Ayurveda has much potential to rake in forex | Sunday Observer

Ayurveda has much potential to rake in forex

Managing Director, Hettigoda Group, Asoka Hettigoda
Managing Director, Hettigoda Group, Asoka Hettigoda

Sri Lanka is blessed with a unique opportunity to showcase its abilities in the ayurvedic sphere as the world is moving towards natural, therapeutic, authentic and preventive concepts and ayurveda has potential to cater to the demand, Managing Director, Hettigoda Group, Asoka Hettigoda said.

Though, the business climate is not supportive of these ventures at present, implementing useful ideas and suggestions will pave the way for a better commercial environment, he said.

“The political leadership should provide a supportive structure for business entities. The legal framework should be in place to facilitate business growth,” Hettigoda said in an interview with Business Observer.

The Hettigoda Group is Sri Lanka’s leading manufacturer of indigenous medicines and ayurvedic remedies and has ventured into many related fields making Siddhalepa a household brand.

Excerpts:

Q. Give us an overview of your company?

A: The journey of Hettigoda Group began in 1934 when my grandfather ventured in to manufacturing Siddhalepa balm at his ayurveda clinic. He was the fourth generation ayurveda doctor. Ayurveda has been part of our family for more than 200 years. With the introduction of Siddhalepa balm in 1934, my father was given rights for Siddhalepa balm to build a proper business on commercial basis in 1972. We now have over 150 different products all conforming to international standards created as an aryurvedic category in the FMCG segment. Our venture in to ayurveda sector spans over five decades.

The Group opened a health resort in Wadduwa to cater to the market demand. We went in to broader segment of other products such as organic food items, printing, medical tourism by opening up Anarva Wellness Hotel in Mount Lavinia and large scale ayurvedic plantation. Our Group is by far the most expanded group of companies in the field of ayurveda. We do the entire spectrum of ayurvedic products and is the biggest ayurvedic company in the country. We export to over 40 countries and Siddhalepa is one of the best known Sri Lankan brands locally and globally.

Q. How strong is your export business compared to local operations?

A: We started selling our products over 40 years ago and have our footprint in 40 countries as an approved ayurveda product in pharmacies and health centres. We set up our first centre in Germany in 2004 and now have six centres in Germany, Czech Republic and Slovenia. However, with peace returning, we focus more on expanding within the country. We have partnered the Shangri-La network , which is one of the top international brands in Asia.

Q. In your view, how is the business environment for ayurveda in moving forward?

A: The whole world is moving towards the concepts of natural, therapeutic, authentic and prevention. The ayurveda fits in to all these fundamental philosophy and gives health a holistic approach embedded with yoga, ayurveda food and meditation.

In this context, I am happy that we are in this field as it is happening among the people who are educated and have a reach to the best of Western medicine and high per capita income. However, I am worried that a group of our own people who do not value ayurveda attach value to a different heritage such as setting up massage parlours and making products using the name of ayurveda.

This must be stopped as it will hamper the tremendous potential that ayurveda has. These businesses should stop misleading the public as it will destroy the country’s heritage. As ayurveda is a medicinal system its only concern is to build the confidence of the people through the system to derive its benefits.

Q. What is the current position of the economy in the country?

A: After the sad incident that occurred in April, the whole economy went downhill.

The situation in the country was pathetic as all the schools were closed and workplaces were without workers. Even during the LTTE war this did not happen. The country was at a standstill. However, during the past four months some progress has been made, but, it will take a long time to recover. The business community is concerned. We need to take proactive measures to fast track the recovery process.

Q. What is your opinion on signing FTAs? What factors should the country consider when signing FTAs?

A: Signing or not signing FTAs, we need to market our products internationally. However, if we are going to sign an FTA , we should consider its effect on our infant industries. If the FTA is a threat to such industries we should have measures to safeguard these industries.

The mature industries could compete in the global market and they are capable of meeting this challenge. The responsibility is on the government as the negotiating team should have terms favourable to our country. The government should identify the industries which could be liberalized trade and the operational structure of our country and the other countries in contact for FTAs.

