New lease of life ensured for local industries - State Minister Prasanna Ranaweera | Daily News

New lease of life ensured for local industries - State Minister Prasanna Ranaweera

The Government will be widely lauded for its commitment for the development of local productions, especially traditional industries, through the removal of every barrier that hinders the maximum production of local industrial items.

In an interview with the Daily News, Clay, Cane, Brass, Furniture and Rural Industry Promotion State Minister Prasanna Ranaweera said he will make serious and sincere efforts for the promotion of local industries by giving necessary recognition and an intensive to the local people in order to uplift their livelihoods.

Plans include supporting and initiating innovation platforms, offering domestic and international market access training; and minimising transaction costs of industries.

Q: You have been entrusted with the task of protecting and reviving our traditional industries such as cane, brass, pottery and furniture. But, most of these industries have collapsed and the lives of those who depend on them have been disrupted. What are your plans to revive these industries and uplift the livelihoods of these people?

A: On the instructions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, we have already formulated long-term and short-term strategies to revive these industries with the aim of increasing their contribution to the National economic development and foreign exchange earnings. Most Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) are engaged in our traditional industries. They play an important role in our economy through the generation of employment, contributing to the growth of GDP, embarking on innovation and stimulating other economic activities.

Unfortunately, today, all industries have faced a massive setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, pottery, cane and brass are deeply connected to Sri Lankans from the ancient time. We were a significant manufacturer of these products while considerable innovation also took place in the past. But, with the introduction of the open economy in 1977, the demand for the locally-produced goods was reduced as a result of the dumping of low-quality imported products into the local market.

Cane, pottery, brass and furniture manufacturers are affected by unregulated imports which bring low-quality products into Sri Lanka. Most local manufacturers were discouraged and many local production companies had to shut down gradually due to this reason. So, our only wish is to bring that prosperous era back which appreciates and respects local culture and traditions.

The long-term plan includes the promotion of traditional industries and handicraft sectors in order to pave the way for enhanced democratization of economic structures through improved access to productive resources and a more balanced distribution of income.

The National Development Plan focuses on entrepreneurship development programmes, skills development and training programmes, the improvement of technology and quality, modernization of facilities, development of industrial estates and regional industrial estates, supporting potentially viable industries, the prevention of excessive competition through tariff measures, improvement of marketing opportunities for SMEs, promotion of exports, development of buy-back and subcontracting arrangements, fiscal assistance and tax incentives, securing bank loans and credit guarantee schemes and in-depth research on SMEs including surveys.

Under the short-term plan, we hope to manufacture giftware, educational toys, utility items, wooden gift and packaging materials, household pottery accessories such as mugs, teacups, pots, dishes, and saucepans, bathroom accessories, brooms, ekel brooms, mats, clay ornaments such as terracotta pots and vases and ornamental items made by pottery, cane and brass to fulfil the local demand. Then, it will be eventually expanded to the international market.

We have initially given priority for the production of essential items for households, schools, banks, state and private institutions, hospitals, police stations and religious places. We feel it is a victory if every house, school and all other private and state institutions could start using coir brooms, pottery items and other household pottery, cane and brass items instead of products made of plastic by 2021. That is our target and all possible facilities will be given to local manufacturers to achieve this target from next year.

Q: Have you identified the problems faced by rural craftsmen and what are the solutions given to them?

A: I have visited a number of areas famous for various crafts. They face numerous problems which differ from each other. Some manufacturers have a problem in finding raw materials while some others have difficulties in finding market facilities for their products. Some of them have a difficulty of adopting new technology and value addition to improve the quality of their products while some of them are suffering from financial burden. So, we should establish a joint mechanism with the help of all related stakeholders, mainly the authorities that give approval for raw materials such as the Environment Ministry, Wildlife Conservation Department, Trade Ministry, Police Department, banks, training institutions, institutions which provide technical assistance such as the IDB, EDB, and ITI; to create easy access for local industrialists for finding raw materials, obtaining financial assistance, training and marketing opportunities.

In the near future, I will convene all these relevant stakeholders and craftsmen to my Ministry for a discussion to address these issues.

Q: The lack of raw materials has resulted in craftsmen giving up the industry. How do you address this problem?

