The 27th anniversary of the establishment of Regional Plantation Companies fell on June 23.
We have to be mindful when we celebrate the birthday of this highly labour-intensive industry that it provides means of livelihood to four times of its workforce.
No other employer seems to be saddled with such a gigantic task other than plantations, mainly because all employees are residing there itself. So much so the duty of a planter consists of taking due care of the total life cycle of the workforce, from the womb to the tomb.
The management is further strained and demotivated to the extent of migrating to greener pastures, due to the undue political influences attracted to the business because of its nature. The key result area of any politician, wherever in the world, is votes. The KPI is the number of votes received, which is also translated into the indicator of popularity.
But what is needed for a country is both spiritual and material development. Unfortunately, in underdeveloped countries, the former overrides the latter. Sad indeed and the same has affected the RPCs as well.
One of the glaring observations we can make in this day is that the industry is far from the data-driven decision-making culture. Those who may be reading this for the first time, it will be worth to study a bit deeper on the ‘data-driven decision-making culture’. This is the basic activity towards the sustainability of any industry, hence achieving better performance year by year.
However, the situation in Sri Lanka continues to be strange. The state officials responsible for corrective action through sound policy appear to be in deep slumber. They watch the spiralling down business performance of the industry like a fiction or horror movie. And mind you that they get paid for that.
Actually it starts with understanding the feasibility of a business. Will it be viable (financially as well as socially) to continue with one crop for the next five years. (NPV and IRR)
As we know, all main crops such as T/R/ coconuts make less than 80,000 profit per hectare per annum. That too varies according to many other factors beyond the control of the management. This is so scary and should have been at the top most agenda in the Cabinet discussions, without allowing to rot.
As an appropriate birthday gift, we have requested the secretary of the MPI and EA and key members of the ministry to calculate these decisive numbers, considering the cost of labour as Rs.1000 per day.
We consider Rs.500,000 profit per hectare per annum as a viable indicator for the very same sustainability, not only in the plantations industry but as a thumb of rule for any land in Sri Lanka, so that the attraction and retention of Sri Lankans will remain achieved whilst also achieving the per capita income of US $ 10,000 before 2025, across the 25 districts independently.
The Census and Statistics Department is already geared to monitor this indicator anywhere in the country.
So many happy returns of the day to the RPCs and its workforce. Let the data-driven decision-making culture be the top most agenda item of both the PMMD and Treasury from today onwards.
Let politicians get the wisdom and strength to work towards the right goal, which will not be the popular goal always. It shouldn’t be a surprise as our people are very emotional and jealous. The political leadership is first wanted to correct that. Both the president and prime minister are preferred choices to achieve this target. Economic freedom matters.
(Lalin I. De Silva is a former senior planter and agricultural adviser)