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Import ban on inorganic fertilizers and its effects on the tea industry

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by Devaka Dias

 

1. Vegetatively Propagated Teas are CLONAL HYBRIDS which requires high and correct nitrogen ratios to reach its potential yield of over 3,000 kg per hectare made tea per annum.

 

2. The required norm is 10 kg nitrogen for every 100 kg of made tea. If soil carbon ratios are good at 7% organic matter in the soil, improving the cation exchange (ability of soils to hold nutrients) capacity, it is possible to reduce the N ratio from 10 N to seven N per 100 kg made tea. However, timing and the method of application is very important to derive absolute benefit.

 

3. Most soil where tea is grown in Sri Lanka is eroded and the organic matter in the soil is so poor that the tea is fertilizer dependent.

 

4. A field yielding 3,000 kg of made tea per hectare will require 300 kg N. Less if the soil carbon is good. The N per one ton of compost is believed to be low at 1.5% nitrogen. Based on this, one hectare of tea yielding 3,000 kg per hectare will require 20,000 kg of compost each year. Cost of procurement and application will be prohibitive and not cost effective and practical.

 

5. The quality of compost supplied to the industry requires to be closely monitored, particularly if imported, as there is the risk of introducing nematodes and other pest and diseases that we did not have hitherto.

 

6. Where compost is produced locally, proper C:N ratios must be ensured to give a standard of 20:1 or below. Quality control is a must or there will be repercussions as with high ratios the bacteria in the compost will draw nitrogen from the soil.

 

7. Compost fertilizer will be unable to match nitrogen, phosphate & potassium ratios recommended by the TRI. For example if the potassium levels are too high, it will bring about a magnesium deficiency making the leaf yellow.

 

8. If nitrogen is reduced, production will take a huge dip and leaf supplied to the factory will not be healthy for producing good tea. Succulent leaf is required for good tea manufacture but with less nitrogen the leaf will be yellowish and leathery. This will result in a brownish tea and high percentage of off grades. Poor quality tea will not fetch good prices at the auctions and the overall average will dip with both the factory and the green leaf supplier severely affected. The tea factories will run into problems of not being able to achieve the desired out-turn from green leaf to made tea which should be 21.50%. Even a loss of 0.50% will mean a loss to the factory in monetary terms which they can ill afford. A tea factory manufacturing 500,000 kg of green leaf based on a green leaf rate of Rs.100/= per kilo, incurring a loss of 0.05% on the out-turn will incur a loss of Rs.250,000/=.

 

9. The reduction of nitrogen over a long period of time will weaken the tea bush and the casualty rate will be very high after pruning.

 

10. Dependence on artificial fertilizer can be reduced but not completely stopped. Reducing the current rate of application cannot be done overnight and must be implemented in stages at the grower level. I suggest the following steps:

 

a. Encourage the grower to establish Gliricidia and Albizzia shade and maintain it correctly. A good cover of both type of shade ensures improving the soil carbon over a period of time. Fifty kg of gliricidia leaves adds 01 kg nitrogen into soil. In land with a high gradient, de-silting of drains is a must.

 

b. In land with a poor cover of tea due to erosion, most of the soil carbon will be lost and the grower must be encouraged to infill. Bright sunlight falling directly on the soil burns up soil organic matter very fast and also leads to the loss of ammonia in the soil when the soil temperature increases. Therefore establishing shade and infilling vacant tea patches is essential.

 

c. By changing the method of fertilizing, efficiency can be improved. Currently, the method of fertilizer application is to apply the manure on the surface of the soil by what is popularly known as broadcasting. This, I consider, to be the most inefficient method of application leading to loss of ammonia. I have over a decade adopted a different method of placement of fertilizer.

 

While this is expensive, it successfully reduces the volume of fertilizer that need be applied. The fertilizer is placed in a 6-inch deep alavangoe hole, one and a half feet away from the bush on the upper side of the slope and the hole covered. The cost of placement works out to three and a half workers per acre as opposed to one when broadcasting. It is a crime at today’s cost to waste fertilizer by broadcasting using more volume than necessary to compensate for volatization. More so as there is a big government fertilizer subsidy.

