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Decoding Oil Palm: Myths vs Truths



Smallholder representative Nimal Wijesinghe

By Anumita Ghosh

The contents in this article revolves round a scientific research-backed study on oil palm cultivation in the aftermath of the recent ban in Sri Lanka.

Oil palm is considered to be one of the most competitive vegetable oil crops in terms of productivity. The crop provides five times as much vegetable oil per hectare compared to alternative crops, such as coconut, and sequesters more carbon per hectare than tea and coconut. According to studies conducted by Sri Lankan scientists, per litre of palm oil requires lesser fertilisers and less water than coconut, dry rubber or tea. The crop primarily uses rainwater for cultivation, and there is no evidence of palm oil plantations causing groundwater depletion. Yet, despite a wide range of virtues, the Sri Lankan government has decided to ban palm oil production, ordering replacement of oil palm trees with rubber plantations, on grounds of unfavourable environmental and social impacts.

Myths & Truths

Unfortunately, palm oil has been at the receiving end of a perception that is nurtured based on unfavourable emotions and not facts around it. Claims of oil palm plantations leading to widespread deforestation and damage to ecosystems have hardly any transparent scientific research backing them. In Sri Lanka, oil palm does not replace forest but other plantation crops, primarily rubber or coconut. Therefore, its biodiversity performance needs to be compared with these crops, and as found in various studies, the differences in biodiversity between oil palm, rubber, tea and coconut plantations are neither significant nor conclusive.

In an attempt to break the myths around palm oil and its production, Solidaridad has released the “Myths and Truths of Oil Palm”, a research-based scientific study that provides information and assessments on palm oil through an in-depth literature review on research findings by over 15 leading scientists from top universities and research institutions across Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. A result of extensive research, the publication vividly portrays the social, economic and environmental impacts of oil palm production.

Research highlights

Sri Lanka annually imports 180,000 to 220,000 MT of vegetable oil. This can be met with 50,000 ha of oil palm or 271,000 ha of coconut. Oil palm yields 4 to 5 times oil per ha.

Oil palm plantations have served Sri Lanka for over 54 years, starting around 1968 Palm oil is in many aspects healthier than coconut oil Currently, profits generated per ha/ year; Oil Palm LKR900,000, Coconut LKR280,000, Rubber LKR70,000, Tea LKR45,000 The daily wages per month for workers; Oil palm worker LKR30,000 – LKR50,000, Tea estate worker LKR25,000, Rubber tapper LKR18,000

No evidence has been found of soil and water resource degradation in the oil palm growing estates in Sri Lanka

A worldwide study which included Sri Lanka has shown that in Sri Lanka, the water footprint of coconut oil 10,548 m3water/ton, palm oil 3,946 m3water/ton.

Setting the tone

The launch was organised on 19 January 2022 in a hybrid event with scientists, government ministries and departments, research institutes, private sector, community organisations, media and other participants from Sri Lanka joining the event physically. Panelists and participants from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands and other parts of the world attended the event virtually.

Among the panelists, Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Director, Solidaridad Asia, began the session on a strong and positive note, highlighting the socio-economic impacts of the crop.

“Stop condemning palm oil while adulating other oils, especially when we know that palm oil provides livelihoods to thousands of communities,” he mentioned, setting the tone of the session.

Professor Maja Slingerland from the Wageningen University of the Netherlands, who is also the study reviewer and editor, spoke at length on the impacts and opportunities of oil palm cultivation in Asia.

Research scholar, Dr. Ranjith Mahindapala, presented the audience with the key findings and recommendations from the publication. The panelists also included Manjula De Silva, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka; Mrs. Musdahlifah Machmud, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Indonesia; Atul Chaturvedi, Solvent Extractors Association, India; Dr. Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir, Malaysian Palm Oil Board, among others.

One of the panelists, Ms. Margot Logman, Secretary General of the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), delivered an argument through her presentation stating: “Only alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil”. She urged for an urgent call to action in support of oil palm cultivation.

“We need to tell the complicated truth about sustainable palm oil, not a simple story. We need to win the trust of consumers with facts, and not emotions, in support of palm oil in Europe,” Logman said.

