Killing two birds with one stone.
Posted on April 26th, 2020

By Garvin Karunaratne, former GA Matara

President Gotabhaya is interested in creating a new economic trend-  establish new businesses and industries”(From: Rebuilding a policy driven economy: Daily FT:17/4).

Let me hark back to my days in the Administrative Service, some five decades ago. Perhaps my experience as an Assistant Commissioner in the Marketing Department, aa a Deputy Director of Small Industries and my work as the GA at Matara working on the DDC Programme could  offer some ideas.

My subsequent achievement after eighteen years in the Administrative Service lies  in the international field. This  includes the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, which I commenced from scratch, when the ILO attempt to create a self employment programme at Tangail, Bangladesh had gone bust. The Self Employment Programme I established, being implemented by youth workers who were recasted by me to become more economists has grown to become the premier  employment creation the world has known, having created three million youth entrepreneurs by now. It will be of interest to note that this Youth Self Employment Programme I established from scratch in 1982 in Bangladesh,  is now holding a prime place in the Five Year Plan of the Planning Commission. It is not only a major development programme of Bangladesh, but also the premier employment creation programme to be ever implemented in the world.

In rebuilding the lost economy may our leaders have the foresight to not only re establish the petty distribution systems that have been lost in the past few months, but to take one step ahead, and leave something for posterity, making a major change in creating new employment, bringing incomes, obviating imports and making a permanent contribution to national development. That is how I suggest to kill two birds with one stone.

Let me hark back to my days in the Administrative Service, some five decades ago. Perhaps  some of what I dared to do could  offer some ideas.

Let us consider making Paper as an industry. Sri Lanka does not make any Paper today. We happen to be the only country in the entire world that does not even make use of waste paper to make paper. A number of youths on my Self Employment Programme in Bangladesh make a living for the past few decades on making waste paper into  card board. When we were addressing hundreds of youths on self employment training workshops and providing them with lunch packets packed in  in cardboard boxes some youths carefully  collected the used cardboard to be used in their industry to 3make new cardboard. Go back to the days of the Divisional Development Council Programme of the days of Prime Minister Sirimavo and then  the Divisional Secretary at Kotmale established a Unit making Paper out of waste paper. Today the most evident industry in Colombo is the collection of old paper and cardboard and shipping it to India some  70 tons a month and buying back cardboard from India. Once we had the Valachenai Paper Factory. Around two years ago I went upto the gates and gazed at the Factory with its broken down  and overgrown buildings because I had been there several times in the Sixties. I gazed at the ruins remembering the nights I spent at their plush Circuit Bungalow on my circuits.  I have seen myself the straw being washed and being used to make paper. Valachenia made easily half our requirements and all from straw.  Farmers in Hingurakgoda made good money and I had to linger  behind lorries laden with straw as those were the non motorway days and overtaking any lorry was impossible. Later we established another Paper Factory at Embilipitiya. That is also closed now.

 Paper Making in Sri Lanka has an interesting history. The original Valachenai Factory was meant to use the illuk grass and that grass ran out and making paper stopped. Then it was our Valachenai scientists that did experiments and made paper out of straw. It is strange how Sri Lanka does not make any paper and straw is wasted and mostly burnt to get rid of.  However today in many countries like India and China Paper is made out of straw.

Let us get down a few small paper making machines  from India and  get them installed in the colonies. This can be easily done within two months and straw from our present Maha harvest in July and August this year can be made into paper.  The cost of the few paper making machines, cost of air flowing them, installing the units and the full out lay can be recouped within the sales of the paper that we make in the fist two years. I am certain of this.(For further reference: Let’s get back to the days when the colonists at Higurakgoda and Polonnaruwa  sold straw and made money:

Let me suggest  another industry which we once did very successfully. That is Food Preparations making Jam, and Juice. When I was in charge of the Vegetable Purchasing Scheme at Tripoli Market in 1957 there were days when I would send off two lorries to Embilipitiya to purchase all the melon, red pumpkin and ask pumpkin the producers had brought for sale and feed it to the Canning Factory. We made Red Pumpkin into Golden Melon Jam, Ash Pumpkin into Silver Melon Jam. Chena cultivators all over the DryZone made good incomes selling to the Marketing Department. The MD always paid more than what the traders paid for produce.

