Few days back, I was on a panel discussing the past two years record of the government and what we’d like to see in the coming three years. I talked about the President’s interest in focusing everyone’s attention on the Sustainable Development Goals and the expert committee that has been appointed to advise the government on SDGs. This is a topic connected to what we’re doing at LIRNEasia. A non-evidence based statement from the floor caused me to write a column, published today in both Sinhala and English. Why would such egregious errors be made?
Badalkumbura is located in the Moneragala District, one of the most impoverished in Sri Lanka. But it is located in the midst of a smallholder boom in rubber. Here, the key advantage is the weather. In contrast to the traditional rubber districts where rain prevents tapping of the trees for latex sometimes for half the month, rainy days are an exception in Moneragala. Thus new rubber is expanding rapidly, all with smallholders.
The smallholder quality penalty, defined below, is the key concept emerging out of the agriculture supply chains work conducted by LIRNEasia in 2010-12: The Smallholder Quality Penalty is the financial penalty on the market price imposed on the smallholder by the first-handler (mostly a collector) due to the uncertainty of produce quality. This allows the first-handler to offset potential losses due to the perception of lower quality when selling to the next handler downstream. Thus the SQP exists in most transactions in supply chains that involve smallholders. SQP is based on perception and maybe partly justified. Smallholders are often resource-constrained and are unable to make the investments necessary to ensure quality.
Several journalists attended the FAO workshop on mobiles and agriculture in Bangkok. The reports are coming in. The latest was Sri Lanka mobile phone use rising among poor: study. Others were Sri Lanka mobile phone ranking system coming for farmers and Sri Lanka rubber producer gains seen from traceability system
LIRNEasia’s research on agricultural value chains is in the press. Nilusha Kapugama’s response to a feature on one of the most successful rubber smallholder cooperatives has been carried in the Sunday Times. It covers the topics of start-up costs, law and order issues and the high transaction costs that prevent more auctions being conducted (and Padeniya not expanding): Our research included conversations with a key mover in the Padeniya Thurusaviya society, Mr Berty Lionel. We agree that Padeniya is a great success. Where we differ is on the likelihood it can easily be replicated across the rubber-growing areas.
LIRNEasia celebrated Sri Lanka’s 63rd anniversary of Independence by discussing how to bridge the information and knowledge gaps in the rubber and pineapple value chains in the country, based on the extensive value-chain research conducted by LIRNEasia researchers led by Sriganesh Lokanathan over the past six months. In addition, we initiated research planning for value-chain research in Bangladesh, India and Thailand that will constitute the Knowledge-Based Economies module of LIRNEasia’s current research cycle. Participants from Bangladesh, India, Korea, Nepal and Thailand participated in the rich discussion. Experts from within Sri Lanka included agriculture and demand-side research specialists. The summary report will be posted shortly.
I just got back from observing extended focus groups on the knowledge and information gaps faced by small-scale rubber growers in the Galle and Monaragala districts of Sri Lanka. The locations were quite remote, if one checks the map of Badalkumbura (we were several km further to the interior). The remoteness is exemplified by the fact that it took me six hours of driving to get back to Colombo. It is too early to talk about the results of the focus group research, which will be released in due time. What struck me was how Sri Lanka had changed in terms of telecom.
Yesterday, I spoke to a large and restive crowd (made so by lack of air conditioning and a delayed start) in Matara (main city in the South of Sri Lanka) at the launch of the Pathfinder Foundation’s first book, a Sinhala translation of Janos Kornai’s Toward a free economy. I was asked to talk about globalization and the relevance of Kornai’s ideas for facing the challenges posed by globalization. In this talk that I pieced together thanks to time zone differences that caused me to wake up at 3 in the morning while in the US, I illustrated the issues referring to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), a broad area of service exports for which efficient, flexible and low-cost telecom is a pre-condition. I think the talk provides the "big picture" of the necessity of telecom reforms of the type that we at LIRNEasia are involved in. If we are to go beyond simply giving people phones, to giving them "money in the pocket and hope in the heart" this big picture is essential.