 

R & D is required to invent an applicator for fertilizer placement.

In conclusion I must say that with good agricultural practices, dependence on artificial fertilizer can be reduced but we cannot go 100% organic. It is important to educate tea growers, 70% of whom are smallholders using very much more than recommended doses of fertilizer, to mend their ways. They believe that applying more fertilizer means overnight crop increases and make five or six applications when four would suffice if correctly timed. What the smallholder does not understand is that we have to only replace N that has been removed from the soil. This is why we go on a replacement ratio of 10 kg N to 100 kg of made tea which could be reduced to 7% if the soil organic matter is good.

If a study is done on the fertilizer use by the smallholder and N replacement ratio worked out, I am sure the figure will be astronomical. This is where lot of money is wasted and must be corrected. With proper use of fertilizer, imports can be reduced and valuable foreign exchange saved by the country.

The authorities must also develop a method of issuing fertilizer to smallholders based on their production. This should not be a problem as the factories have the required information. In my opinion four application of fertilizer is more than enough with application during and after the two monsoons when the assimilation is best.

Reducing rate of N application with artificial fertilizer, in my view, does not require addition of compost if proper agricultural practices are followed. In an estate I work on, the soil is very rich in organic matter on account of a good cover of Albizzia and Gliricidia. No soil is exposed to direct sunlight as a lot of Albizzzia leaf litter and twigs and gliricidia loppings lie on the soil. They slowly disintegrate into colloids that will attract a negative iron to bind the ammonia and other elements such as Pottasium, Calcium etc.

I appeal to the authorities to rethink the ban on inorganic fertilizer imports. Immediate change will cause a lot of hardships to the grower, particularly the smallholder who contributes 70% to the national production and depend on this income for a living. The grower requires to be educated on the importance of soil organic matter to get them to adopt correct agricultural practices and reduce dependence on artificial fertilizer.

Halting inorganic fertilizer and moving totally to organic will cause irreversible damage to the industry in many ways. What is required is to improve the soil organic matter and reduce the dependence on fertilizer. One has to keep in mind that the tea industry is an interconnected web and the ban will not only affect the grower and the factories but also many others indirectly employed in the tea industry.

(The writer is a senior planter from a planting family with 48 years experience in the industry.)



Business

CSE planning new product lines to attract investors in greater numbers

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By Lynn Ockersz

The CSE is planning to attract a greater number of investors to the stock market this year through the introduction of some new product lines. In order to increase the choice of instruments available to equity investors, the CSE intends to focus in the immediate term on instruments, such as, stock borrowing and lending and regulated short-selling, CSE CEO Rajeeva Bandaranaike said.

The latter instruments would help in generating more liquidity and trading among equity investors, not only in instances when the market is on its way up but also in a declining market as well, CEO Bandaranaike told The Island Financial Review in an exclusive interview recently.

The CEO also said that the CSE is aiming at leveraging the corporate debt market through the initiation of some new products. For example, Green Bonds, Perpetual Bonds and the facilitation of secondary trading of corporate bonds via repo trading.

Asked to indicate as to how these instruments would help the bourse going forward, Mr. Bandaranaike said that stock borrowing and lending, for instance, would facilitate and enable regulated short selling which will have the effect of increasing liquidity and trading among all categories of equity investors.

This will create opportunities for traders to make use of market volatility. Besides, investors holding long term portfolios could lend their stock and earn an interest with least effort on their part.

Asked to elaborate on the importance of Green Bonds, the CEO said that institutional investors in particular are currently focusing on ESG projects; that is, investors that are sensitive to environmental, social and governance concerns. Accordingly, the CSE would be catering to some important investor needs through the latter projects.

Meanwhile, in response to the question on how the digitization initiatives of the CSE have helped in ushering a more robust share market in Sri Lanka, CSE’s Chief Information Officer Chandrakanth Jayasinghe said it is the aim of the CSE to give progressive digital exposure to investors. There are two dimensions to be considered here the CIO said. First, more and more important features have been added to the CSE’s digital mobile App over the last two years.

