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 Nur Aisha Abd. Wahab
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 Daily FT
 Presidential support sought for palm oil paralysis

Daily FT (27/08/2019) - The Palm Oil Industry Association (POIA) yesterday regretted that its issues remain unresolved with the Government turning a deaf ear to the pleas of the industry. 

Outlining a plethora of hardships at POIA’s inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) President Dr.Rohan Fernando called on the Government to give the industry a proper hearing and a tangible solution as soon as possible and to review the situation with scientists who are knowledgeable on the subject.

“Our story is pathetic. The Palm Oil Industry Association and its members are doing their utmost to expand investments, increase wellbeing of its economy and diversify the crop base of this nation and we are only asking you to help us all to work towards this same objective,” Fernando urged.

He pointed out that the absence of any clear direction from the Government on oil palm cultivation and replanting had created several serious obstacles that had jeopardised the future of Sri Lanka’s single most profitable plantation crop.

He said continuing failure by the Government to support this vital endeavour would cause a direct financial loss of at least Rs.500 million to the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs).

“Given the mandate of the Cabinet, we set out to plant 20,000 hectares and there was approval granted to import palm oil seeds, around 500,000 or more, with the approval of quarantine authorities and that was duly done using their own funds and not seeking any subsidies. All these plants were imported, nurseries set up and the plants started growing. Then came an unfortunate report from the Central Environment Authority (CEA), which was absolutely one-sided and baseless and caused all the damage today and has created untold setbacks to the palm oil industry, particularly those the cultivators and growers have been facing,” he stressed.

As a result of this report, he said 550,000 plants valued at over Rs.500 million were rotting in many of the RPCs in their nurseries and before long they would be useless for planting.

“I am calling this an unfair report because there was a committee which delved into this subject, but not all the members of the committee signed the report and it was presented in the most unfortunate manner. Today, we are facing all these issues because of the damage that this report has caused,” Dr. Fernando pointed out.

He said that the association had made representations to every conceivable person in positions of authority including Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake, the CEA Chairman and the Presidential Secretariat, but unfortunately their efforts had been futile.

“We have tried our best to mitigate all that has transpired. We have tried our utmost to meet the President, who is the only person I believe can give us a remedy for this. Unfortunately, our efforts have been not successful, but we are still hopeful that the President will grant us an appointment to share our views so that at least we can plant our palm oil in our nurseries,” he said.

Dr. Fernando reiterating their plea called for Government help for them to grow these 500,000 plants which are in their nurseries in a practical manner so that they don’t lose anymore. 

He also noted that all these were investments coming from the private sector without any subsidies while also creating employment.

Insisting that all RPCs were public listed companies and not wayside boutiques, he said these companies acted with responsibility as they were bound to answer everybody.

“Don’t paint everybody with the same brush and discourage people from investing in this industry. There are processing companies and refineries which are waiting to invest and if they find this is the type of treatment being meted out to people who are cultivating and reduce import substitution, do you think they are going to invest in this country further? Palm oil is a product that will reduce import substitution. There is no foreign exchange going out,” he said.

Dr. Fernando said he had observed over the years that Sri Lanka always likes to protest against something good; for example, the accelerated Mahaweli Project and building of the Kandalama Hotel as well as the Southern Expressway. “However, all these projects today are history and have benefited the economy of this nation.”

He also said that authorities were turninga blind eye to mobs incited by pressure groups to uproot and burn oil palm plants.