Unfortunately under President Jayawardena who caved into the International Monetary Fund and accepted their conditions and we had to abolish this Canning Factory. Out went the Canning Factory privatized for a private entrepreneur to make money Earlier under the MD days the Canning Factory brought high incomes to chena producers and Sri Lanka was self sufficient in all Jam and Juice. It was then that we exported pineapple pieces .

All that, including building up an export trade in pineapple pieces and pineapple juice  had been established in three years 1955 to 1957

Let us  consider doing something phenomenal- a Perfume Factory. I saw on the television the inauguration of our President at the hallowed precincts of Ruwanweli seya. The flowers offered at Ruwanweliseya and Sri Maha Bodhi can be made into perfumes.  That will be a new industry. Once when I went to Lucknow I was asked to buy some perfumes from Sugandhika. There was a range of perfumes and I bought some. I then asked to be shown their perfume factory and was surprised when I was told that they did not have a permanent factory. They said that they had a few small scale portable plants which they took to the places where flowers were available. However I noted that they made a vast range of perfumes and have built up a world wide trade.. Getting back to the flowers we have being offered at Ruwanweliseya and Sri Maha Bodhiya and Dalada Maligawa and places like Kelaniya we can easily get down to make perfumes.

Some one has to take the initiative and when I went to Lazareotte I saw a full science laboratory they have established to make products from Aloe vira. We have to get a science lab to experiment on making perfumes and get a factory going.  It is not a new idea. It is a new idea to Sri Lanka.

It so happened that when I paid a visit  to Corrinth in Wales I saw a small distillery making all sorts of drinks. It was a small scale machine the type that will be required to make perfumes out of flowers.

That is a new industry. Get down a small distillery machine and get going and establish a laboratory to experiments on various scents and we have a full scale perfume  industry. This is not fanciful thinking. If small scale some even portable perfume manufacturers can have viable industries I am certain we can also make headway. Let me make a statement that if I had known of small scale distillery machines like what I saw at Corrinth, when I was GA at Matara I would have established a perfume making industry with the flowers offered at the Matara Bodhi. Perhaps this idea may be taken up and a perfume industry established in Anuradhapura in  the near future. (For further reference: A Perfume Making Industry t Anuradhapura & Kandy, Lanka Web, 20/11/2019:

I have written at length on Making Paper, on a Canning Factory and making Perfumes and our economists whose approval will be sought would run down these ideas as impractical as old fashioned and not worth talking about. But those authorities may please note that I as an administrator have been successfully doing this type of thing for a few decades. If anyone wants to dare my ideas let them first tell us what industry they have ever implemented on their own.

Let me talk of the Crayon Factory that I established when I was the G.A. at Matara in 1971..  Under the Divisional Development Councils Programme as the G.A. I was entrusted with the task of establishing employment creation programmes. I did establish a Boat Making Industry that turned out 40 foot sea worthy fishing boats some 30 to 40 boats a year. This was established at Matara and was a successful industry that provided employment to around thirty youths. It worked successfully from 1971 to 1978.when on the IMF advice it was run down and abolished by the Government of President Jayawardena. In its heydays from 1971 to 1977 it was a successful thriving and viable industry.

I had suggested other viable industries but the Ministry of Plan Implementation wanted us to concentrate on smallscale  craft type of industries which actually duplicated the work done by the Small Industries Department. My suggestions of establishing a Butter Creamery in Deniyaya and a Water Colour Industry was turned down.  The view of the Ministry was that I should not venture into new fields. I was told to make tiles and bricks I disagreed because we were already making all the tiles and bricks we needed.

