For a vibrant plantation industry in 2018

29 December 2017 10:12 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


With the dawn of the New Year, plantations industry and especially the sector managed by the RPCs (Regional Plantations Companies) is going to be a continuous and fitting challenge to the government. The objective of this article is to analyze the current scenario affecting the industry and suggest few proposals (both long and short term) that will be of some use. We have also furnished some key performance indicators to measure the success of the implementation of these proposals. 

One thing that is worth mentioning is that the plantations industry did well when it was under a President in the past. We need faster decision making and correct political will to make a giant leap forward. And we believe that such a mammoth change is still possible provided we have identified the goals of the industry very clearly. Discipline should be at the upper most level in the value system. Late Gen. Ranjan Wijeratne is a classic example for the ideal leadership style with certain modifications to it. 

Plantations are probably the first large scale commercial venture in Sri Lanka initiated by the British.  Transport, newspapers, telecommunication, banking, and finance are some of the infrastructure and services born due to plantations industry. However the standards of all these businesses were not second to any other country in our region except to Japan at that time. The judiciary too was much respected then. Sri Lankans have even enjoyed higher levels of per capita income in comparison to many countries such as Singapore and Korea then.  The causal factors for the downward spiraling of the productivity, discipline and quality indicators as at today are worth studying before passing judgments against British regime.

Since independence in 1948, almost 70 years later Sri Lanka has become one of the few but most corrupt nations in the world.  We are being treated by the global community the same way we treat a thief found in our village/city. Outsiders won’t treat us with respect. We can see it is happening already. This may be the reason behind international query to the effect if Sri Lanka is up for sale. Given a huge piece of commission / bribe such cannot be ruled out as impossibility. That’s the quality of leadership we are saddled with today. It’s difficult to escape from this rotten leadership whichever the organization within the country unless each one of us think and act into the right direction so that a right political will/culture will be borne. 

The social embarrassment is more when we say that we are Sri Lankans especially when we are outside Sri Lanka. We have heard of setting a thief to catch a thief since our childhood but never knew both sides getting together and stealing all of us. We also call majority of this country are Buddhists. Where has the Buddhist thinking gone? Will the so called supreme leaders of Sri Lanka go before the public who nourish them and their families and tender apology for what they did in the past and still continue to do at present? Or else repay the stolen wealth with interest and save 21 million people from ongoing and impending misery? 

No Sri Lankan industry can be of an exception to this rule, more or less, as far as they are within Sri Lankan territories. That’s the power of culture of any organization or in a country. Therefore the plantations industry cannot be different. But we want to ensure that the plantations industry sets the right leadership. We have highlighted one example for poor quality of plantations management earlier and more examples can be sited if necessary to the effect as to how certain RPCs have misused funds for personal gains. 

Considering the gap between where we are today and what we should have been, we have listed out few priorities for 2018 for sustainable development of the plantations industry. However when considering the RPC sector and if someone is looking for one performance indicator, what matters most is the per capita income across all 3 layers of employees such as the executives, staff and workers of the industry.   It is also essential to establish, how to obtain this value to ensure uniformity for comparison and understanding. 

High ego 

The visible behavior arising out of high ego is disrespecting others except you. An attitude such as ‘I know it all’. Another example which is highly visible is not willing to learn who have mastered the art. The behavior is stemming from lack of managerial competencies that leads to inferiority complex. As a result the valuable concepts such as knowledge management cannot be implemented in the industry in many places but not everywhere. 

Offering a practical solution to rectify this anomaly, we could think of a mechanism that will maintain transparency across all levels of employees in each organization. A mechanism such as a ‘Joint consultative committee’ at plantation level and a ‘think tank’ at the industry level can be of use. Self-esteem is good if such is built upon correct indicators that are appreciated by all stakeholders. We don’t even have a system like that. 

Social insurance and annual wage increment 

With the increase of life expectancy beyond 75 years and retirement scheduled around 60 years of age the retired will have no means of survival alongside with their spouses. Solution to this would be a group insurance scheme covering all engaged in the plantations industry. The daily wage earned at present does not attract annual wage increment as the entire wage structure is not based on competencies. Developing skill banks and linking pay to competency frameworks are remaining to be dreams. The types of jobs undertaken at present within the industry have remained the same since of its inception some 150 years ago. So much so, manpower planning, recruitment and selection, salaries and rewards (re-designing of jobs), performance management, training and development (career paths) and employee relations are remaining to be developed with the industry. Although we are far above the Tailorism, much has to be done through improvements to competence. 

Need of new business model

Amongst the challenges, the outmigration of workers, the adverse impacts of climate change, invisible impacts of geo political pressures following globalization, not knowing how to address change by the majority and weak policies of the government are also contributory. 

Some argue that the contribution from the industry to GDP is less than 2 percent and should the industry be taken forward. However it is unimaginable of the dire consequence if the job opportunities to 200,000 employees are lost as a result of poor business performances. 