Logman’s call for a perception makeover of the crop was echoed in the smallholder representative Nimal Wijesinghe’s address to the audience. The president of the Haritha Derana Smallholder Association in Sri Lanka narrated how the small farmers in the region had developed misconceptions about oil palm primarily because they did not grow it and were not aware of the truths about the crop. “On learning about the higher profit and income of oil palm cultivation over other crops, they asked me: Can’t we grow this crop?” he mentioned.

Wijesinghe’s appeal to the authorities marked the perfect denouement to the session as he urged, “Give this crop to the smallholder; give it to the person who owns half an acre of land…the person who can grow only 25 trees. That would be the real Samurdhi (prosperity; also, the name of a government welfare scheme for low-income families in Sri Lanka).”

Anumita Ghosh is a Senior Editor and communication professional at Solidaridad Asia – an international sustainability organisation, and can be reached at

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Private Tutoring Amidst Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis: Issues Faced by Students



By Usha Perera

Sri Lanka’s education sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces acute challenges due to the current political and economic crises. The sudden imposition of curfews and the lack of transportation have resulted in school closures and students being deprived of structured and systematic in-school education. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for just one day causes a loss of 25 million learning hours and 1.4 million teaching hours. Alongside this, private tutoring has gained greater importance. This blog discusses the issues faced mainly by Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students in attending tuition classes based on an IPS study. The study findings are derived from a sample of about 340 students, and 16 teachers and tutors across Sri Lanka.

Affordability of Private Tuition Classes

The surge in the cost of living with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and loss of income generation channels have been unbearable for parents of school-going children. The IPS study found that students who belonged to family income levels below LKR 30,000 spend approximately LKR 3,000-Rs. 7,000 per month while students whose family income was above LKR 200,000 spend approximately LKR 18,000- LKR 20,000 per month on private tuition depending on the grade of the student. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 1.

Further, most O/L and A/L level students spend more than LKR 2,000 per month on data packages for both school and tuition online classes, while most students who spend more than LKR 2,000 per month are concentrated among the higher family income categories. If LKR 2,000 is spent on monthly data packages, it would approximately account for 1% of whose family income is above LKR 200,000, and more than 7% of whose family income is below LKR 30,000. All this highlights the perceived importance of private education, especially among O/L and A/L grades, and the financial burden it imposes on a family’s household income.

These affordability concerns were partly offset by the introduction of free online classes during the pandemic, which has provided considerable relief for financially vulnerable students according to students interviewed for the IPS study. Affordability concerns were further allayed by reduced class fees by some tutors. The fees reductions were made accounting for the structural changes of administrative and operating costs of an online setting applicable based on the scale and intensity of operations of tutors. Financial issues faced by the families experiencing household income losses during the pandemic were also considered in fees reduction.

Accessibility to Online Classes

Online platforms were the sole medium for conducting classes during the pandemic while it becomes an option in the current context considering the social unrest, curfews and travel constraints due to fuel shortages. However, many students faced accessibility issues in joining online classes. The issues faced were poor signal coverage, high data costs, lack of necessary devices, and affordability concerns in the context of lost household income during the pandemic. Most of the students who belonged to a family income level above LKR 200,000 used a laptop/tablet while most of the students who belonged to a family income level of below LKR 30,000 relied on a smartphone. Smartphones were found to be less user friendly for academic use. In addition to the above issues, the ongoing power outages also present impediments to online education.The accessibility issues are mainly experienced by students from families with comparatively lower income levels, and those who had to rely on a smartphone for academic purposes. This implies a close positive relationship between household income and the quality of the education received; financial strength being the primary determinant of accessibility.

Figure 1: Monthly Tuition Expenditure by Monthly Household Income
Source: Institute of PolicyStudies of Sri Lanka, 2021.

However, these accessibility issues were partly offset by the divergent opportunities experienced by students, especially in the context of online platforms. These prospects included the ability to join online classes conducted in distant locations that would otherwise have been restricted due to travel constraints and increased time available due to school closures. As a result, they increased the duration of tuition classes using the saved travel time.

Way Forward

While private tutoring became a way of bridging the gaps in the education system during the crisis, learning losses for the most vulnerable groups have further widened with accessibility and affordability issues. Since these issues were mainly observed among O/L and A/L student groups, there is a higher risk that vulnerable student groups would be highly challenged during their most decisive years leading to higher education and career development. Thus, it is necessary to address the affordability issues, focusing more on the vulnerable student groups. Financial assistance could be provided in terms of a certain number of free hours of teaching for selected financially vulnerable students and allocating a selected proportion of students to be taught at a concessionary rate.