Today, FTAs are signed by countries as it could give benefits to companies by way of reduced taxes and import duties. When entering into an FTA, we should carefully consider and analyse all the factors and look at the basic structure.

At the end of the day, we have to have some industries in the country and be competitive.

There should be proper analysis and study to ascertain which sector to open and what are the barriers to move forward.

Q. What are your views on the MCC agreement?

A: I do not have a comprehensive knowledge on the agreement and cannot comment sufficiently. However, there has to be a certain set of benefits for the country in signing any agreement.

Q. As a past President of a leading trade Chamber what are your suggestions to improve the business climate?

A: This is not an easy time for any industry in Sri Lanka. Not only us, but the top performing nations are also struggling. The US–China trade war has affected the world economy and the repercussions are on all of us. In our country, majority of the companies are in the SME category generating few billions of rupees and there are only a handful of large companies.

The government should look at different sectors such as agriculture, construction, banking and manufacturing when providing incentives and should have a holistic approach. It should understand the need for technology, import of raw material and other areas of activities including machine and equipment.

The government must reduce all kinds of VAT on products the companies could produce. Technology today is not costly, but it changes fast. There has to be an industrial revolution to safeguard the processes. Today, it is not employment creation, but cost efficiency. We have to really look at these aspects. The interest rate should be brought down to manageable levels for businesses to thrive. The recent rate structure reduction by the Central Bank should be reflected in the banking lending rates.

Q. What role does the government needs to play to facilitate business activities? What are the immediate proactive measures needed to support the business community?

A: The support structure is necessary for business growth. It should not only look at finances but other areas as well. The measures to improve the ease of doing business index are essential. The government should seriously look at reducing the unnecessary paperwork and unnecessary approval processes. This will improve the operational process, Not only government policies, but the facilitating activities should also be in place to create a conducive environment for business development.

Q. What will be the trend in economic activities to follow in the next couple of years?

A: Asia will strengthen its position as a world economic power house in the coming years. Sri Lanka should look at how it could be integrated in to this power miracle. Asia will dominate as the century is going to come.

The demand for products and services will come from the East and we have to compete with the same set of competitors. These aspects should be look at. People will look at sustainable, green, authentic and natural products and services.

There will be huge demand for clean air and clean water. Sri Lanka will have a unique opportunity to play a role is supporting countries with severe air pollution and the need for clean drinking water. People could come to Sri Lanka only to breathe clean air.

We must act accordingly and prepare ourselves to take advantage of this situation. We have to be Sri Lankan and be proud of who we are. This will take our country forward. However, we need to have stringent laws in place to combat pollution including noise pollution. There should be laws to control environmental pollution. Sri Lanka needs to project itself as a cleaner and safer destination.

Q. Where do you see the country’s economy is heading and what corrective action should the policy makers take?

A: Every one in the government and the private sector has recognized that the private sector as the engine of growth. The companies run their businesses taking their own decisions, and not waiting the government to do so. They charter their own course where many opportunities are present. In that course, whoever that is in the government creates laws to facilitate growth. By adhering to these laws the country will have tremendous growth.

Q.What contribution should the business community make to make Sri Lanka a better place?

A: The business community in any sector involves in advisory roles in their capacity for constructive engagement to make Sri Lanka a better country. However, lack of leadership to incorporate social aspect will not be profitable as it is not only in monetary terms, but should be on human terms as well.

The business community continues to extend their support to any initiative.

The political leaders should take forward the ideas and suggestions and tailor made them to be of benefit to the entire country. The issue is lack of implementation. The political leadership should pay more attention to implementation rather than creating reports or committees.

Q. What are your thoughts on the ayurveda system?

A: I believe that our hela osu, the Sri Lankan form of ayurveda has a history of 5,000-6,000 years. We need to highlight this and give due recognition to this system. It is necessary to allocate funds and resources to develop this and bring it to its past glory by offering it to the whole world. The traditional medicinal knowledge must be unearthed and offered to the world as this could be one of the key industries of Sri Lanka. 

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