The Planters Association in a press release this week said plantation companies are gaining national recognition as some of the best industries and agro businesses in Sri Lanka. A series of national awards recently recognised a number of plantation companies, their achievements and their contributions to the national economy.
At the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI) Achiever Awards, held on August 30, to recognise Sri Lanka’s best industries, Watawala Plantations was named among the top 10 achievers in the country, in the extra-large industries category, on par with large corporates such as Nestle, CIC Agro, Hemas, Ceylon Biscuits, Colombo Dockyards and others. The recent National Agribusiness Council Awards, on 28 August, also recognised a number of plantation companies as leading agribusinesses of Sri Lanka.
At the CNCI Achiever Awards 2011, Watawala Plantations, the owners of the Zesta brand of tea and the country’s largest producer of palm oil, won the highest number of awards in one night with six awards in different categories.
The company was named among the Top 10 best achievers of industrial excellence in Sri Lanka, in the extra-large category, beating many well-known conglomerates vying for a slot among the Sri Lanka top 10. The company also won a merit award at national level in the extra large manufacturing sector category. In addition, Watawala pulled in four other awards, at provincial and national level, through two of its plantations - Abbotsleigh Estate in Hatton and Homadola Estate in Galle. The two estates brought in a bronze award at provincial level and three merit awards at provincial and national level.
Watawala Plantations manages 15 plantations in the upcountry producing high and mid grown tea and five plantations in the low country producing tea, rubber and oil palm. The company says its ranking among the top 10 industries in Sri Lanka is mainly due to strong productivity increases and quality improvements. Within the last three years, from 2008 to 2010, Watawala Plantations’ net profits jumped from Rs. 75 million in 2008/9 to Rs. 427 million in 2009/10, to Rs. 642 million in 2010/11. While good prices for tea, rubber and oil palm laid the foundation for significant growth in profits during the last three years, the company says its profits gained an additional boost through productivity and margins from quality improvements.
“I must clearly acknowledge that our achievements are due to the contributions by our associates,” says the CEO of Watawala Plantations Dr. Dan Seevaratnam. Watawala has designated all of its 12,000 employees as associates, or direct stakeholders of the company, and says productivity improvements, through employee welfare and good agronomic practices were one of the main contributors to its striking profit increase over the last three years.
“We look after our fields and our associates better, and in return, our fields give higher yields and our associates are more productive. We follow the best agronomic practices to ensure high land productivity, because if the land yield is higher, employee productivity is also higher in tandem,” explained Dr. Seevaratnam.
The company has also invested in value addition and brand building that allows it to command higher prices compared to simply marketing plantation crops as commodities.
“We are the only plantation company in Sri Lanka that has invested in a refinery to add value to crude palm oil, to turn it into edible vegetable oil for the local market. We sell our palm oil under the Watawala Oliate brand name. This venture has been successful because we do not have freight and other import costs, which allows us to sell at a much lower price than the imported edible oils. Also, Watawala Oliate is the most fresh edible oil in the market, because the time lag between manufacturing and reaching conasumers is minimal, compared to imported edible oils,” explained Dr. Seevaratnam.
The company has also invested in building its tea brands, which allows it to command higher prices for its tea compared to bulk tea prices at the Colombo Auctions. The National Agribusiness Council too, recognised Watawala for its achievements in the agribusiness and plantation sector of Sri Lanka and presented the company with two gold awards. Watawala was named the best agribusiness in Sri Lanka, taking the lead on large corporates such as CIC and Hayleys, and was also named the best company in the plantation sector. The company also won the award for the best application. Other plantation companies were also recognised at the National Agribusiness Council Awards on 28 August. Kurunegala Plantations won gold in the large producer category (plantations) and was also named second runner up, at national level. Kelani Valley Plantations won the bronze award in the plantation category.