Sri Lanka sweetens its offerings of fruits, vegetables for export
On any given day, rain or shine, Ruwan Hemage tends to his farm in Loluwagoda, Sri Lanka, about 70 kilometres outside the capital city of Colombo.
Hemage, his wife and two hired workers cultivate a variety of crops on the six-hectare farm including coconuts, bananas, papayas and ginger. The main focus, however, is on pineapples, which are intercropped with or grown in close proximity to coconuts to produce a greater yield on the land. About 90% of the pineapples are exported to the Middle East.
As a farmer who sells fresh pineapples – prices for which constantly fluctuate on the world market – Hemage must negotiate the best deal for his produce. Sri Lankan producers of pineapples have received anywhere from US$ 100 to US$ 503.3 per ton since 1991, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
‘It’s about finding the right buyer with the right price,’ Hemage says. ‘Some person asks me to sell pineapples at 50 Sri Lankan rupees (US$ 0.34) per kilogram, but there is a possibility in the market to sell at 70 rupees (US$ 0.48). So find the person who buys at 70 rupees and keep the relationship in the long term – that is the challenge.’
Higher-quality goods always fetch the best prices. Through the International Trade Centre (ITC) project on Improving Safety and Quality of Fruits and Vegetables in Sri Lanka, funded by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), 560 farmers including Hemage received instruction from master trainers and extension officers on growing fruits and vegetables that better meet international requirements. They visited farms certified by GLOBALG.A.P. – the non-governmental organization that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural goods around the world – to learn good agricultural practices, such as the minimal use of pesticides and fungicides.
‘We trained them on a variety of things, whether it’s to do with the use of fertilizers, chemicals, hygiene, health or safety, and on how to bring a quality product to the marketplace that is acceptable for export,’ says Suresh Ellawala, director of Ellawala Horticulture, a farming business that uses modern technology and methods to grow mangoes. His farm became the first in the country to be GLOBALG.A.P.-certified a few years ago.CERTIFICATION BENEFITS
GLOBALG.A.P. certification covers food safety and traceability; environment; workers’ health, safety and welfare; animal welfare; and integrated crop management, integrated pest control, quality management systems and hazard analysis, and critical control points.
‘The certification has certainly helped us in more ways than one,’ he says. ‘It has trained our workers, it’s brought quality at a holistic level, we’ve taken better care of our staff, they’ve taken better care of the product, and that in turn gives a lot of confidence to our consumers. And today, consumers are looking for a product that is safe and certified.’
Hemage and other farmers, extension officers and exporters selected for their high performance also participated in study tours to Thailand and Italy to learn best practices in cultivation and post-harvest care and to understand market requirements.
‘We never used post-harvest techniques here, only at a minimum,’ says Hemage. ‘But in Thailand we learned about very easy and appropriate utensils and technologies that we can apply in Sri Lanka, which are also suitable for women workers.’
The fruits of these efforts to train hundreds of farmers, exporters, officers and inspectors of the plant quarantine department and the extension and training division of the Department of Agriculture are beginning to show following the launch of the ITC project in 2013.IMPROVING STANDARDS
Annes Junaid, chairman of the Lanka Fruit and Vegetable Producers, Processors and Exporters Association, represents workers in the fruits and vegetables sector. ‘We have seen the quality of the fruits and vegetables that farmers grow raised to a certain standard and quality,’ he says. ‘And especially the use of certain pesticides, weedicides and fungicides has been highly controlled. Phytosanitary methods have also been part of the training of this project, which has helped our farmers to improve their quality standards.’
The project has also increased business opportunities and communication between participants, says Ludovica Ghizzoni, ITC adviser on export quality management.
‘Through the project, we’ve been able to build a firm foundation based on publicprivate collaboration involving farmers, processors, exporters, government officials and buyers,’ says Ghizzoni, who’s also STDF Sri Lanka project manager. ‘Stakeholders of the fruits and vegetables sector in Sri Lanka now value the need to partner and act together to address safety and quality-related issues for the benefit of all.’
As for Hemage, he is looking to increase cultivation and production on his farm, in particular for pineapple plants, and to sell more of his goods abroad.
‘After joining this project my way of thinking has expanded,’ he says. ‘So I will try to support the establishment of a farmers’ association and find a good-quality buyer to tie to the export market, to improve linkages and to build a long-term relationship, not only for short-term benefits. This has helped to widen my eyes.’