Sri Lanka’s big vegetable from Google Earth


Vegetables are of enormous importance to plant eaters such as Cerno.
Below is a Google Earth view of the Dambulla Economic Centre which sends out most of the vegetables sold in Colombo (hence the name). The closer the vegetables get to the city, the more battered and expensive they become.

The Sunday Time on 5th July 2009 carried an article titled Food mafia in Dambulla which details a murky world of price fixing emanating from this place. Its a continuation of the rot that the paper reported in a 2007 article. Back then most of the attention was on war, not vegetables (and those who toiled to grow our food).

There is a blip of hope though. The next Sunday times article appearing in 12th July 2009 proclaims “President orders crackdown on Dambulla mafia“. Despite all the well practised eye roll by the cynics, I hope what ever measure taken work out. There are also hopes to plant more big vegetables in places like Omanthai which used to be famous for a different reason.

The term “Big Vegetable(s)” (Grosses Legumes) has also been used as a name for the corrupt elite in Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire (Now the Democratic Republic of Congo). A long story that is readably documented in Michela Wrong’s In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.

6 comments

  1. Timely post! Looks like a real racket..Must read about it more leasurely.

    I think every garden should have atleast one or two vegetable..(Not for a 365 day supply) A few in the flats also grow vegetables so I do not think it is a difficult thing for those who have atleast half a perch land in Colombo and suburbs.

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  2. Hope those farmers will learn from people like Rajaratarala. If there are mafia, they should be given proper respect they deserve by putting them in jail. Also those politicians who seem to be involved, time to declare them as elections are near!

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  3. there is a solution paper to this problem proposed by Harsha de Silva at LirneAsia and I use it often when I am teaching my MBA class on IT. I am sending it to Cerno and hopefully he can distribute it. Here is the abstract:

    The vast majority of Sri Lanka’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. This paper takes the view that the asymmetry of information between farmers and buyers where farmers are unaware of what, when and how much to produce is a primary reason for this situation. The paper presents a possible information and communication technology (ICT) solution to the problem in the form of a widely available, accurate, timely and credible information service and discusses early findings from a pilot implementation of the service. The findings indicate that the newly available market information is already helping farmers improve their bargaining power at the spot market, reducing cheating by middlemen and also helping locate forward sales contract possibilities, albeit slowly. Going forward, the paper proposes a comprehensive ICT-enabled agriculture marketing service spread across the island connecting all of the island’s major markets and exporters with farm organizations as a sustainable solution to the agricultural poverty problem on the one hand and regular good quality supply of produce to the market on the other.

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  4. ICT is, unfortunately, only part of the solution. The lack of transportation mean that farmers can’t get their produce to market.

    If they could get a loan, maybe they could buy a truck. But, ironically, our “caring” banks collect most of their deposits from rural people like farmers but refuse to lend to them.

    The lack of access to such financial services means also that farmers are often in debt – often at rates of 10% per month – to the vendors who buy their produce and therefore unable to negotiate.

    Even if the farmers could get out of debt, get a loan and buy a truck, shop their produce around, the small size of the Sri Lankan marketplace means that there are very few chokepoints and cartels can form there very easily. New entrants have to join the cartel or stop doing business – they don’t call it a “mafia” for nothing.

    Those cartels set the buy/sell prices and the rest of the economy follows them – even those like Keells and Cargills who have direct access to farmers and have no need to do so.

    This is the exact opposite of a virtuous circle but, here in Sri Lanka, what isn’t?

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  5. Sad that the farmer goes through hell to grow and collect his harvest, but gets such poor returns from it. And we call ourselves an Agricultural nation… hmph!

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  6. 😯😀 never thought I’d get a flood of such interesting comments for this one. Thank you!

    Kiri: My mother’s totally into back yard organic gardening so I know the potential of what you mean. But I wonder if most people with a sneeze of land in their property would try to build a renting anex or a block of flats instead.

    magerata: Totally agree with you though I wonder if things could be resolved so simply.

    maf: Thank you for the PDF😀 Sounds like an exciting project. I’m not sure if I have the permission to distribute the PDF but I’ll check on it. I found a version of it that’s publicly available online. It has more background info on Sri Lanka that local readers can easily skip.

    Foodie: Good points there! I think ICT, transportation (along with packaging) and financing are all cogs of the same machine. I’m no economist but I think better pricing info through ICT can make the economics of the situation slightly more profitable for people disadvantaged by the old system. Perhaps that might lead to better incomes that could propel other innovations. Ideally this would make the financial institutions realise that there’s a market worth getting into.

    Chavie: Too true. I think its far easier give speaches about the kings of ancient days rather than do the tough stuff like coming up with good policies and carrying them out..

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