The Outgoing Chairman of the Lanka Fruits & Vegetable Producers, Processors & Exporters’ Association, Annes Junaid says that although Sri Lanka’s booming tourism sector is a positive phenomenon, it has unfortunately turned out to be an external threat to the fresh fruit export industry and processed industry. Speaking at the 35th Annual General Meeting of the Association held at the Hotel Ramada in Colombo recently, Junaid said the island’s tourism sector has grown at a faster pace than anticipated and hence the local industry and tourism as a whole is consuming so much fruits and vegetables which in turn has created a supply dearth.
“They are consuming the portion which could have gone into the fresh fruit export market or into the processed industry. This dearth along with bad support by the weather and together with upsurge in demand has created, I hope it’s a short-term threat to our industry. We are right now withstanding this, I don’t know for how long. But we are on our own and hopefully this situation should change very soon,” Junaid, who stepped down as the Chairman of the Association after completing three years, said.
Noting that local consumption has also increased and it has taken a sizeable portion out of the export and processed industry, he said the industry stakeholders’ therefore need to strategize to overcome this threat in the next six months or so.
“We need to definitely address these two issues to overcome the difficulties we face in the short and medium term. We are looking at various methods of engaging with authorities on increasing production. This is the top most area which needs to be addressed by the new committee and to be taken seriously forward or the industry will be seriously affected,” Junaid cautioned.
The outgoing chairman further called upon the authorities specifically, the Department of Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Export Development Board (EDB) to focus on how to fix the supply chain.
Meanwhile, the newly-elected Chairman of the Association, Zuraish Hashim said that although the desire to ‘improve production’ has been the key element spoken of in the past, he lamented that among some of these plans, only a few had gone beyond the drawing board.
“Especially something like pineapple. This is one fruit which we together with the Export Development Board want to brand as Sri Lankan pineapple. However, if we don’t have the produce we can’t brand it accordingly.”
“We’ve always gone back and found the land problem. The land we ask during the programme, we were trying to do 25 acres and it’s still on the drawing board,” Hashim pointed out.
Responding to the concerns in production, EDB Chairperson, Mrs. Indira Malwatte, who graced the occasion as the chief guest said the supply level of food has always been the issue and the weak link, not the markets.
On the concern over the dearth of land, Malwatte, however, said the EDB recently held discussions with the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and are now trying to use their unutilized and underutilized land of JEDB.
“The Department of Export Agriculture have visited their number of farms, located land which the JEDB is willing to give on a long lease or partnership basis. The EDB is willing to advertise it next week and calling for Expression of Interest and depending on the crop and where the land is available, the members can apply for it. That is one solution,” she said.
Malwatte further emphasized that the EDB is also in conversation with the Ministry of Plantation, where the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have large number of unutilized land to see whether RPCs could give some of the land to companies who have been doing commercial cultivation.
“So with the land issue, the EDB has taken some initiative and with next week’s advertisement I hope to see some of the members will apply and request for land,” she said.