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IFEAT Preview: Sri Lankan Naturals—Traditional and Emerging Aromatic Crops and a Value-added Future

Posted: September 12, 2012

For the extended interview with Mushin and other IFEAT speakers, look for the October issue of P&F magazine. Previously: Biotech for F&F

Historically, Sri Lanka has been notable for its production of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, clove and cardamom, says Fazal Mushin (Link Natural Products (Pvt) Ltd.). He explains that cinnamon is cultivated on a commercial scale, while other crops have always been cultivated on small family farms. (View photos at P&F's Facebook feed; no registration required.)

“Sri Lanka is an agri-based country, and as much as 70% of the country’s population is involved in this sector,” says Mushin. “These are family-based units. You will find entire families are involved in it. It’s passed down from generation to generation and [represents] a long-term investment. Land ownership can range from anything from a half an acre to two acres of land. Farmers will plant a few trees for a rainy day in the future. Every household will have a mixed crop depending on the area. People who grow cinnamon on the coast may also grow some pepper to diversify. Inland they might grow nutmeg, pepper, clove and cocoa. I know if I don’t benefit, my children will benefit. Because they will have this [crop] coming in another eight or 10 years. Other families will also grow sandalwood and teak trees because these are trees that bring them value down the line.”

“This has always been an agri-based economy,” Mushin says of Sri Lanka, “but there is a move to have the industrial base expand. Essential oils are not considered a high-tech industry and represent only the first step of the value chain. We need the support of buyers—not speculators. We need long-term commitments from people supporting the development of this sector. Development has a drastic trickle-down effect on farming families. We need support coming from consuming countries … so we can go up the value chain from just essential oils to adding value further with the oils and taking the technology down to the farmers’ level so that they can improve their skills as well. Without these families, where do we go to obtain the produce? Today, we see the need to pay better prices to farmers and not just use the word ‘sustainability,’ but put into practice what we preach. The implications are really quite serious.”