Kalundewa Resort turns to agriculture to offset loss of tourism income | Sunday Observer

Kalundewa Resort turns to agriculture to offset loss of tourism income

As all those involved in the tourism sector grapple with sudden pay-cuts and in some cases loss of an income altogether amidst the ongoing pandemic, some businesses are standing out by finding innovative ways to aid their employees.

Over 500,000 people in the country are engaged in tourism directly and indirectly. When Covid-19 brought the country’s tourism sector to a standstill, with the shutting down of the Bandaranaike International Airport, the indirect workers of tourism who make up most of the workforce were hit badly.

The direct employees had a similar hit with their employers reducing salaries or willingly going through a pay-cut themselves to keep the workforce less affected. With zero tourist arrivals in April, the businesses are not confident if they can bear the brunt further.

Under the Saubagya Covid-19 Renaissance Facility the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is providing loans to businesses to keep afloat.

Kalundewa Retreat

Then, there are some who have come up with their own projects to sustain their workforce. Kalundewa Retreat, a 110-acre property in Dambulla that curated to a niche tourist segment, has started to cultivate its land to make money to pay its staff in the absence of tourists.

“So far we were able to pay the salaries of our staff, but we have announced pay-cuts from next month onwards,” manager of the retreat Heshan Ranaweera, a resident of Kiribathgoda who hasn’t been home in over two months, told the Sunday Observer over the phone.

Kalundewa has always had a community-friendly approach. It has distributed up to 40 acres to 40 farming families to cultivate at a minimal charge. The agro-tourism resort also has a team dedicated to aid the farmer families with their farming activities with the help of the Department of Agriculture.

But this is the first time the employees of the resort tried their hand at growing vegetables and paddy.

“When the curfew was imposed a few of our employees left the resort and only 15 including myself stayed back. We made use of our time planting different varieties of crop,” Ranaweera said.

The team has already reaped a couple of yields since they commenced their work in April. They planted sweet potatoes, ladies’ finger, B-onions, brinjal and even tried their luck with upcountry veggies such as carrot. The harvest was successful.

It was Ranaweera’s idea, in keeping with the vision of the resort’s Chairman, to extend their cultivation further to not just only to meet the day-to-day vegetable and rice requirements of the resort, but also sell the crop to make money to pay the staff.

“So, in seven acres we have started to plant corn and green gram,” he added. Both crops have proved to be successful on the property.

A hotel employee goes through a training to take care of customers and ensure that they enjoy their stay in the respective accommodation. These employees have minimal to no experience in farming. Naturally, in this light, there was resistance from some workers who quit the job.

“In the initial stage it was hard. We have to wake up very early in the morning because there are certain tasks that need to be finished before sunrise. This takes up a lot of energy,” Ranaweera said. But soon, the team overcame these hurdles.

Home gardening

Covid-19, which has claimed 10 lives and infected around 1,530 others, caused people to stay at home to avoid community spread of the virus. During this time, the Government encouraged home gardening. Statistics at the Fertiliser Secretariat shows that in mid-April, 2019, 17,000 metric tons of fertilisers were used for crops other than rice, and this year, during the same period, it has risen to 25,000 metric tons showing that more and more people have started home gardening.

Kalundewa hopes to continue its project even after the pandemic ends. “This way when tourists start coming to the country again, they will get the opportunity to participate in local farming,” Ranaweera added.

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The Government has issued a set of guidelines to reopen airports for tourism from August 1 as the country gradually returns to normalcy.

In a discussion with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Covid Prevention Task Force Committee held on Tuesday (26), the President has highlighted the need to follow proper health guidelines issued by both local and international health experts.

“In order to attract tourists it is necessary to have a proper understanding of their preferences. Some prefer the beach while some enjoy seeing archaeological sites and wildlife. Some tourists are interested in scenic beauty. Tourist promotion activities should be planned accordingly,” he said.

Accordingly, under the first phase hotels and restaurants registered under the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority will be opened for in-house dining. Unregistered eateries will then be opened with the assistance and supervision of the army and public health officers based on the progress of the first stage.

Also, the President has advised relevant officials to set up Tourists Police units comprising those who are fluent in foreign languages giving priority to popular tourist destinations.

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