SL can earn over USD 1.5B – Specialist

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Compared to rubber and rice, cinnamon cultivation in Sri Lanka does not suffer from a monopoly, and it is a profitable business, with 90 per cent of cinnamon cultivation spread across the country. Sri Lanka made over USD 1 billion revenue from rubber exports last year, but the country also produces value-added goods, which means profits aren’t merely USD 1 billion.

Around 350,000 families in Sri Lanka depend on the smallholders who cultivate cinnamon for their livelihood. This was anticipated for 2015. Over the past ten years, cinnamon cultivation has expanded by 14 per cent, and during that same time, annual production has increased by 52 per cent. (Dept. of Export Agriculture, DEA, 2019). The most significant export from Sri Lanka is cinnamon, which accounted for roughly 1.7 per cent of all export revenue in 2017. But there can be more profits!

Among all agricultural commodities that Sri Lanka produces for the export market, cinnamon is second only to tea, contributing ca. 11 per cent (International Trade Centre, ITC, 2019) of exports. Mexico buys almost 44 per cent of Sri Lankan cinnamon exports, with the United States being the second most important customer (ca. 13 per cent) (ITC, 2019).

Cinnamon sold for about USD 250 million, but there were illegal transactions through which the Government lost a sizeable sum of money. There is a market for Sri Lankan cinnamon that could bring in between USD 1.5 billion and USD 2 billion, and some researchers aim to grow cinnamon from Point Pedro in the Northern region to Dondra in the Southern region. However, Sri Lanka exported undervalued cinnamon as well. The Cinnamon Agro-Smart Modernisation System, where numerous technicalities have been studied and put into practice, has just started operating.

Sri Lankan history is connected to cinnamon. The Journal of the New Phytologist Foundation tells about how the presence of cinnamon has attracted foreign invaders to Sri Lanka.

It elaborates that the Arabs were involved in the trading of cinnamon across the globe until the 10th-15th century and were careful to keep the origin of the product a closely guarded secret. Gaining access to cinnamon was a prime motivation for the Portuguese to invade Sri Lanka in the early 16th century. During the 16th–17th centuries, the Portuguese established a very successful business of exporting cinnamon to Europe.

Also, the Dutch commenced systematic cultivation of cinnamon in plantations after they captured the island in the mid-17th century and this was prompted when the Sri Lankan king obstructed the collection of cinnamon from the forests. After the British captured Sri Lanka in 1796, cinnamon exports to Europe continued, with the British East India Company being the main exporter.

Because of high export duties imposed by the Dutch, there was a significant reduction in the export of Ceylon cinnamon, which was replaced by cheaper Cassia cinnamon.

Sri Lanka still continues to be an important supplier of Ceylon cinnamon to customers throughout the world.

Chandana de Silva

According to Chandana de Silva, a specialist in the cinnamon industry, the Cinnamon Agro-Smart Modernisation System project will enable Sri Lanka to earn more than USD 1.5 billion per annum through the cultivation of cinnamon and related agricultural improvements.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, he said he has researched the cinnamon cultivation of Sri Lanka in the last 50 years.

Throughout this project, cinnamon cultivation and related value additions and other improvements can earn more than USD 1 billion. He suggests even if it’s not purely cinnamon cultivation, it can be a mix-crop cultivation.

This project is spread in a large field like tea, coconut, rubber … all minor export crops and vegetables, fruits, rice cultivation and animal husbandry, fish products, power generation, like solar and dendro power.

The Cinnamon Agro-Smart Modernisation Project is to have smart farmers, modernisation, export, rehabilitation, value addition, replanting, substitution, mixed cultivation and others classified. Presently, per hectare yield is about 600 kg. Sometimes, it varies between 250 and 400 kg.

He added that the research was done expecting a yield of 1,000 kg for one acre by him under very high condition control, where 868 kg could be obtained. This is a value of 2,150 kg per ha. In areas like Ambalangoda, it is about 400 kg per acre, which is excellent. There are farmers who get 2,500 kg per ha, but those are special cases. It can go from 1,000 and 1,400 kg per ha if properly monitored, he added.

In his studies, de Silva says income of one hectare in Sri Lanka, which is 600 kg, could be brought up to 1,000 kg through the mix-crop method. In this case, from USD 250 million, the income can exceed USD 400 million. By cultivating 100,000 hectares, foreign exchange of around USD 1.2 billion can be obtained.

Smart technology will be used in this project and rehabilitation should be done like shade removal, drainage systems, water harvesting etc and also could be cultivated by the borders of the roads and marginal lands, coconut  estates as well. Peppers, coconut can be grown as mixed crops along with cinnamon. Young plants of coconut, banana, and sorghum, are very successful cultivation along with cinnamon. Farmers can obtain an income of Rs 1 million from vegetables and fruits in a plantation along with cinnamon, de Silva advised. This is ideal in Hambantota as well as in other parts of Sri Lanka.