A: Most of these traditional arts and crafts of rural folks are on the decline due to a combination of factors - the difficulty of obtaining raw materials, competition from cheaper mass-produced items in the market, the reluctance of the part of the youth to continue these craftworks, mainly due to status and income reasons. The shortage of raw materials is the main obstacle in the industry.

As cane is not commercially cultivated in Sri Lanka, there is a shortage of cane. The cane craft industry must depend on the cane that grows in the wild. Since cane grows mostly in conservations, it is necessary to obtain the approval of the Wildlife Conservation Department. That makes our craftsmen desperate. Therefore, we need to intervene in this problem and create proper coordination between the Wildlife Conservation Department and the craftsmen.

On the other hand, there are clay deposits in Kelaniya, Nikapatha in Haputale and Biyagama. Clay deposits are in abandoned fields in Biyagama. However, permission should be taken from the Agriculture Department to dig clay. Now, we expect to come up with a proposal that inland fishery be commenced in these large pits created by the removal of clay. Actions will be taken to identify clay deposits and legal permits will be given to the persons who have been registered under the National Crafts Council in order to eliminate any mafia in this process.

Q: One of the main problems of craftsmen is lack of short-term and long-term financial assistance for them to have access to new technology and markets. How do you assist them financially?

A: We had a discussion with the People’s Bank to introduce a loan scheme to these manufacturers in order to ease their financial burden. If we can give them necessary financial assistance, technology and marketing opportunities, the recognition of the craftsmen and demand for their products both in local and foreign markets will definitely increase.

Q: What are your plans for accelerating the skills of craftsmen and finding them local and foreign market opportunities?

A: It is necessary to conduct training programmes to build local capacities and transfer the necessary knowledge needed to work with raw materials in order to develop industries, and create an eco-friendly practice in pottery, cane and brass processing. Innovative thinking is needed in terms of designs and product ideas and the use of the latest technology is a must for the craftsmen engaged in these industries. Sri Lanka has many skilled design students who only need some exposure and freedom to bring out their ideas. Since most of them are from rural areas, we need to educate them on the latest technology and improve the value addition of their products to enter the export market.

We also expect to direct local pottery manufacturers to produce gift items and jewellery made out of pottery. They have a huge demand in the world market and we want to introduce them to the local market initially, targeting Valentine’s Day that falls on February 14 next year. Plans are also afoot to allocate stalls to display the products made out of clay, cane and brass in supermarket networks in the country.

Apart from that, we annually conduct an awarding ceremony to facilitate our local craftsmen. In addition, we expect to have an auction to facilitate the craftsmen to display and give the best prices for their products.

Most craftsmen in the rural areas do not have access to training programmes on the latest technology, innovation and value addition. We must educate them by providing training programmes. Our products have a huge demand in the international market. Close coordination between the provincial ministries and line ministries in the development of local industries and the need to attract the youth to the field is important. Children need to be educated about the importance of traditional industries from the young age. Traditional industry is also an appropriate subject for research dissertations of university students. It can make a considerable contribution to the development of the industry.

Local industries struggle to tap into the global market even though they have the capacity to cater to foreign demands. Connections to global value chains have to be made easier to access and streamlined. To address the lack of networking, collaboration and industry-wide support for creative industries, a strong professional association should be established by the sector so that the sector itself can voice overall concerns, monitor growth, steer development and act as a collective bargaining body to represent industry interests. So we have Vidhatha Center comprising experts of many fields. I hope to gain their expertise for the development of these industries. We discussed with the Moratuwa University, ITI, Esthetic University and IDB to provide necessary technology and training to craftsmen.

Q: Why did the Government decide to abolish the 19th Amendment and bring in the 20th Amendment?

A: People of this country gave the biggest mandate to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government because of our promise to abolish the 19th Amendment which has led the country into chaos. However, there are several positive features including Right to Information, and Government audit and they should be retained for the benefit of the country and its people.

The former regime brought the 19th Amendment not to build up the country but to take revenge from the Rajapaksa family. Sri Lanka will only be able to address the shortcomings of the previous administration and deliver a strong Government only after repealing the 19th Amendment. Some of the appointments made by the Constitutional Council (CC) established under the 19th Amendment raised concerns about its function. Some appointments made to Independent Commissions have also led to controversy. We do not want representatives from NGOs for these Commissions and we need representatives responsible for the President, Prime Minister and the entire Parliament.