Being the 4th largest coconut producer in the world, Sri Lanka is also the 1st in the world for the exports of brown fiber. Coconut is undeniably among the major sources of income for Sri Lanka traditionally. Coconut husk is yet another source of additional income for coconut farmers, and the manufacture of coco peat is now a standalone industry. The production of coir, fiber, and cocopeat has been identified as initiatives to alleviate poverty in Sri Lanka by contributing to the improvement of the economic well-being of coconut farmers and rural communities.
Wayamba Lanka Coco has been providing employment and livelihood opportunities for over 20 years, using coconut husk in the production of coco peat products and grow bags used as an alternative growth medium to soil worldwide. Currently, the company produces 25 kg coco peat bales, animal bedding, briquettes, coco peat grow bags, discs, and propagation cubes.
The founder and Managing Director of Wayamba Lanka Coco (Pvt) Ltd, Saman Kumara Jayaweera, recalls the humble beginnings of the company which was initiated in pursuit of his entrepreneurial dreams at the age of 17. Twenty years on the organization has its own source of raw materials, facilities and equipment, skilled workers, and market opportunities including exports to Japan, Lithuania, and Korea. He credits the success of the enterprise to being able to identify a global market opportunity and relentlessly pursuing it, even if it meant investing and relying on personal finances at the start.
The company recently announced its plans for expansion and commitment to set up an additional factory of 21,000 square feet adjacent to its current plant in Bandarakoswatta, Kurunegala, with a drying floor of 4 acres and 44 perches.
Mr. Jayaweera added: “My involvement in community development work, particularly the establishment of rural-based business enterprises from scratch, exposed me to various challenges commonly faced by startup operations and small and medium enterprises. Access to capital, know-how in overcoming barriers to entry, innovation, and sophisticated machinery at the time I began was only easily accessed by large companies.
"This experience made me interested to know more about organizational dynamics and performance and incremental process improvement over the years. We began our journey by locally manufacturing machinery and using family members who would contribute tirelessly towards the company's success at a very early stage. The support and advice of my mentors are an ever-present strength in this company.”
Producing for a global market
The primary focus of the management continues to be producing quality products that are competitive in a global marketplace. The high-water retention capability of coco peat is attractive to industrial growers, domestic growers, and hydroponic companies due to massive improvements in agricultural yields and cost savings associated with hydrating harvest.
Mr. Jayaweera believes more market access corridors are required to improve global opportunities among agriculture-focused nations gearing up for challenges in food security. These opportunities, he believes, can be made available to coconut farmers and small-time producers who are very often overlooked in the value chain as a driver of economic growth and regional empowerment.
"Identifying local and international market opportunities for coco peat products and showcasing the production capacity of Sri Lanka in this space," he says, "is vital in Sri Lanka's journey to benefit from the ability of coco peat to become a primary earner of foreign exchange." Wayamba Lanka Coco works closely with the Coconut Development Board and the Export Development Board to avail itself of industry expansion and investment plans.