Northern rural entrepreneurship at Jaffna International Trade Fair

Tuesday, 25 January 2022 01:29 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Mushroom coffee - northern product exhibited and sold at the Jaffna Trade Fair



By Surya Vishwa in Jaffna 

Live Green Founder Sudanthini Sivakumar


The three-day Jaffna International Trade Fair concluded on Sunday successfully highlighting rural entrepreneurship in the North.

Governor of the North Jeevan Thiagarajah was the Chief Guest of the inauguration on Friday.

“The North of Jaffna holds untold scope for propelling Sri Lanka to surmount any economic challenge. There are vast lands here, and there are hardworking people. It is up to us to use these resources to the best of national advantage and wellbeing, to shine in the world with our unique culture,” Governor Thiagarajah told the Daily FT in an interview. 

Thiagarajah, who is currently encouraging social wellbeing and national unity programs prioritising the agro-entrepreneurship potential, emphasised the need to promote food security of the North. He cited the need to help small and medium rural industrialists in the North showcase prominently and more frequently their businesses for local and international exposure. He also focused on the importance of regional training for entrepreneurship creation. 

Organised by the Lanka Exhibition & Conference Services Ltd. (LECS), the Jaffna International Trade Fair remains the only prominent trade fair to be held in the North. Over the past 12 years the event has been a platform featuring countrywide businesses in Jaffna.

The scope still exists for the prioritisation of the North’s rural entrepreneurship potential and to showcase it to the rest of Sri Lanka and the world for encouraging the post-2009 economy in the island, said National Enterprise Development Authority (NEDA) Enterprise Promotion Officer for the North K. Ravikumar.

NEDA has supported several of the around 15 northern entrepreneurs featured at the event. 

The North-focused section of the Jaffna International Trade Fair focused on diverse products including those centred on the traditional knowledge of the North, such as Siddha medicinal heritage products, indigenous agrarian based knowledge, traditional wellbeing through local foods and local natural resource-based productions. Northern persons made disabled due to the 30-year-long conflict, especially women, displaying their products at the trade fair was a significant factor, with some of them being first time exhibitors. There were entrepreneurs whose businesses were connected to the creation of purely nature-based fertiliser as done historically in Sri Lanka and especially in the North. 

Live Green Organic and Live Green were two separate North-based business entities focusing on natural fertiliser and health foods respectively, initiated by young women. 

Thirty-year-old K. Tharmuni hailing from Vilaveli in Chankanni had begun her agro fertiliser business last year.

“We in rural areas cultivate using only natural processes as is our tradition and I thought that it might be a good idea to turn this into a money making venture and use all of the natural resources we are freely given by nature for using back on the earth, to give us good and healthy produce,” says Tharmuni, whose business is mainly a family based one which also uses the contribution of neighbours and friends in the area. She has inspired several others, mainly women to start similar agro-oriented ventures and is planning a larger scale nature-based farming community in the area. 

Independently done initiatives such as the above are significant eye openers to policymakers to seek out such contributions as national examples that will help retain Sri Lanka’s integrity as a self-sufficient, food secure and independent nation as was in historical times. 

The Daily FT will feature such rural based entrepreneurship in detail in the months to come in a bid to encourage the district level contribution to Sri Lanka being food secure, while ensuring that the hitherto practiced pattern of squandering foreign exchange needlessly is stopped.  

Sudanthini Sivakumar, a 38-year-old mother of two school going children, is the owner of Live Green, a business that specialises in promoting health by using traditional northern food resources. A popular product of her company based in Killinochchi is mushroom coffee that uses all the local spices. Her stall at the Jaffna Trade Fair had segmented space for several women entrepreneurs from different areas of the North, including Mannar. Some of these products had been created by entrepreneurship initiatives by disabled women. ‘We Can’ was such a brand that produces many food-based products, including locally and fully naturally manufactured peanut butter that is created in Mannar. 

Another rural northern product was one that was carried out by a brother and sister combination in Poonakary focusing on cashew nuts. Neatly packaged to export standards the cashew is sourced from different parts of the country.   

“My family does not have large areas of land to cultivate the trees here although cashew can grow in the Northern district,” says 35-year-old June Robinson, who carries out the business started by his sister J. Francis. All of the rural northern businesses have one abiding wish, which is to be given the opportunity to make forays into market opportunities out of the North. At present there is much scope for State-based entities which have a mandate to support rural enterprise to seek out these businesses for using them as connectors of the nation and thereby playing a strong role in the ushering in of a potential national unity and prosperity model. 

The Jaffna Trade fair was held at the Mutraweli grounds of Jaffna, next to the Jaffna Fort. The Yaarlpanam Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the northern driver of the event and is open for support to organise more district-based events focusing on the creation and support of small and medium businesses.

“We are trying to create more events to display northern products of diverse kinds to the rest of the country,” said Yaarlpanam Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Jurison Jenaraj.