One day I summoned my Planning Officer a chemistry graduate of the University of Colombo and convinced him of trying to make a crayon.  I had worked for close upon a year as Deputy Director of Small Industry and I was in charge of registering small industrialits and allocating foreign exchange for them to buy raw materials and machinery.   Crayons to my mind would be akin to making water colours and I had seen a water colour making factory and had approved it. To my thinking making water colours was  similar but basic to making crayons.  We decided to have a go at it. We purchased some essentials and commenced experiments at my residence. In a few days we realized that we needed equipment and obtained the permission of the Rahula College Principal, Mr Ariyawansa to use the science lab at Rahula College. That was the largest school lab in Matara.  After school closed the school science lab was ours and we did a myriad of experiments for two long months every working day from six to mid night. It was our Planning Officer aided by the science teachers at Rahula College that  did experiments to make crayons. In two months of experiments what we made was never a perfect crayon. We had spent two months at least five days a week from six to mid night and never got a perfect crayon. Then our Planning Officer had a bright idea of consulting his professors in chemistry, the authorities that had taught him chemistry. I happily authorized him subsistence and off he went. Four days later he emerged a broken down man.  He had beseeched  advice from his professors and gone behind them for three full days to be told that they had no time to get involved with him and his fanciful ideas as they were busy lecturing and marking answer scripts. .  I and my team were not going to take this lying down. We recommenced experiments from six to mid night again at the school lab. Finally in another  month we mastered the art of  making  crayons. I sat with the Planning Officer and we together fine tuned the crayon to be  equal to the Reeves, which was the best crayon at that time.

Having successfully found out the method of making crayons it was decided to make it a cooperative venture. My team decided that it should be a cooperative industry directed by us.   I decided to entrust this task to Mr Sumanapala Dahanayake, the Member of Parliament for Deniyaya in. his capacity as the President of the Morawak Korale  Cooperative Union. Sumanapala could be trusted and he readily agreed. I authorized him to use cooperative funds to buy a few small scale items that were required and we, myself and my team the Planning Officer, Vetus Fernando, Development Assistant Daya Paliakkara, and a few others moved to Morawaka. There we did train some twenty youths to make crayons. It was a handmade crayon, as are most industries successfuly run in China and  our task was to train the youths to ensure that each crayon was of good quality. In three weeks, working day and night we filled two rooms with crayon boxes. I and Sumanapala took a few boxes of crayons to present them to Mr Subasinghe the Minister for Industries. He was surprised at the quality and readily agreed to open sales.  A day was fixed to have the sales opening ceremony and the industry came to be officially declared open. Within a month the crayons were sold islandwide.

In establishing this programme no Ministry approval was sought and so we had to buy dyes, the only item that required  to be imported, at a   high price in the black market.  I tried to get the Ministry of industries  to give an allocation of foreign exchange for the import of dyes, the type of allocation that I had a year ago given to the other industrialists when I worked as Deputy Director of Small Industries. We were refused.

In the mentime the Controller of Imports was allocating foreign exchange to import crayons. I met Harry Guneratne the Import Controller and convinced him hat by giving us a small allocation of foreign exchange to import dyes he could stop the import of crayons and make a big saving on foreign exchange. He wanted me to approach the Minister Mr Illangaratne and obtain his approval. Mr Illangaratne not only approved it but also insisted that a crayon factory should be established at Kolonnawa, his electorate.  The Controller of Imports cancelled all imports of crayons because we undertook to make crayons for the entire island. It was a massive saving on foreign exchange.

The Crayon Factory was a glorious success from 1971 to 1977. This Crayon Factory became the show piece industry of the DDC Programme. In fact the crayons were of good quality and the industry was well run, bringing great credit to the DDC Programme that President Jayawardena had a special investigation done to discredit Sumanapala and this industry. A  Deputy Director of Cooperative    N.T.Ariyaratne was entrusted with this investigation. After a lengthy investigation and audit Mr Ariyaratne had reported that the industry was well run and all the books were in order.

This Crayon Industry too was abolished by the Government of President Jayawardena on the instructions of the IMF.

I have provided details of establishing the Crayon Factory in the hope of inspiring any present Government Agent to make an attempt at establishing an industry.  My blood boils even today, whenever I see any foreign crayon- now Crayola crayons being sold in Sri Lanka. I  am sad to think of what Sri Lanka has lost.

The suggested industries, making Paper, a Canning Factory and a Perfume Factory are all far easier to establish than the Crayon Factory I established in 1971 which was a glorious success. I can assure anyone of this fact. 

It is hoped that the contents of this Paper will  convince our President a nd our Prime Minister that  new industries can be easily established.

I will be writing next week about the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, the premier employment creation programme the world has known.

Garvin Karunaratne  Ph.D. Michigan State University

Former G.A. at Matara and Commonwealth Fund Advisor to the Government of Bangladesh 1981-1983

Author of:

How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development, Kindle/Godages, 2017

How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternate Programmes of Success, Godages, 2006


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