The Palmyrah Development Board (PDB) will be turned around from a margin profit making entity to a major foreign exchange earner to Sri Lanka, its new Chairman Krishantha Pathiraja said. The PDB which originally came under the Ministry of Plantations is now vested under the Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development headed by Minister Wimal Weerawansa who is instrumental in introducing novel thinking to the traditional industry.
Speaking to ‘Daily News’ at the opening of the Jaffna international Trade Fair last week he said that Minister Weerawansa has identified that producing Palmyrah fiber locally would be a major revenue generator for the industry. “Currently local fiber product exporters are importing around Rs. 4.3 million worth fiber monthly and we can meet this demand locally.”
As an initial step a Palmyrah Fiber Processing Centre was set up in Manner last month and the target is to manufacture 15 tons of fiber in 6 months. “We have also come to a forward buying agreement with coir based product exporters to purchase fiber from this factory thus saving FOREX.”
PDB hopes to set up 14 such Fiber Processing Centers in the North East, firstly to meet the total local fiber demand in six months and then look at exports. “This will reverse the current trend of spending dollars to import fiber and add a new product to Sri Lanka’s export basket.”
Pathiraja said that there are over 11 million Palmyrah trees out of which 3.5 million are in Jaffna and 3 million each in Mannar and Kilinochchi and also in Kalpitiya and Hambantota. A Palmyrah plant blooms in 15 years and has a life span of over 110 years. Currently around 70, 000 people depend on the industry. “We will also plant 500,000 new plants in these areas.”
Today Palmyrah trees mainly are used to extract sap and several cooperative societies buys them to make mainly toddy and sweet sap and food ingredients. In addition the leaves and fiber are used to make bags and fiber based products.
One of the biggest assets with PDB is the Tikkam Distillery which is now shut down. “This is a value asset and it will be re-opened and several new products would be manufactured. We will also manufacturer Palmyrah Whiskey only for the export.”
Palmyrah juice, pulp jaggery, and honey made out of Palmyrah are currently exported to Canada and some other countries and we want to increase exports. “We also want to manufacture more handicrafts like hand bags and purses from Palmyrah leaves for export with novel technology.”
PDB sales outlets called ‘Katpaham’ too would be upgraded. “We will also ink a MoU with the Vocational Training Authority to introduce a diploma course in Palmyrah soon.” He said that all this is done to make North East more prosperous and bridge the gap between the North and South.