| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(May 14, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) Waitrose sells a tiny papaya for a whopping two sterling pounds. This supermarket has the royal seal in that it caters to the royal household not to mention marketing organic produce from Prince Charles’ Sandringham Estate. The king-in-waiting is an organic afficiando.
Our fruits and vegetables are going to waste while Thailand, Malaysia and India make the maximum use of exporting their own to the West thereby helping their growers and exporters and catering to the increasing demand for tropical produce.
Jak fruit, bread fruit, papaya, snake gourd, local brinjals, thalana battu, thibbatu, mukunuwenna, Jaffna red onions, palmyrah fruit, kathurumurunga, gotukola, murunga leaves, drum sticks, plantain flowers, passion fruit, manioc, sweet potato, green lime, durian and a host of other tropical produce are sold at very high prices abroad whereas these are grown aplenty in our resplendent isle.
Some of the fruits and vegetables could be canned while others exported fresh. Indian mangoes fetch a good price during this season but EU has banned them citing infestation. Cameron is due to have talks with Indian born MP Keith Vas over this calamity.
These produce are veritable money spinners if only the government pays attention to the rural farmers and provide them freezer and fridge facilities to preserve them during transport. USAID did make an attempt to help rural farmers transport by providing them with the facilities in the ‘90s but it is not clear whether it still carries on this project.
Tomatoes and onions easily perish in the tropical heat and they need careful handling like Dresden china. Most of the above-mentioned vegetables and fruits are pesticide-free unlike leeks, cabbage, potatoes and carrots grown in the hills and hence the demand for them among the majority of Sri Lankans living in the West as well those Europeans and Americans who are health conscious and earnestly seeking organic produce.
The nutrients and medicinal properties in our produce are not to be scoffed at. It is a crying shame that jak fruit which grows aplenty in the South goes to waste when it ripens since Sinhalese only prefer the kos and polos instead of waraka, the ripe fruit. Bread fruit too goes to waste most of the time; avocados or butter fruit perish in the cooler climes where they are abundant. An avocado easily fetches a price of one pound which is equivalent to Rs 200.00
Our mangoes are far superior in quality and comprise at least 40 varieties compared to Indian or Pakistani mangoes but unfortunately we are not doing enough to market them abroad. It is a case of the hen laying one egg a day but popular among consumers while the turtle eggs which are laid in their thousands go un-noticed.
Dambulla farmers do not need to dump their produce and Jaffna farmers should be able to get maximum price for their onions, mangoes and vegetables and more pertinently have the NPC’s support to market them abroad thereby earning valuable foreign exchange for the national coffers.
The government could do well to support local farmers by lending them a helping hand and raising their income as much as it promotes tea, rubber and cocoa for export. It would be a catastrophe if our neighbouring South Asian friends take the opportunity to wangle for themselves opportunities to have a stake in our indigenous produce and pilfer our natural resources. It is never too late to tap the potential of marketing our produce abroad. Better late than never.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)