Great Developmment Programmes that can deliver Sri Lanka out of the woods
Posted on April 17th, 2024

Garvin Karunaratne, PhD. Michigan Stae University,

Is it not sad that Sri Lanka, a country that had no foreign debt in 1977, is today having a foreign debt of $ 91 billion( Prof. Charitha Herath:Lankadeepa- 7/2/24) When President Gotabhaya left the debt was $ 56 billion.

Sri Lanka is a country of ample resources, a fertile land, blessed with rain and ample manpower.

As a development expert with experience of handling development I can recall Great Development Programmes that if copied, could provide a way out.

The Comilla Programme of Rural Development.(1960-1969)

The Government of Bangladesh sought the help of the USA to find the quickest method of bringing about development. This task was entrusted to Michigan State University and a few professors moved to the cobra infested Kotwali Thana, the area where the development was done for over eight years . Akhter Hammed Khan was posted as the Director of the Academy for Rural Development. They worked on a cooperative model where farmers -members of cooperatives were trained and the entire administration was re-organized and farmers provided with deep tube well water. Paddy Yields were increased by 170%, industries established and employment was found for everyone.

This successful method is being followed today in many areas in Bangladesh.

Paddy Production In Sri Lanka- 1965-1970

This was an islandwide programme where paddy farmers were organized through cultivation committees to follow improved methods like the use of high yielding seeds, row seeding, and the use of inorganic fertilizer, In 1967 the District Administrative head, the Government Agents were charged to ensure results. Sri Lanka reached self sufficiency. The yields of paddy was checked independently by staff officers on plots identified by random sampling. It was the combination of an effort by two departments- the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Services, directed by the Government Agents, the Administrative Heads of each District, The Programme was directed by the Prime Minister himself, Mr Dudley Senanayake. Self sufficiency was achieved while also giving a ration of one measure (two Kilos) of rice free per person in 1966-1970.
(The author was an active participant as Senior Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services in 1966-67 and as Additional Government Agent of Kegalla District in 1968-1969. )

The Marketing Department Cannery

A Cannery was imported and installed in 1955. The Marketing Department bought fruit and veg from farmers, buying at their doorstep, moved to the Cannery where we made fruit drinks, jam. We achieved self sufficiency. We staved off all imports of fruit products in three years(1955-1958), working under Hon Philip Gunawardena as the Minister for Agriculture.

I was involved, providing fruit and veg as I was in charge of Tripoli, the headquarters implementing the purchasing and selling of veg and fruit in the entire island. I also was acting in charge of the Cannery when the Assistant Commissioner in charge was abroad , We exported 9% of our tinned pineapple.

The Divisional Development Councils Programme of Sri Lanka(1970-1977) was a programme aimed at creating production and also alleviating poverty.

The highlights of this Programme were:

Paper making out of Waste Paper at Kotmale.

All Waste Paper in the District was collected and used to make paper and cardboard.

Today we do not collect and convert waste paper to paper and cardboard. We bury and set fire to waste paper! Instead we have fine tuned the art of selling used cardboard to India- 8000 tons per month collecting a few dimes and buying paper with dollars from India. Making paper from waste paper is a well known process, but we do not roll our sleeves to do it. Instead we import with dollars we find on loan.

Seagoing Boat Making Factory at Matara

A new industry to make seagoing boats was established within two months. The work included building the workshop, installing sawing equipment, training over twenty youths to make 40 seafaring boats a year. Boats were sold to fishing coops. It was an acclaimed success.

This project was initiated and directed by me in 1971-1973

Coop Crayon Factory at Morawaka

The art of making crayons, equal in quality to Reeves, the best of the day was unearthed by my Planning Officer Vetus Fernando, by experimenting at the Rahula College Science Lab, every evening from six to midnight for three months.

The Coop Crayon Factory was set up at Morawaka in two weeks by my staff training youth on a 24 hour basis. The organizer was Sumanapala Dahanayake the member of parliament of the area in his capacity as the President of the Cooperative Union. Coop Crayon was sold islandwide from 1971 to 1977. The success of Coop Crayon enabled Minister Illangaratne to stop the import of crayons. Coop Crayon was a grand success

This project was initiated and directed by me in 1971-1973..

The Youth Self Employment Project of Bangladesh

Self employment commenced in Bangladesh with a two hour argument I had with the Secretary to the Treasury of Bangladesh when he said that I could not establish this self employment programme as the ILO of the United Nations had failed to establish such a programme in Tangail, Bangladesh. Hon Aminul Islam the Minister for Labour and Manpower who listened to our arguments for two hours, approved my establishing the programme. The Secretary to the Treasury denied any funds and I worked from savings within approved budgets. . I designed this programme teaching youth officers economics and methods of working with youths to develop their abilities and capacities in running commercial ventures.(Communty Developmet & Non Formal Education) I was also training the officers including members of the Bangladesh Civil Service to continue this programme when my consultancy was over. This is today the premier youth employment creation programme the world has known.

On 19/10/2011 the Govt of Bangladesh reported to the IFAD(FAO) one of the funders, that over two million youths have been found self employment. By now (2024) this Programme has guided over three million youth to become self employed. This is a coveted development programme of the Government and the World Bank has tried to buy the programme several times.

This Programme was designed and established by me in 1982-1983. In 2005, twenty two years later Mr M Asafuddowlah, the Joint Secretary who worked with me reported: that this Programme has expanded across the country and attained great success. I have not forgotten your valuable contribution to the success of this Programme,”(Letter dated 20/6/2005 from Md Asafuddowlah, twice Secretary in the Ministry of Youth Development.)

In Sri Lanka Former Ambassador, Mr Milinda Moragoda, in his bid for the Mayor of Colombo said:  he should seek to implement theYouth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, which incidentally was an amazingly successful scheme introduced to that country by a distinguished son of Sri Lanka, Dr Garvin Karunaratne who served in Bangladesh as an international consultant.”(The Nation: 11/9/2011)

To our leaders and my countrymen, my word is that we can develop our country and call an end to poverty and deprivation. The above documented successes do prove that we can.

Garvin Karunaratne, PhD. Michigan Stae University,


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