne water consumption over the last decade by 73% through the 100% Re-Aqua initiative. The 100% Re-Aqua initiative part of their Ceytea Factory deals with reusing water. Unilever has decreased their yearly water consumption by 135,400 cubic metres (approximately 135 million litres). This is equivalent to the amount of water used by 1,100 Sri Lankan households annually.

Exports Training  

On the 3rd of May, the Colombo School of Business Management (CSBM) signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute of Exports (NIOE), the educational division of the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka (NCESL). Under this new agreement, CBSM will teach programs previously developed and taught by the NIOE. The first program to be taught under this partnership will be a Diploma in International Trade Management. It was developed with the assistance of experienced specialists of the international trading industry and will be taught by industry professionals. Many field visits are included to give students a holistic understanding of the industry. The NCESL when talking about this initiative pointed out that export managers currently are primarily self-made with only some recognition unlike managers in other professions.

Discovery of an Undisturbed Coral Reef

The Sri Lanka Navy revealed that they discovered an undisturbed coral reef on the 7th of May. This reef is located in Sri Lanka’s Eastern coastline, being placed 1.5 to 4.5 metres below the sea surface. The reef spreads over 500 by 500 metres, giving an area of 25 hectares which is a quarter of a square kilometre. The Navy chose not to reveal the specific location of the reef as they are concerned that several visits to the reef may threaten its safety. This is important to Sri Lanka’s ocean, especially after the X-Press Pearl environmental disaster.

Rubber

On the 16th of May, Dr. L.M.K. Tillekeratne, former head of the Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka (RRISL) wrote an article “Improved rubber prices should see increase in production” in the Sunday Times where he pointed out that rubber production in Sri Lanka has unfortunately been declining. He mentioned that one of the main reasons for this decline is the low rubber prices in the world market which in recent years was usually below the production cost. There is a need to increase production of raw rubber and use them to make value-added products such as examination gloves that are in big demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Tillekeratne mentioned that there is currently a massive demand for rubber showing a significant increase in rubber prices that will last for more months if not years. Rubber farmers have the opportunity to apply agricultural methods recommended by the RRISL mentioned in the article to take advantage of the higher prices. Doing this will likely lead to improved annual rubber yields in kilograms per hectare. This month, a Sri Lankan rubber and tea plantation company Kelani Valley Plantations PLC (KVPL) received a Sustainability Framework Certificate. The natural rubber sector has issues of deforestation and this certification signifies KNPL is involved in sustainable rubber production.

Reforestation 

The John Keells Foundation, the charitable division of the John Keells Group announced early this month their three year collaboration with non-governmental organisation (NGO) Ruk Rakagano (The Tree Society of Sri Lanka) in reforesting 20 hectares of forest land. The reforestation is for the Suduwalipotha Forest in the Kalawana Range. This project will plant at least 13,000 trees in its first year which will be maintained for the remainder of the three years. Native vegetation will be planted in this land with the intention to transform it into a similar environment to that of the Sinharaja Forest which it is located next to.

MSMEs

This month it was reported that the Sri Lankan organisation Confederation of Micro, Small and Medium Industries (COSMI) signed an agreement with the European Association for Trade – Crafts – Industries (EIVHGI) in Vienna, Austria. This agreement is to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in South Asia and to promote business partnerships between the two regions. Sri Lankan MSMEs have the opportunities to benefit from it. Sri Lankan MSMEs can make progress in post-COVID industry development through it as it includes knowledge transfer of trade, craft and industry from Europe.

These are a selection of positive stories from Sri Lanka so far this year. Similar to how those responsible for these stories used their knowledge and skills, I hope others will use their skills to work on the immediate problems facing Sri Lanka as well as long term issues that stem from Sri Lanka’s status as a developing country. Let’s work towards a better Sri Lanka.

Asela Atukorala is a Sri Lankan blogger who runs ‘The S Blog’ that deals with Sri Lanka, Songs, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Sci-Fi, Star Trek and more.