To address the accessibility issues, recording the lessons and distributing the notes on different platforms will help to a certain extent. Providing digital equipment and networks for selected tuition centres and schools could also be considered since the lack of facilities and resources was identified as major accessibility issue for distance education. These would require collaborative efforts among the government, tutors, parents, non-government organisations and any other well-wishers.

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Allianz Divitharana: A new take on Life and Health Insurance



The world’s number one insurance brand Allianz has announced the launch of its new Divitharana Insurance product, which provides comprehensive life and health insurance for policyholders and their loved ones, at an easily accessible and affordable price. The product, which has been designed for the mass market, a segment that is highly price sensitive, comes with a host of benefits and features, making it a truly comprehensive insurance product, that covers all of life’s important bases, protecting life’s most precious things.Tailored for the mass market, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, technicians, teachers, executives and other members of the general public, Divitharana Insurance provides life insurance at a flexible and economic price point, with the option for policyholders to settle the premium in monthly, quarterly, biannual or annual instalments, while also providing the convenience of increasing the cover provided during the policy period, without having to go for a new policy. These are particularly important features amidst the present economic challenges the nation is facing, as it allows everyone to have access to good and reliable insurance, regardless of their income level and style.

A key differentiator of Divitharana insurance is that each policyholder will be entitled to an individual investment account, on which an annual dividend will be declared and the proceeds credited to the policyholder’s account. On top of this, policyholders will also be entitled to an additional loyalty bonus of 20%, which will be added to the maturity value for continued on-time premium settlements. other than the life cover provided by Divitharana, policyholders can also opt to include additional covers such as Disability Benefit, Critical Illness and Hospitalisation cover, while also enjoying the flexibility of extending the insurance cover to include their spouse & children.

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SLT-MOBITEL doubling the cloud with country’s first-ever VMware Cloud Foundation deployment



Understanding the importance of breaking new ground to reap the benefits of Enterprise premium cloud services, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider, has become the country’s first-ever service provider to enable VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) deployment in the island and importantly the first telco provider to have two clouds. Amidst the changing dynamics, the deployment milestones are supporting SLT-MOBITEL’s Cloud programme in accelerating digital transformation.SLT-MOBITEL Enterprise premium cloud was launched in 2018. Having a successful journey for over three years, the new mobilization now elevates and transforms the premium cloud through VMWare Cloud Foundation. Importantly, SLT-MOBITEL is the first local organisation to partner VMWare as a Business Continuity Certified Planner (BCCP) and initiate VMWare Cloud Foundation in Sri Lanka.

VMware Cloud Foundation is a suite of VMware products that provide building blocks necessary to implement an integrated software-defined data center platform. Its components combine to automate deployment and lifecycle management, helping to simplify IT operations and reduce administrative overheads for enterprises.With its Cloud Verified Status and as a VCF Enabled Partner, SLT-MOBITEL is now in the forefront as the only service provider in the country offering a range of new differentiated services such as automate infrastructure and application delivery with self service capabilities to help organizations plan, manage and scale their data center operations especially dramatically reduce provisioning times and cut operational costs.

The SLT-MOBITEL VMware VCF deployment ensures customers transition to the industry’s most advanced cloud platform with a complete set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management to run enterprise apps in private or public environments.By doubling the cloud SLT-MOBITEL establishes customers have both production and disaster recovery sites with different scales, located at two different Data centres with required ROP and RTO. The Disaster recovery site can be deployed at any scale with respect to production sites according to the enterprise customer’s requirement. SLT-MOBITEL also provides migration as a service with the features from NSX –T.

Through VCF, SLT-MOBITEL is offering customers the benefit of real disaster recovering services, a Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) and monitoring services, latest networking enablers with NSX – T up-to-date versions of VMware software vSphere, vSAN and intelligent, advanced VMware capabilities including ESXI and VSAN and efficient and effective migration services. SLT-MOBITEL also provides IaaS services, Virtual Machines, and Virtual Data Centers along with a range of other support facilities such as Disaster avoidance with Stretch Cluster (RPO 5 minutes), Disaster Recovery as a Service, and Backup as a service.Above VCF deployment is directly done by Vmware Professional Service team to ensure the highest quality deployment .

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