Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At the dawn of the New Decade

The expected view of the new year morning outside my verandah where the new decade will dawn for me.
Ten years ago when the historic 2000 dawned, I was with friends at a Hotel in Las Vegas. Little did I realize that ten years hence I am expecting to herald the next decade asleep in a bed made from tree branches, at an open veranda in a place with no electricity in Hingurakgoda. This last act was necessitated by the sudden departure of the person who had been in charge at this location, and so I have had to be there to protect my interests and find a stop gap person to cover the needful. This is an involuntary act on my part as I have been invited to various New Years Eve celebrations in Colombo and Kandy, all of which I have had to decline.
The above situation, points both to the good and the bad experience of living in Sri Lanka. Firstly there are people one can theoretically employ as they are staff who are paid to do the needful. However the reliability and commitment is what I have found wanting, and this is what causes an emergency situation like this to erupt.
This unpredicted set of events has forced me to take stock of the future, where I cannot be in four places at the same time, and I do not have the luxury of an army of retainers or reliable man Fridays to cover for me. I will first have to obtain the services of a driver and hopefully a competent one who I can rely on for my deliveries and not have to do the very tiring and back breaking delivery job I am engaged in every Monday going from house to house selling my produce.
The Tata cab lights burnt and I was told I have to replace the whole switch behind the steering. I spent Sunday going by bus in search of the replacement. Then on Sunday evening in the rain, while carrying some vegetable crates from the shop to the cab I slipped on the stairs and fell right down, hurting my back, and fortunately did not hit my head. I was lying concussed for a while, but was able on Monday to take care of my home delivery schedule in agonizing pain. I did not have the luxury to take the day off to recover as I could not delegate. I realize I was a hairline away from being hospitalized with a serious injury. I had to earn the money to pay for the light repair today, and had to finish the deliveries yesterday before it got dark. I was not able to use the vehicle after dusk without lights.
I should get insurance in the New Year to cover for unforeseen personal accidents, and also work more at an office job, and spend more time with the dogs, www.sinhabahuridgeback.blogspot.com as my body is not in a state to handle more of the heavy duty farm labor I have engaged in these past 5 years. The income from this job will have to pay for the labor, I will have to hire to delegate the work I have hitherto done myself. I guess this is just being a realist and answers the most recent query from a reader on what my plan is for the next five years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i cannot invent interesting stories to tell as life does not imitate fiction

I am fully aware that the readers of my blogs await news of interesting events in my life and when none are forthcoming, now get quite upset. I apologize, and say that while I don't always have good stories to tell, I can only tell what actually happens and nothing else. Lately I have had to deal with a whole host of unforeseen events that have contributed to the absence of writing as they in total have taken up almost all my waking hours.

The battery of my laptop has also decided that it is time to retire and so with the 30 minutes or less charge I have I find it increasingly difficult to blog in the evenings after dark as I used to more frequently in the past. Replacing a battery at present is out of the question.

The main incident that took place is that the person who I most relied on to assist me in my agricultural undertaking, and the person who persuaded me to purchase the Polonnaruwa property, had an accident on his way back from an alms giving on November 29th, leaving me singlehandedly to cope with getting the fields ready to sowing, at great cost as I had to hire labor at premium rates at short notice to complete the work. He then decided after opting to take ayurvedic medicine on his broken foot, at his wife's village near Hataraliyadda in the Kandy area, not to return to work.

So leaving me with no notice and finding suitable short term stop gaps has consumed an inordinate amount of time, and energy with no armchair time to think or write amusing prose. No reader likes a litany of ills so I have refrained from that, and have decided to carry on my work and look out for someone with more commitment.

It was sad to note that his commitment to his work gradually declined upon his second marriage, and later upon the birth of a child, with various strictures imposed by his new wife on the dos and don'ts of his life. Since I got twice the productivity from him in the first year than I have in the last, I have decided to look upon this with favor, as I now hope to implement a plan to reduce the reliance on salaried staff and instead only try to pay on performance or profit share to reduce the potential for a greater loss.

left after 5 years with no notice and explanation, the more he was indulged the less committed he became! is that a lesson for the future? The pasture unseen appears green, what the future foretells is any one's guess. Let us hope it is only better for his sake.As for mine it is just another chapter in the experience of life in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sri Lanka wins the BBC world challenge 2009 prize besting 900 entries

www.theworldchallenge.co.uk/winners-2009.php “The winner of World Challenge 09 is:Bright Idea: Safe Bottle Lamp Foundation, Sri Lanka, which distributes safe, virtually unbreakable kerosene lamps to those who can’t afford electricity. The Safe Bottle Lamp Foundation received a $20,000 grant from Shell to invest in the future of the project.

This foundation set up by Dr.Wijaya Godakumbura a surgeon has developed this safe bottle lamp using a relatively unbreakable bottle with a low center of gravity, and by its widespread use in Sri Lanka has enabled many a person to be saved from severe burns or even death.

I am probably the only blogger (on the face of the earth!) who currently uses at least 5 of these bottle lamps at present as I do not have electricity in my Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda, property or in my Ratmale, Minneriya lodge (www.ratmale.blogspot.com) which are both in the Polonnaruwa District. Just to add my two cents to this story, what I would like to say is that either a hurricane lantern or the chimney lamp are inferior to the bottle lamp! I have used both, and found the hurricane lantern, and the chimney type, I have used, malfunction and have to be cleaned daily, and the latter has also cracked as the quality of the glass is also too delicate. Additionally they too are prone to accidentally topple over despite not having a naked light, and then the kerosene spills causing a fire. The bottle lamp has a naked flame that withstands a relatively decent degree of wind, and I have occasionally to shield them from high winds during the May to October windy season in Polonnaruwa.

