Is the Plantations Industry a misguided missile? | Daily News

Is the Plantations Industry a misguided missile?

The dawn of 2021 is around the corner. The global pandemic has opened our eyes to the viable alternatives which is a blessing in disguise. Especially at a time, the industry is harping on low productivity and high costs. However, this opportunity could be the last chance to many industries in Sri Lanka unless we are aligning our thinking to be globally competitive. If value-adding & exports are to be meaningful, the emerging needs such as digital transformation & for a sustainable strategic approach in handling the ‘growth’ aspect of any business is becoming clearer. Both the concepts such as Reverse Learning and ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ are becoming increasingly useful to organizations to achieve the goal. Any industry must be humble enough to learn the relevant skills from millennial despite their young age and get them included in the decision-making process if survival and the growth are the focus. The ground rules are changing rapidly and the age to enter the board is not a barrier any longer.

Yes, you understood the topic right. This is not about an animated cartoon of the Woody Woodpecker series. Misguided missiles were not inherently faulty, they were just being guided in the wrong direction. Yet they are missiles and could be deadlier than R-36Mbecause the reference here is towards the human resources and the economy of the country in general. Further, the Plantations industry was not inherently faulty, but we believe that the industry is misguided later and continue the downward spiraling to date. The cause we see is that the majority are not addressing the Growth through a calculated approach. We salute those who are doing extremely well in this direction,but they are in the category of “vital few”. The “trivial many” do not understand them. There is a lot to learn from the “vital few” but the “trivial many” do not have the competencies in strategic management to comprehend.

Sustainable Growth is crucial to the long-term survival of a business. Continuous growth records make it easier to acquire assets, attract new talent and fund investments. It also drives business performance and profit. Most in the plantations industry have failed to address almost all the factors mentioned above. Doing the same things James Tailor or Henry Wickham did repeatedly expecting better results is insanity. Job analysis, re-design and costing coupled with a flat structure are still to happen even after 27 years of privatization took place in 1993. The cost is only an outcome. The problems if not managed internally will eventually end up in the hands of politicians.

Quite apart from the facts furnished above, we see four areas of high importance in turning around plantations, such as Land-based investments including the forest like cultivations (and underground assets), scientifically managed human resources, holistically managed lands, and transparent real-time information system.

Even if all those four areas are technically well managed then the two most important aspects are the leadership of the organization and the positive culture that cannot be achieved without enabling employee engagement.

Although our soils cannot be compared with virgin soils, not initiating action to enrich the soils to maintain near virgin soil status is an absolute crime especially when comparing it with the outcomes of the global climate change already in place. The negative impact of climate change has become an insult to injury to the crops cultivated with degraded soils.

What we measure is what we manage. Developing and managing soil standards for specific crops remains an urgent action required. Developing soil standards should not be an academic exercise like many other undertakings.

The soil standards must be developed to suit the conducive growth of the crop. The soil moisture levels, Organic “C” levels, required levels of soil microorganisms, micronutrient, and macronutrient levels,required soil temperature levels and recommendations of practical methods to improve soils should be inclusive in the proposed soil standards. Simply put a strategic intervention aiming at enriching soils. The need to enrich biodiversity is another significant aspect that cannot be overlooked.

Raising the bar and working to achievethe full potential of the crops cultivated is another intervention required. The rubber tree can give 5-8 Kgs of dry rubber per year. A well-managed coconut tree has the potential of giving 130 nuts per palm per year and a well-managed tea bush at its productive phase can give about 400 grams of made tea per annum. The responsible organizations must visit the achievers and make their success stories available publicly which will be a definite motivation to do better. That is creating an enabling environment for the industry to grow.

In the absence of such an initiative by the Ministry and the treasury, one could conclude that these two organizations responsible for the industry either do not have the competence to deliver expectations of the public or not at all interested in delivering results. At times we wonder if they are simply passing the ball for the survival of themselves. The politicians who lead the ministries must be trained for their sustainable strategic thinking & acting competence and their performances monitored so that the axes are regularly sharpened to be the emerging leaders of the country, competent & visionary.

The best example demonstrated by the President and the Cabinet of Ministers in attempting to eliminate the global pandemic at the early stages itself through the formation of the COVID-19 committee is cited as an example. They saw the need for the services of a competent strategist and brought Dr Udaya Indrarathne who shared strategic thinking with the members of the committee. He aligned the multidimensional resources towards a single goal with the help of many patriotic leaders in the team. This is a fitting example for the plantations industry as well. The Ministry need a strategic goal.

The officials need competence in strategy execution. The objective is to achieve the goal within a reasonable time frame using available and acquired strategic resources. Connecting the dots, it is not difficult to understand why the industry is behaving like a misguided missile when there are infinite opportunities unexploited to be the best managed Sustainable Forestry Enterprises of the world. Let the dawn of 2021 be the turning point of the Plantations industry and the Political system of the country to spearhead to the goal of achieving Per Capita Income of 12,500 USD before 2030. This is a single pill for all ills if executed strategically. Nevertheless, the potential threat of a misguided missile should not be underestimated. History is a good teacher.

(The writer is a former Senior Planter, Agricultural Advisor & Consultant)