Cargills’ Sarubima program: Farmers reap higher yields | Sunday Observer

Cargills’ Sarubima program: Farmers reap higher yields

A bountiful harvest of bittergourd (karavila).
A bountiful harvest of bittergourd (karavila).

Dispelling the fears that Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector will be deprived of young blood and will face a severe labour shortage in the near future, more youth are engaging in technology based agriculture due to the untiring efforts of Cargills (Ceylon) PLC under the Sarubima program.

Cargills (Ceylon), which runs Sri Lanka’s biggest supermarket chain, contributes to reduce the cost of living, enhancing youth skills and bridging regional disparity through the Sarubima Agriculture Modernisation project.

“The first phase of the agriculture modernisation project concluded successfully with farmers experiencing higher yields with lower input in their first cultivation. We are planning for the second phase of the project,” a company official said.

The project will address challenges to the growth of agriculture in Sri Lanka, including the high cost of production, low yields, volatile climate, dwindling interest of youth in agriculture, overuse of agro-chemicals and limited export potential of local produce.

The Cargills Group runs an extensive food and agriculture supply chain in Sri Lanka, buying vegetables and fruits from a network of over 10,000 farmers, through 10 collection centres and sends it to its chain of supermarkets.

“We diseminate knowledge and expertise to farmers on the latest agricultural methods and transport while educating them on how to reduce waste. We also recognise farmers who excel, with awards. Since our aim is to improve the living standards of not only farmers, but also their families and communities, we reach out to their children too. We select children who display academic proficiency at the Grade Five Scholarship examination, GCE Advanced Level, University and in vocational training courses and offer them scholarships to encourage them to study further, he said.

Sarubima’s ‘Save our Soil Program’ recognises fruit and vegetable farmers and dairy farmers from local communities for their contribution to agriculture and sustainable agricultural practices. It has created 80 model farms in Thambuththegama, Thanamalvila, and Norochcholai and introduced improved, ‘climate-smart’ agricultural practices for 20 crops.

In addition to special inputs, eight farmers and five extension officers were given first-hand exposure to agriculture modernisation, through a visit to high-tech farms and technical parks in India.

Cargills has helped Sri Lankan farmers obtain high yields with low input in a pilot project with support from Jain Irrigation Systems of India.

“We worked with Jain Irrigation Systems of India to introduce proven practices to reduce manpower and the use of agri-input,” he said.

Jain bills as the second largest micro-irrigation company in the world, makes a range of precision-irrigation products and also provides services from soil survey, engineering design to agronomic support.

In the first phase of the program, 80 small-scale farmers were selected from three collection centres in different ecological zones. “In partnership with Jain Irrigation, we provided overseas training and field visits to some of these farmers.

A team comprising experts from Jain Irrigation and Cargills, worked with the farmers to install drip and sprinkler irrigation equipment and supported them with training and monitoring during the cultivation period,” he said.

The cost to install the irrigation systems was shared between the Cargills Sarubima Fund and the farmer.

Set up by Cargills in 2008 at Thanamalwila, the Cargills Sarubima Fund aims at supporting the farming community for their untiring efforts to grow the economy. For every kilogram of fruit and vegetables and every litre of milk sourced from local farmers, it adds 50 cents to the Fund. Since the company sources 120,000 kilograms of fresh fruit and vegetables and 120,000 litres of milk every day, this money has now developed into a substantial amount and continues to be used to empower local farming communities.

Thambuththegama is a thriving rural area brimming with various kinds of agricultural produce and now, being further opened with the latest in agri-business ventures by Cargills, one of the country’s oldest conglomerates and among the most successful ventures.

Traditional agricultural farming will be phased out with the introduction of drip irrigation and fertigation which have taken off the ground under the Cargills Sarubima agriculture modernisation project which commenced with the cultivation of around 20 low country crops among 80 farmers in Thambuththegama in March last year.

Cargills organised a farm visit to the Thambuttegama area where the farmers who benefited from the program had the opportunity to share their experiences with Sunday Observer Business.

“We have benefited from modern agricultural practices such as drip irrigation and fertigation and now make a better living in a productive and cost effective way,” said Sunil Abeysekera echoing the words of Wimal Dayaratne said.

Modern farmer Nalin Wijeratne has adopted modern technology and practices for cost effective production.

“We are happy to mobile the knowledge and input provided by Cargills to obtain better yields and higher income. The farmers connected to the Sarubima program benefit immensely not only economically, but also socially. We take pride in being farmers,” he said.

The use of nets and new irrigation and fertilisation methods have drastically reduced pre and post-harvest losses by almost 100 percent. The losses are so minimal that most farmers today feel it is negligible. This is the added value in business knowledge that big companies bring with them.

Drip irrigation is used effectively in Israel and many developed countries for efficient water management and high yield returns. Farming technology under the Cargills Sarubima Agriculture Modernisation project in Thambuththegama has also helped farmers to improve the quality of the produce. Farmers now go beyond the shores to the global export market with their Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification.

Farmers said the use of nets has helped minimise damage to crops by pests.

Plastic mulch is used to suppress weeds and conserve water in crop production and landscaping. Mulch also acts as a barrier to keep methyl bromide, a powerful fumigant and ozone depleter, in the soil. Crops grow through slits or holes in the thin plastic sheeting. Plastic mulch is often used with drip irrigation. Research has been done using different colours to affect crop growth. Farmers who have adopted drip irrigation said the application of weedicides has dropped by around 70 percent as a result of GAP which has also helped reduce pre and post-harvest losses to around 20 percent from around 35 to 40 percent.

Farmers also said they are keen to increase the supply under GAP and obtain a better price in the future. They have also seen the interest shown by their children and the youth in the area to take up agriculture under GAP which has not only made agricultural farming attractive but also lucrative.

GAP and GHP are voluntary audits which verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimise risks of microbial hazards. The Sri Lanka GAP certificate is issued by the Audit Department of the Agriculture Department and is monitored by the Agri Business Division of the Agriculture Department.

Cargills Sarubima has won the Best Sustainability Project Award presented by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and the Best Corporate Citizen Award and has received numerous forms of recognition for its strong commitment to society.

Empowering farmers is a commitment that embodies the heart and soul of Cargills and stems from the commitment to bridging regional disparity. Providing nutrition to the people makes the company direct partners of the thousands of farmers across Sri Lanka. Each year, Cargills works directly with thousands of farmers to help increase productivity.

Its activities include providing credit, inputs, transport and infrastructure for farmers and cooperatives, establishing fair and transparent pricing policies and increasing access to markets.

The farmer modernisation program has enabled local farmers to reach international standards and provided an opening for the export market. It is a big step towards sustainable agriculture to ensure food safety and contribute to an enhanced national economy.

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