A business model is a company’s plan for how it will generate revenues and make a profit. It explains what products or services the business plans to manufacture and market, and how it plans to do so, including what expenses it will incur. The time is overdue to move from the cheap labour model existed since of the inception of the industry to one of the three main business models of the modern era. Digital transformation is something that the industry must embrace without further delay. The industry may recognize ‘supporting education’ and promoting ‘innovation’ as the common CSR projects of the industry. These have long term positive impacts on attraction, retention and sustainability of the industry. 
The industry will be hugely benefitted by the Innovation center of the NIBM, Artificial intelligence, Analytics like IBM Watson and using of intelligent machinery ( Industry 4.0 and Agriculture 4.0) The industry has enough of big data but remaining to be data without the power of converting them to meaningful information ready to be used for decision making at all levels.  Drone technology alone is a very useful tool for plantations management. 

It is absolutely essential that the ministry make services of management consultants available to deserving RPCs and make them strategy driven organizations rather manage RPCs with age-old outdated management practices. This industry has the potential of generating US$10 billion and we have submitted the wire frame for it. The plans have fallen in the deaf ears of the decision makers for petty reasons best understood by them. This is the net result of the absence of long term plans and national policies. Most corrupt countries do not need them. Are we going to continue with these practices or else going to get on with new business model kicking out and discarding slave labour model that does not exist in the modern world. 

Plantation authority

The dire need of a new monitoring mechanism is evident. But the members of this team should be competent in strategic management. The visiting agents or old school thinkers need to be trained to acquire skills to be in par with the modern world thinking and acting. The power of strategic management is in its execution. 

The wrong recruitment model has to be replaced with need based recruitment system so that those who are lacking working knowledge of the soil building, environment management, sustainability, people management and plant metabolism will not get opportunities to enter into 
plantations management. 

Another important responsibility of this unit is to develop the second generation of plantation managers and corporate executives. Like in the past competent employees of the staff level must be recognized and promoted to higher ranks and event to become a CEO someday. PA may facilitate foreign exposure to deserving planters who can take the industry forward. Vipula Jayasingha of BOI and ISB Kurunegala can be contacted for FDIs for developmental interventions. 

The plantation agriculture is not short term. The owners may be expecting profits at any cost. This has to be thwarted for the greater good of the future generation of this country. However, we have been recommending the plantations to be viewed as land based investments rather than crop alone. Most RPCs are considering planting of more coconuts and cinnamon in low country, and as such the state must encourage opportunities to SL Planters to gain competitive knowledge on increasing productivities through foreign exposure. It is advisable to target anything above Rs. 800,000 profit per hectare per annum. 

PA may also encourage global compliances such as FSC, FDA, EU, HACCP, RSPO, ISO 22000, ISO/TR 30406:2017. More recognition must be paid to those who comply with corporate governance and conforming to managerial standards as follows. The benefits of an effective management system to an organization include:

1.More efficient use of resources and improved financial performance,

2. Improved risk management and protection of people and the environment, and

3.Increased capability to deliver consistent and improved services and products, thereby increasing value to customers and all other stakeholders.

4. Both these organizations are blessed with dynamic and competent leaders. NIPM will have many of its courses delivered in line with national education framework thus leading to NVQ standards. The transformation of NIPM into a university college, affiliation with many leading universities in our region supporting agriculture are some of the achievements already.  However training of 200,000 employees of the Industry and create an employee brand as Green Army that will improve the perception of plantation employees and earn credit long overdue to agricultural employees in the sector. NIPM will also support the working planters on all legislatures on soil conservation and environment protection. This is extremely important to address social pressures scientifically. 

Now that a definition for the profession of Planter has been defined as ‘ A planter leads agribusiness professionally, to reach desired growth sustainably’ we are seeking the help of NIPM to get the membership of OPA which will be historically important to all planters of Sri Lanka. 
We learn that the PHDT too will draw its strategic fit from the millennial sustainable development goals (17) which will qualify them to employ all their resources into a world class goal and will be a partner of progress of the industry. We wish all the best and trust that they will be the leading partners of the development initiatives of the industry. 


Keeping in line with the objectives of this article, the following KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) could be used to measure the success of the industry and share the findings across all RPC s where comparison is possible (apples with apples). 

1.Per capita income – commonly agreed target and the country target is US$10,000 

2.Strategically managed plantations : monitoring of the achievement of strategic goals

3.Profit per hectare 

4.Performance management installed: Balance Score Card or any suitably accepted, globally recognized system

5.Level of compliance to Millennial sustainable development goals (17) 

6.Improved social perception and social security systems implemented and the level of implementation. 

The efficiency of plantations management could be monitored through four areas (according to our understanding) such as: development and management of employees, building of soils and protecting environment, competencies in management and improved systems. All these four areas should deliver an orchestra effect to the company vision, mission, values, objectives and goals. It’s not a thing to be repeated that the industry is in need of the services of food scientists/technologists and we have to invest continuously on R&D to make a product. Nothing is easy and everything is difficult until it is done by someone for the first time.  Therefore let’s call 2018 as the year for strategic management for the plantations industry in Sri Lanka. 

(The writer is a former senior planter, visiting agent and agricultural advisor. He could be contacted on:


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