He also pointed out that there is over 35,000 ha of cinnamon in Sri Lanka. “According to my experience, there are areas where 100 per cent of cinnamon leaves are wasted.”

“These can produce millions of dollars’ worth of cinnamon oil, along with leftover wood chips and sawdust. A labourer’s pay increases when the cinnamon leaves and branches are separated. These materials can be used to make wood carvings, handicrafts, biochar for making charcoal, and electricity. Cinnamon leaves, barks, wood, twigs, roots, and fruits are used to make essential (volatile) oils and oleoresins through solvent extraction and distillation.”

250 known species

There are over 250 known aromatic species of the genus Cinnamomum, which are primarily located in Asia and Australia.

In the North of Sri Lanka, de Silva says cinnamon can be grown as a mix-crop. In the East, it can be grown around areca nut and betel cultivation. Areas in the rubber plantation have also been identified.

Research can be conducted around prawn farming and aquaculture in Puttalam. Also, there were cinnamon cultivations in coastal areas around Chilaw and Negombo. The kings had offered the Portuguese to protect the coastal areas with cinnamon growing. Today, cinnamon is even seen in Wattala and Ja-Ela. Even Cinnamon Garden in Colombo was once a cinnamon cultivation, de Silva added.

Cinnamon can be grown in various types of soils, varying from silver sands in Negombo, to loamy and lateritic gravelly soils in Southern coastal belt and interior. The bark quality is influenced by soil and climatic factors and the best quality cinnamon is produced in white sandy soil in Negombo. However, the most expensive grade of cinnamon called ‘Alba’ is mainly produced by very skilful peelers and they are the lowest diameter quills (6 mm) only fill with one or two inner fillings with super quality. Cinnamon needs a deep soil, but cinnamon roots can penetrate even through the cracks of the parent material to deeper layers. Cinnamon is commercially grown in coastal belts in Sri Lanka and spread to interior part of the country, where elevation is increased up to about 250 metres above mean sea level (AMSL). Naturally, cinnamon has been found in central hilly area of Sri Lanka, the elevation increased up to about 500 metres AMSL. To date, it can be found in Sinharaja and Knuckles forest reserve. The wet zone is ideal for the successful growth of cinnamon, but it can be grown commercially in intermediate zones of mid and low country, where annual rainfall is more than 1,750 mm. However, it is not suitable for areas with prolonged dry periods.

Cinnamon is a sun-loving plant and strong sunlight is needed. If cinnamon along with mix-crop is cultivated under the smart system, Sri Lanka can earn about USD 1.5 billion (tea, palm oil, jack, paddy, coconut and rubber sector and all other crops.)

In 2018, China was the biggest cinnamon producer in the world, with a production of 60,124 metric tons, followed by Indonesia and Sri Lanka 41,380 and 17,450 metric tons of production. However, when export earnings are considered, Sri Lanka dominated with USD 205 million, followed by Indonesia (USD 141 million) and China (USD 135 million) (ITC, 2019). This is because ‘Pure Ceylon Cinnamon’ generally commands a price that is more than 10 times the price of the Cassia cinnamon (EDB, 2020).

According to the Department of Agriculture, there are eight cinnamon species in Sri Lanka. Among them, only Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume is grown commercially. Traditionally, there were several types of cinnamon categorised on the taste of the bark. ‘Pani Miris Kurundu’ was the best, with sweet-pungent taste and ‘Miris Kurundu,’ ‘Sevel Kurundu’ and ‘Thiththa Kurundu’ are the others. Presently, ten cinnamon accessions have been identified based on yield and quality performances and best two lines, named as ‘Sri Vijaya’ and ‘Sri Gamunu,’ were released. Other selections are under evaluation in different agro climatic zones. When harvesting, the whole cinnamon plant is utilised, hence the bush needs a high fertiliser dose to rejuvenate a new shoot. Application of chemical fertiliser increases the yield significantly and application of organic fertiliser (cinnamon leaves, compost, poultry manure) too is highly beneficial for successful growth and yield.

Cinnamon can be harvested twice annually, beginning three years after the first planting. When the stem’s bark colour turns brown and the stick’s diameter is between three and five centimetres, it is time to harvest. Sticks picked for peeling should have their branches and leaves removed, and gathered stems should be peeled the same day. A metal rod is used to brush the bark during the peeling process to release it from the hard wood.

When rolling of the bark begins, pieces of bark are joined together to produce a pipe-like structure (called a quill), and the normal length of the tube is 42 inches. Next, peel the bark, part by part, with a specific knife. Peeled bark is then allowed to dry under the sun for a few hours. Small chunks of bark are placed within the tube’s hollow, and it is then allowed to dry indoors for 4-7 days.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan