In four days it will be 5 years since I returned to Sri Lanka after being overseas, namely in the UK and the US since 1971. I have been meaning to write an update on my present evaluation of the pros and cons of this decision, but have not been able to get down to it yet. I however still expect to write something in detail in a future entry, if only as a record for me for future reference but also for those interested in making such a life changing decision, as it would help them better plan, learning from some of the mistakes I made along the way.
Many factors cumulatively have had a hand in my not being able to achieve the “Dream” I had in mind when I first arrived in Sri Lanka. I have had to modify my plans continuously as and when I had to face unforeseen obstacles along the way. I suspect that there are many more hurdles to be scaled before I achieve my utopia or at least some sense of normalcy that I am still craving for.
My single biggest failure in achieving my goals is that the workforce I employ, both young and old, have not been(despite my effort at every possible method) persuaded to follow the same goal I had set myself in the area of maximizing productivity of the area under our control, in whatever crop we mutually agreed was best to plant. This fact has convinced me that in order to achieve this objective, we have to minimize human interaction in these inputs, and use mechanical and electronic means of achieving these objectives. Gone are the days of peasant farmers. It is just an election winning subsidy that is counterproductive.
To explain what I mean, I had this lengthy plan, which we agreed soon after the disastrous previous harvest, that we do everything in our power, to maximize the yield both in kilograms, rupees and profit of the current paddy crop that I am in the midst of preparing for sowing. I gave him all the inputs he wanted including the best seed paddy and preparing the groundwork. He tells me a few days ago, that he has to go to his home village, with his family to attend the almsgiving of the second death anniversary of his brother’s demise and that his mother expects him to come, this in the midst of sowing, a critical period in the planting season. The four days I lose this key person, will definitely affect my harvest, but nothing I do or say will prevent him from leaving, as to him, (as it is with many in this country) certain rituals are non negotiable, except when they are slaving away in a Middle Eastern country. The weather has affected and delayed the planting schedule that is critical in my view, but the dates of his function are not flexible and attendance considered mandatory. Me as the risk taker suffers the cost and he as a paid employee bears no cost! If I were to set up a performance based remuneration, which I have already tried and found unworkable, this is not negotiable! It is easier to find a replacement cardiac surgeon for a critical operation in Sri Lanka, than a knowledgeable farm employee at short notice!
The commitment to a task in Sri Lanka just does not appear to be existent as evidenced by the rampant unreliability and non-attendance of low skilled employees whose sole goal is ensuring daily fulfillment without reference to the long term. The level to which these people take personal criticism is beyond belief. They down tools and leave within a moments notice if they have been perceived to have been slighted, as was the case yesterday when I reprimanded a 20yr old about his liaisons with my neighbor’s daughter, causing some friction with my neighbor.
While not trying to blow my own trumpet, I have no choice in not taking a day off work in the past 5 years to be able to meet my weekly sales deadlines to my customers as I need the resulting funds to make payroll and other liabilities. During this period in Sri Lanka, I have never known so many people, being so sick for so much of the time. I think it is the use and abuse of the free medical care given in this country that draws people to illness and hospital or excess eating.
During these five years, I have not had a particularly good or healthy diet and have very often skipped meals out of necessity, but I have suffered less illness than those who must have three square meals a day and grumble if it is not to their taste. Even on the day of my mother’s funeral, I had to first deliver my produce to my customers before attending the funeral, as there was no one who could substitute for me that time, and I was surviving on a hand to mouth basis. I have suffered severe back ache these past few weeks owing to stress and hard work, but have not had the luxury of taking time off, as I am the razor round which the whole wheel of my enterprise turns for lack of other support. The back ache seems to have corrected itself with work including heavy lifting of bunches of king coconuts delivered to my customers!
We must work together to bring about responsibility, discipline, level of priority to life, and attach more importance to the tasks. Industrialists seem to have achieved a level of this with trained workers. In the agricultural sector, if we are to see productivity improvements we must emulate this. Providing free anything is a recipe for disaster, and those farmers who have been given land for votes are the most unproductive. They don’t have a capital cost of the main input to contend with or pay any sort of premium for its use. If we reduce the human component in agriculture to a few trained dedicated and focused people and penalize those who are not maximizing their freely given resources, we can come out on top.