Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake officiated as Chief Guest at the launch of the Palm Oil Industry Association (POIA) and pledged his support to its efforts and to the industry, which is on the cusp of celebrating its 50th anniversary in Sri Lanka.
Representing cultivators of oil palm, and refiners, processors, manufacturers, marketers and sellers of palm oil and other products of the oil palm, the POIA has identified as one of its first tasks the need to work with government authorities and industry experts to address a recently-manifested campaign of misinformation targeting the industry.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Association, Minister Navin Dissanayake said the government is pursuing the policy decision to permit the cultivation of up to 20,000 Ha of oil palm in Sri Lanka and that he as the minister in charge is committed to it, but stressed that policy guidelines on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), procedures and protocols would have to be developed when implementing the decision.
"I am very happy that finally, a Palm Oil Association has been formed, because palm oil has been in Sri Lanka for 50 years and is nothing new to this country," the minister said. "There is no doubt that it is a cash crop. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the minister at the time, took the decision to plant up to 20,000 hectares of palm oil and I think that was a right decision," he said.
Minister Dissanayake also disclosed that the industry is working closely with a committee formed by the National Economic Council to address some of the strictures made by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) on the industry. He urged the newly-formed association to use logic and reason to take on the naysayers and win the argument.
In his address, Aitken Spence Director Dr Rohan Fernando, elected the first president of the Palm Oil Industry Association, observed that in Sri Lanka, people sometimes oppose developments that are good for the country. Citing the examples of the accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme and the Kandalama Hotel, he said: "Both were opposed by ignorant people, but today are beacons of light. Palm oil is similar; it has been here for 50 years but over the last year or two, some people are speaking against it."
Delivering the welcome address, Sunshine Holdings Group Managing Director Vish Govindasamy, the Associations vice president, pointed out that in Sri Lanka, oil palm is cultivated only as a replacement for crops that have become non-viable and that in that respect, Sri Lanka is a far cry from countries that do mass cultivation of oil palm. There is no question of forests being cleared for cultivation as Oil Palm is grown in areas already under cultivation, he said.
Among the highlights of the launch of the new association were two presentations by experts, one titled "Sustainable and Responsible Palm Oil Production - A Wilmar perspective" by Edrin Moss, Group Manager - Sustainability, Wilmar PPB Oil Palm East Malaysia; and the other titled "The need for a Palm Oil Industry in Sri Lanka" by Prof. Asoka Nugawela, Chair Professor at the Department of Plantation Management of the Faculty of Agriculture & Plantation Management of the Wayamba University.
The office bearers and members of the Executive Committee of the Palm Oil Industry Association comprise of Dr Rohan Fernando (president), Vish Govindasamy and Sajjad Mawzoon (Vice Presidents), Mrs Oshadhi Kodisinghe (Secretary), Ravi Jayatilleke (Treasurer) and Gayan Samarakone, Bhathiya Bulumulla, Lalith Obeyesekere, Thishan Karunasena, Manjula Narayana, Manoj Udugampola and Binesh Pananwala.