Workshop held on Organic Agro Crops for Export

organic farming

The full day workshop organized by TJ Associates  on  “Cultivation and Processing of Organic Agro Crops for Export “ concluded successfully on October 14, 2015 at Hilton Colombo Residencies attended by over 70 participants

Mrs. Chandani Dias Abeygunawardene, Vice President – Projects was instrumental in organizing the workshop and conducting it with expertise gathered while working at government and private sector institutions such as Sri Lanka Tea Board, Export Development Board and Cargills Quality Foods.

Managing Directors and General Managers of exporting and food processing companies, land owners who were looking to start organic farms or to convert their existing farms to organic cultivation, horticulturists, investors, researchers, coordinators from Non Governmental Organizations and higher management level representatives from banks such as HDFC bank, Regional Development Bank, Commercial Bank, Regional Development Department of Central Bank followed the workshop with a keen interest.

The main presentation on “Organic Agriculture in Sri Lanka and its Potential “was made by Dr Sarath Ranaweera, Chairman, Bio Foods Pvt Ltd, a dedicated Organic and certified Fairtrade company established in 1993 exporting Organic and  Fairtrade products such as green tea, black tea, herbal teas, spices, coconut products and traditional rice to many developed countries in the world.

Dr. Sarath Ranaweera explained why Sri Lanka needs to create self sustaining agricultural production systems in the country which would lead to developing stable and  balanced ecosystem, encouraging all natural cycles (eg. nutrients), protecting soil, water, animals, plants and human health, which would in turn result in creating a stable and economically viable production system in the long term.

Speaking about the history of organic farming, Ranaweera said Sir Albert Howard is widely considered to be the “father of organic farming” and Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, made important strides in the earliest organic theory with his vision of biodynamic agriculture.

Ranaweera explained to the audience that the organic movement began in the 1930s and 1940s in the modern world as a reaction to agriculture’s growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers. According to Dr. Ranaweera the world had a biodynamic farming which is even closer to nature than the organic system but this had vanished during the colonial era.
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As a practitioner and an international consultant with over three decades of experience, he very aptly dealt with many important subjects such as the current definition of organic agriculture, why organic cultivation is needed, types of organic agriculture, current challenges in organic farming and how to sustain organic farming.

Explaining why organic agriculture is needed, he said that organic inputs that do not leave toxic residue in soil and the general environment  promotes biodiversity of crops and animals to ensure complete and sustainable ecological systems with each species complementing the other for common good of nature.

Nawaratne Hettiaratchi, a successful organic farmer, who underwent difficulties while connverting his land from conventional farming to organic farming shared his experience with the participants. His farmer corporation AGCO- Nuwara Eliya is now a successful venture that supplies up-country vegetables and herbs to leading supermarkets and other retail establishments

The third speaker to share his experience was Athula Priyantha, Managing Director of Mihimadala Pvt Ltd with many years of experience in working in the organic sector. His spoke about his experience in integrated farming practices; a basic requirement of organic farming for fertility management, pest and disease control management and how to overcome negative marketing forces in organic farming.

Speaking on the role of the Ministry and Department of Agriculture in promoting Organic Agriculture, Dr. Hemantha Wijewardene, Additional Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture explained measures taken by the government to promote the use of organic and bio fertilizers and gradually reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers. He also explained how the Ministry has formulated policies and extended technologies and support to improve the organic agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

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Mr Kavindu Ratnapriya, Executive from  Eco Planet Pvt  Ltd  then presented the production process of making organic fertilizer on a commercial scale and explained how field-based trials are carried out from samples taken from each batch before the final product is issued for sale in the market. He introduced different bio fertilizers available for tea, spices, fruit crops and vegetables.

The next speaker, Ms. Satya, Research and Development Officer from Bio Power Lanka Pvt Ltd presented a  range of bio fertilizers, foliar applications, bio-pesticides and a bio vaccine available to organic farmers from the company.
The executive coordinator of Lanka Organic Pvt Ltd, Miss Sewwandi  Bandara,  presented how her company is value adding  organic agro products for International Markets based on buyer’s requirements. Lanka Organics has been a leading exporting company processing tea, spices, cashew, fruits and vegetables for over 25 years.

Miss Thilini Perera, Cerifier- Organic of the Control Union Inspection Services Pvt Ltd, the leader in providing organic inspection services to organic agro products cultivators and processers, made a detailed presentation on the main certification  programs and other private certification programs available in Sri Lanka. She also enumerated steps in organic certification, basic requirements to fulfill in farming for agro products to be certified as organic and explained how Small Farmer Group Certification method could bring down the cost of certification to an individual farmer.

Control Union Organic Certification Programme is accredited to Dutch Council of Accreditation (RVA) and has also been accredited by EU commission, Switzerland, United States Department of Agriculture, Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) for India, Organic Korea(MAFRA). Ms. Perera further explained that imports of agro products to EU can only be done with an import certificate of inspection issued by an EU listed certification body.

Mr. Tissa Kariyawasam, Managing Director of Sricert, briefly explained how the Sricert certification body was formed. Sricert, he said, is the local member of the Certification Alliance which is promoting Small Organic Farmer Group Certification across Asia to enable their products to reach the world markets establishing traceability. Presently Sricert is providing certification services to the small organic farmer groups engaged in production of fruits and vegetables and marketing in the leading supermarkets chains and other retail institutions. Mr Kariyawasam said Sricert adopts methods that keep cost of organic certification low and affordable to the small farmer.

He explained that very soon modern IT technology would be used with application of Ecert to reduce the time taken for the certification process. Sricert provides training to local inspectors by recognized international consultants and the methodologies used for inspections are based on EU regulations.

Mr. Niroshan Kurera , Country Representative of  Etimos, an Italian investment explained in his presentation how over 1800 small farmers in the districts of Matale, Kandy, Anuradhapura, Monaragala, Badulla, Kegalle, and Vauniya  cultivating cocoa, spices, traditional rice under organic method has benefitted from small loans and are now able to market their products in the local and International markets. Guided by Etimos , the first ever project in Sri Lanka to produce and process organically certified Ceylon Cocoa was established by the Cooperation for Industrial Development Lanka “Coopid” the first and only cooperative producing organically certified organic cocoa in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Hussain on behalf of Mr. Amintha de Silva, Chief Executive Officer, Global Salam, gave an introduction to Global Salam that has taken the initiative to introduce innovative methods that farmers may not be able to have access on their own.  “Salam” contracts are one of the most effective, sound and transparent ways to setup farmers engaged in agriculture with international and national buyers for everyone to benefit fairly supported by an adequate legal framework. “Salam” is an Arabic word derived from the financial product name Bai-us-Salam, which means to pay in advance for goods (Agricultural) to be delivered at a future date.

Finally, a panel discussion was held with the speakers who conducted sessions and a representative from the Sri Lanka Export Development Board. Several participants who were keen on starting their own organic agriculture projects observed the lack of organically certified seed and planting materials to start organic cultivation and the absence of  a dedicated institution to obtain training on organic agriculture.

The need for policy formulation and legislation in the country favoring organic farming, inclusion of organic agriculture in school syllabus at all levels, promoting research to improve knowledge and methods that will enhance productivity in organic production, development of common standards in organic agriculture, developing and strengthening local markets, exports and home based processing of organic products was emphasized by Dr Sarath Ranaweera as the Way forward to develop organic Agriculture.

During the panel discussion, Mr. Thilak Kariyawasam, who is also the Chairman of Lanka Organic Agriculture Movement( LOAM),  stressed the need of immediate government  intervention to uplift the organic farming sector.

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