In my experience they have never toppled over while lit, but in the clumsy occasions I have even managed that when they are put away during the day, they do not leak the kerosene on toppling as the screw top and the tight squeeze of the wick through the small tube in the middle prevents spillage.

I will try and get a photo of my bottle lamp in due course to include in the blog. So when I sometimes have referred in my blog to typing these entries in the dark, it is with a bottle lamp on either side of the laptop! Before any of you critics take me to task about the burning of fossil fuel, please spare a thought for the fact that I have not been able to set aside sufficient funds to get solar energy to light up my place. Once that is set up in the future I will have to protect the solar cells wherever they are placed from the ravages of the packs of monkeys who have destroyed solar cells of people I know by jumping on to them either on the roofs or on separate towers set up to avoid the monkey menace, where they actually climb the barbed wire ringed post to get to the top to investigate this curious cell!! But that is fodder for another future story.

I therefore sincerely commend the foundation on this win which has received very little publicity in the land of its invention, and am grateful to them in making my life a little easier and in being able to bring some of my stories to you my readers during moments of darkness where all I have is a bottle lamp with a naked flame and the laptop for company.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An eventful period to live and work in the Sri Lankan hinterland- 5 years on

It is now nearly two and a half years since I commenced this blog, out of the 5 years since my return to Sri Lanka, and I have tried to be as honest and accurate as possible in my personal view of the various events that I have been confronted with and experienced during this period. I have expanded it to 5 different blogs to concentrate on different areas of my interest and focus.
I have had both words of encouragement from my readers and followers as well as those who have advised me to just give up this exercise that I had commenced in mid life. I initially had a lot of hope and enthusiasm, but latterly it was severely dampened due to a myriad of negative factors that in essence reduced me to penury in the past year, which was the worst of the five years I have had to face in terms of loss, and cost.
The fact that I can write about it now is also a testament to the stamina and endurance, which I believe I still have, but I need to make some adjustments to my lifestyle in order to benefit from my experiences but also to improve the quality of my life, without totally abandoning the objectives I had set myself except to modify them in view of changed circumstances and delayed achievement of goals.
The only thing I would do differently is to have recruited people for my operations, and not use those who I inherited, who just could not change their ways, as they have not been trained with productivity and profit in mind, but with the expectation of a sinecure for past services rendered. A new approach really needs new blood to make it work, and oneness in goals, with rewards based on achievement.
Often I have heard that the western protestant work ethic does not work in Sri Lanka, as we are easy going people who work at our own pace. I don’t agree with this philosophy entirely, as I notice that when our unskilled people go overseas their level of productivity and output explodes. So it is something about the country, the people they work for that has this effect. Even in Agriculture, I have noticed those who succeed are foreigners because they are able to discipline the workforce better than we can. It is that fact that both irritates and embarrasses me, and convinces me that I could also have done it emulating their practices.
One miscalculation was the level of investment required in Agriculture, in order to improve productivity. The labor force should only be incidental and not integral. Had I known that the real cost of an agricultural laborer exceeds that of an industrial worker on a productivity level, my input mix would have changed significantly. Those interested in this field should take this fact into account.
Only a fraction of the arable land in Sri Lanka is utilized due to this lack of investment in capital, as the human resource is assumed not to be viable. A farmer must clear a profit of at least Rs100,000 a acre per annum in order to call themselves worthy of their profession. This makes CIC a large scale producer with extensive land also highly unprofitable, as they only achieve about 10% of that.
Sri Lanka does not have contiguous extents of arable land, therefore the farming has to be intensive and capital intensive at that. Due to the climatic conditions, good yields and 3 crops a year on average can be achieved from the land if attentively cultivated preferably under cover. The giveaway of land to those least able to utilize it is the cause of the low productivity, production, and waste.
The infrastructure is the responsibility of government, and in this regard they too have been sorely lacking in vision. The false notion that small scale agriculture is feasible for unskilled peasants has reduced people in rural areas into a poverty trap.
No one goes into agriculture out of choice and that has to change, where only those wanting to go into this field should be encouraged and assisted. It is a profession worthy of the best brains in the land, and with proper guidance there will be no shortage of applicants. I went into this just like the majority of those engaged in agriculture with similar resources and therefore I can see clearly that this approach is the wrong one. My financial investment in agriculture was limited and so my return was accordingly negative. This goes for farming in general.
I have learned to love the rural hinterland. I live with no electricity in Polonnaruwa with little desire to even want it(except to recharge the batteries of the laptop), which goes a long way to confirm that it was the right move. It is the baggage of the people I am carrying on my shoulders that have prevented me from being in the land full time. I cannot get rid of the baggage, and just have to wait for them to pass on, hopefully before I do. In time the way forward for me is to subcontract out or lease out the productive means of production, and agree to buy back output, as I have a market. This will permit me to concentrate on my strengths and not have to deal with the production side once committed people are prepared to take it on.
The sad thing is, I see how potentially profitable this venture is if we can get the small kinks ironed out. It is more profitable than any other business based on return on investment except for illegal activity, commissions and graft. I have come close to realizing the dream and hey presto a bunch of monkeys ruin a husbanded crop in one night. So if only the reader realizes how tough it is to get a gun in a country full of guns, to shoot the monkeys one realizes that the farmer is not supported.