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.