The CIO added: ‘A revamped mobile App is now at hand to enable quicker and informed investment decisions. All the information required by the investor is now available via this App to enable him to enter the market. For example, we are linked to the Department of Registration of Persons. Digital on-boarding and digital signing etc have been enabled via the app. On a full digital basis investors can now interact with the CSE.

‘The investor is now connected to the CDS E-Connect via the CSE and the investor could access his/her stock portfolio, for instance, and access his/her monthly statements. They could also make changes to their profiles such their address changes via the mobile App. Research reports of brokers could be accessed by the same means, nominations could be effected through the same mechanism. It’s a total change: a 360-degree info hub has been created through the App.

‘Secondly, the CSE is a more agile digital organization. For instance, most of our back-end functions are fully robotized. AI is used in many operations. We use AI for compliance operations.

‘We are saddled with very much less paperwork. Over 90% of all account openings are effected through our mobile App. Most paper-based formalities have been done away with.’

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SriLankan Airlines unveils new and improved mobile App

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SriLankan Airlines has unveiled a new and improved mobile app that is designed for optimum user-friendliness. The enhanced app will afford customers greater ease and flexibility in managing their flight bookings, purchasing value-added services, enrolling for a FlySmiLes account and performing a variety of other tasks.

The new app provides greater autonomy for Customers through added features that are exclusive to the app. Customers will be able to choose their in-flight meal; reserve seats; change travel dates and sectors; buy value added services such as excess baggage, travel insurance and duty-free items; and check-in for flights well in advance.

The ability to manage flight bookings, even while on the move, remains entirely with passengers who will be empowered to exercise greater control in shaping their journey independently and dynamically. Customers’ in-app experience is inclined to be further enhanced with the new ‘My Trips’ feature. My Trips will organize and present important information that a customer requires for an upcoming flight in a timely fashion on the app’s homepage.

The homepage includes other up-to-minute information on the flight schedule and allows users to search and stay on top of the departure and arrival times of flights. Customers can also stay updated and not miss out on the latest deals and promotional fares.

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Brandix Manusathkara Thilina 2022

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Brandix Apparel Ltd., gave hope to 16,824 children of the Brandix family by gifting them school essentials including stationery and schoolbags necessary for the new school year, under its ‘Manusathkara Thilina’ 2022 initiative recently.

 Understanding the current need to support our team members, especially during the current crisis of rising stationery costs, the children of 10,933 Brandix Associates were recipients of Brandix’s unstinting efforts to inspire and support education for all. The 2022 programme is being held for the 7th consecutive year where children from pre-school to Grade 13 received stationery packs.

Malika Samaraweera, Group Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Brandix Apparel noted, “The beginning of the new school year is eagerly anticipated and exciting for all students. However, we realise that our employees, who are the backbone of our enterprise, are facing a daunting challenge to provide their children these essential items. We firmly believe in taking care of our communities and this year’s Manusathkara Thilina programme ensures these children have the tools and opportunity to learn and grow.”

 Begun in 2016, the Manusathkara School Essentials initiative seeks to drive home the importance of education among the children of Brandix employees. To-date, over 37,000 children have benefitted from the programme. The educational hampers gifted to the children comprise of stationery and other school necessities, enabling their success for the foreseeable future.

With the aim of driving social sustainability, the inspired team at Brandix continues their work towards Equal Opportunity and the Right to Education for All. Recognising that today’s challenges are wide-ranging and incredibly tough for many families, the school essential packs will enrich the lives of the beneficiary children and sustain their school education.

Supporting Sri Lanka’s aspiring youth towards continuity in their education, Brandix has also initiated an annual scholarship scheme under its ‘Manusathkara University Scholarship’ programme. Children who are high performers in the Advanced Level Examinations within the Brandix Model Villages are awarded scholarships to pursue their higher education and contribute towards Sri Lanka’s future workforce. The ‘Model Village’ concept was developed by Brandix to support the wellbeing of communities within a 10km radius of the company’s facilities.

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