Leveraging Agriculture for a Developed Nation – Priyanga Dematawa, General Manager of DIMO Agribusinesses

With over 20 years of experience in the Agriculture industry, Priyanga Dematawa began his career journey as a Laboratory Executive. Today he is the General Manager of DIMO Agribusinesses, overlooking the probably the most important new business area of DIMO, in their diversification efforts while serving as the Managing Director of DIMO’s two new subsidiaries Plantseeds and Plantchem, the dominant players in the Agriculture input market. 

DIMO Agribusinesses offers a range of products in crop care solutions, seeds, fertilizers, high-tech nutrient supply agents, greenhouse framing and micro irrigation systems. DIMO also owns three Agri Techno Parks which are engaged in agriculture research & development, seed production, farmer education and training while making their presence in Agro tourism. DIMO Agribusinesses also expects to venture into the Agriculture output market expanding its horizon in the agriculture industry.    

With his vast experience in different fields in the Agriculture sector Priyanga Dematawa shared his views on the way forward of this thriving industry while highlighting the important aspects that the country should look at in developing the local agriculture sector. 

Speaking about the importance of the Agriculture industry for the development of Sri Lanka, Priyanga explained, the methodology to get quick agriculture contribution to economic growth is motivating value added agricultural exports while demotivating agricultural imports. The contribution of agricultural exports currently consists of tea, spices, vegetable and coconut products, where the total value of exports is approximately 20%.

“Agricultural imports can be categorised into consumer goods, intermediate goods and investment goods. The import value of consumer goods is around 20 % from the total value, where the majority can be substituted with producing them inside the country. Ideally, there should be more imports on agriculture intermediate goods and investment goods to facilitate more production and value addition to diversify exports and substitute possible consumer goods imports, which finally accelerates the growth of the Agriculture industry.”

Therefore, he stated that it is absolutely necessary to develop the Agriculture industry for reasons of food security and safety, employment as well as integration into the regional and global markets to earn much needed foreign currency.

As a country enriched with ample resources which is suitable for cultivation, the government has now stepped into enhancing the industry. Priyanga stated that the government must bring in national level strategies and that the industry needs a sustainable modernisation mechanism to match with other countries in the region to cater global and domestic markets which demand food security and safety as well as to fulfil the nation’s livelihood demand which finally contributes to the national GDP.

“We should concentrate on cultivating locally and save foreign exchange on imports, while imposing stiff tariff for imports with a guarantee to producers, food security & safety through appropriate management of buffer stocks, increase the productivity through appropriate technologies, facilitate quality inputs, provide subsidies based on productivity and establish robust marketing mechanisms for both local and export markets”.

“It is late but at least now there should be a national level Agricultural policy identifying a clear development plan that focuses on future challenges of the Sri Lankan Agriculture industry. We also require an efficient model without any political agenda to operationalise new policies.  Then it needs strong private-public partnership models to fulfil the requirement of the national Agricultural policy.”

Priyanga elaborating on the importance of using the latest technologies for agriculture, stated that technology helps for productivity improvement and low cost of production. “Further, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasised the importance of maintaining food security and safety in the country as well, which needs agricultural modernisation to meet the challenges. With our current traditional farming systems, conversion will be a challenging task but it will benefit the sector.”

According to him, Greenhouse Cultivation, Indoor Vertical Farming, Farm Automation, Precision Agriculture, BlockChain and AI will soon play a major role in the local Agriculture industry.

Greenhouse Cultivation helps farmers to manage the crop in a set of optimum conditions to the crop. In the near future, large-scale facilities will compete directly with land-based conventional food production. Indoor Vertical Farming will improve crop yields, overcome limited land area, and reduce the impact on the environment by cutting down distance travelled in the supply chain.

Farm Automation is often associated with ‘smart farming’ – technology that makes farms more efficient and automates the crop or livestock production cycle.

Precision Agriculture allows farmers to maximise yields by controlling every variable of crop farming such as moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions and micro-climates. By providing more accurate techniques for planting and growing crops, precision agriculture enables farmers to increase efficiency and manage costs.

Block chain’s capability of tracking ownership records and tamper-resistance can be used to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency and food traceability in the current food system. Its unique decentralised structure ensures verified products and practices to create a market for premium products with transparency.

In the Artificial Intelligence side   Remote sensors, satellites and UAVs can continuously gather information over an entire field. These can monitor plant health, soil condition, temperature and humidity. This allows farmers to gain a better understanding of the situation of the ground in depth.

 Talking about the private sector role in the agriculture industry he said “It is the private sector that should step up its efforts in pushing the agriculture development in Sri Lanka. It should play a vital role in the entire agriculture supply and value chains. Key areas can include input supply, mechanisation, commercial/ large-scale production, import substitution, value addition, innovations and technology introduction, R&D and Exports. 

Furthermore, the industry expert said that the industry must focus on three main areas;

1. Agri-business

Agriculture should be thought of as agri-business, where farmers can develop themselves into entrepreneurs that bring management in all verticals such as production, processing, storing, grading, value chain development and distribution.

2. SMART Farming

The industry needs more focus on SMART farming with Intensive Agriculture and Precision Agriculture for productivity development with space utilisation and appropriate technologies. Incentive Agriculture will cover poly tunnels, green houses for environment management, micro irrigation for water management, vertical farming for space management and intensive livestock farming to improve productivity per square metre of land. Precision Agriculture will help to reduce the cost of production per unit by giving exact solutions by close monitoring and observing field variability. The internet of things (IoT) will play a major role in several areas such as soil conditions, weather conditions, crop conditions and crop disease conditions.

3. Sustainable Agriculture

This is important to protect the resources for the future generations. Therefore, the focus always should be to sustain soil health conditions to maintain crop productivity as we have already poorly managed our soil, creating dead soil. The policy decisions on fertilizer subsidy should be carefully taken, disregarding the political agendas to maintain healthy soil and it’s our responsibility not to degrade any natural resources which belong to future generations.

On a concluding note, Priyanga stated the Agriculture industry needs young blood who can think positively and differently to grab the endless opportunities.

“Sri Lanka needs Agripreneurs (entrepreneurs in Agriculture) to take this industry to the next level. The Agriculture industry is already armed with enough technologies to take it to the next level. The younger generation should be involved in this interesting industry to take it to the next level. Therefore, I’m inviting all Agripreneurs to focus on this beautiful industry to drive it to the next generation.”

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