Planters call for an enabling environment | Sunday Observer

Planters call for an enabling environment

13 December, 2020

The Ceylon Planters Society (CPS) consists of working planters on plantations and in the corporate offices of the RPCs who were serving in the plantation before.

The main aims and objectives of the CPS are to look after the interest of the working planter whilst taking good care of the industry amidst many limitations at current which includes not having access to participate in the decision-making process aiming at the growth of the industry. The members of the CPS have no option but even to agree with the disadvantageous instructions given by the employer and to be held responsible later for the instructions dutifully carried out.

There are a number of variables (mostly exceeding SWOT and PESTEL factors) a planter must consider before making decisions as his job consists of activities from the womb to the tomb.

Unlike many other industries, the planter must take care of not only his employees but of worker families being a resident business where the employee families live on the plantations. This requires a planter to be a generalist instead of a specialist. Instead of appreciating his involvement (basically married to the job) in uplifting both the human beings and making profit targets under trying conditions the job of a planter continues to be “un-thankful”. By nature, a planter is required to be married to a lady and to the job at the same time. Few of them, however, choose to marry only to the job and remain single. It is sad indeed to note the life of a planter after retirement. 

The CPS is grateful to all the CEOs of the RPCs who had a human heart to let our members continue to work till 60, when certain petty-minded ruthlessly got rid of senior planters when some of them did not have even a place to stay. 

Survival and growth being the focus of working planters, the CPS believes that the revenue potential of the industry is beyond US $ 10 b per annum. Printed copies of the proposal have been presented to Minister of Plantations Ramesh Pathirana and many other vibrant political personalities.

It is sad indeed that no action has taken on them to date at a time the nation is saddled with the pressures of foreign debts, The Covid-19 global pandemic, climate changes that affect the plantation crops and spreading fungal diseases such as Fomes and Pesta threatening the very existence of the rubber plantations. 

We are also concerned that so many posts in crop research institutes are kept vacant continuously for the past number of years due to indecisiveness of the State in spite of having three ministers serving the industry. Cutting costs at the expense of a national economy is only a recipe for disaster to happen.

This is a glimpse of the affairs of the plantations industry that affects not only the members of the CPS but the total workforce of 140,000 that are employed today inherited from its earlier workforce of 300,000 in 1993 the year of privatisation of plantations.

As for the immediate improvement of the industry, we propose a change in the current concept of ‘Plantations Industry’ to ‘Sustainable Forestry Enterprises Industry’. Since forestry is globally known and the performance standards are already established and are in practice the proposed concept will increase the number of revenue streams, protect the environment, and will help to meet the Plantation 4.0 standards.

In understanding the Gap between the current state as explained above and the desired state, we will first look at the planter definition the CPS developed with Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri of PIM.

“A planter leads an agribusiness professionally to reach desired growth sustainably”. Learning from the GAP of the golden era of pre nationalisation period of the plantations industry, it has been a strong fact that it is the planter who made either the best plantation or otherwise depends on the level of authority and competence he possesses. It is up to the decision-makers to recognise the “role potential” of a planter and replicate such professionals to turnaround the industry.

Therefore, the attraction and retention of the right planter material are of high importance. Right people drive business is what we believe in. But have we put the thinking into action? The employees today have a right to be scientifically managed. The employers of the industry are claiming the high cost that eats into reasonable profit margins while the employees are complaining about poor levels of remuneration and acidic workplace cultures that demotivates employees adding insult to injury. The CPS is proud that our members have highlighted the problems and offered solutions through the print media for the whole of the past decade although it was like blowing a trumpet to deaf elephants.

We request the decision-makers for an opportunity in the decision-making process and create an enabling environment to manage plantations strategically aiming at earning US $ 10 b in revenue annually. The members of the CPS are willing to shoulder the wheel of nation-building at this crucial hour.

The writer is a former senior planter, agricultural advisor and consultant.