Business opportunities need to be developed throughout the country. Though infrastructural development has been good in many parts of the country, the people need to be empowered to make use of new facilities and opportunities.
As I was told a couple of years back, in the Wanni, by a representative of a Women’s Rural Development Society, they were grateful for the assistance to resume agricultural work, but they needed training in marketing. Little has been done, too, to ensure value addition for basic produce. Though 2013 was declared the year of Value Addition, the Minister told me ruefully that hardly anything had been done.
It would help if expertise were available locally for agriculture as well as the development of industries. While there is obvious need of better training in skills, this should go hand in hand with training for enterprise development. We also need to provide better sources of credit, in particular to women. It is also desirable to provide start up support for new enterprises, in particular those that will also contribute to nutritional support, given the recent rise in the percentage of those suffering from malnutrition.
Encouragement of Small and Medium Enterprises is essential in a modernising economy. As the recent Pathfinder Foundation suggestions had it, ‘The overall business environment should assist SMEs to improve their competitiveness and market access. The major internal challenges related to SMEs include their sub-standard technology, low productivity, inferior product quality, weak access to new markets, lack of financing and financial management and scarcity of skilled labour. Their expansion is also constrained by institutional bottlenecks, lengthy and onerous bureaucratic procedures, fragmented support schemes, and a heavy regulatory burden.’
It is sad that government failed in 2010 to build on the goodwill that was widely available after the destruction of the Tigers in Sri Lanka. Efforts were made then to encourage investment, and I still remember the enthusiasm at the Forum in Jaffna in January 2010. But bureaucratic delays held sway, along with rent seeking, which was made easier by bureaucratic requirements and the multiplicity of authorities whose approval was required for enterprise development.
Most important perhaps we should develop a culture of initiative and enterprise. Over half a century ago, D S Senanayake pointed out that Industry in this country has yet to be developed. Today Government service is still regarded as offering the most attractive jobs. We speak of industrialization in Ceylon but we do not seem to realise that we require well-trained personnel to enable us to compete in the industrial sphere with other parts of the world. We also want agriculturists who could help this country to compete on equal terms with the rest of the world.
We realise that 80 per cent of the people of the country, according to the estimate of the Special Committee on Education, must take to industry and agriculture. I feel therefore that any scheme of educational reform that takes no account of these factors tends to ignore the usefulness of our student population to the community in the future. We carry on with the same kind of education up to the age of sixteen.
We must therefore adjust the education system to give greater weight to technical skills and enterprise and initiative while also developing support to agriculture and fisheries to maximize income levels. For this purpose we should
- Provide training and support for value addition within farming communities for value addition to produce.
- Improve storage freezer facilities and ensure marketable produce over longer time spans.
- Develop the dairy industry with provision for grazing grounds, and establish small and medium industries in this field whilst encouraging the consumption of fresh milk and reducing dependency of imported powdered milk.
- Appoint Agriculture Extension Officers to all Grama Niladhari Divisions involved in Agriculture.
- Support new techniques and training to increase the catch in a sustainable manner, and encourage local consumption while also providing better facilities for storage and export.
- Develop factories and small and medium enterprises with regard to value addition and exploration of new markets for the fishing industry.
With regard to enterprise development we should
- Simplify the very confused institutional structures that offer support and ensure that advice and support services are available on a Divisional basis, with Entrepreneurship Development Officers in each Division.
- Encourage the Woman and Children’s Units in every Division to develop cooperative ventures for women’s groups, in both traditional and non-traditional enterprises.
- Upgrade facilities for training in appropriate technology and finance and marketing, with encouragement for innovation and business expansion.
- Increase market access by strengthening links to domestic and international supply chains. This will also improve access to technology, knowledge and financing through links to larger enterprises.
- Strengthen the capacity of Regional Chapters of Commerce.