Productivity improves in plantations due to alcoholism prevention programmes       

Industry officials call for funding to continue efforts  

Street drama on alcohol usage and its disadvantages held on 7 March in front of the Vellai Oya Maternity WardIndustry officials say they have observed a notable increase in productivity among estate workers as a result of the numerous alcohol prevention programs conducted in various estates over the last couple of years.      

“With the help of various 'peace committees' comprising estate managers, workers, police, the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) and medical officers from the area, various programmes have been conducted and they have helped control the situation to a considerable level,” said Dr. Ravi Nanayakkara, Director of the PHDT.

Estates  that belong to listed Regional Plantations Companies (RPC's) in  Galle, Ratnapura,  Badulla, Kegalle, Kandy, Hatton and Nuwara Eliya, have directed their workers to programmes on the 'Reduction of Alcoholism and Gender issues' and the 'Reduction of Alcoholism and Youth Problems' over the last five years or so, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies such as the Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC) and the Sri Lanka  Anti-Narcotic Association (SLANA). These programmes have been funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan Bank for  International Corporation (JBIC).   

Dr. Dan Seevaratnam Dr. Dan Seevaratnam, Chief Executive Officer of Watawala Plantations, one of the largest listed plantation firms in the island, is of the view that such internal mechanisms involving the estate sector youth have been effective and have prevented compulsive and uncontrolled alcohol consumption spreading amongst the youth in the community.

“Youngsters are thankfully not into liquor due to other extra-curricular activities like sports, etc.  that these programs have directed them to,” said Seevaratnam.  “ Actions such as protests and anti-alcohol marches by school children are simple but very powerful ways of educating the estate community.”

Watawala Plantations conducts a minimum of two programs a year targeting the youth living in the estates run by the firm, where nearly 50 schools exist. It also allows organizations such as World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to conduct independent programmes for the estate youth as well as elders.

“They may not be employed but they get into the mainstream organizations of the community. For example the youth will get involved in activities of the temple and take a stand that no one is to enter the temple after liquor,” Seevaratnam explains.  “So when the youth take such a stand the elders either do not consume liquor and enter the temple, or drink and stay outside. This I have seen myself,” he added.     

The RPC's have seen positive results emanate from the educational programmes to an extent that absenteeism has reduced while worker health has also improved, resulting in enhanced productivity.

However industry officials point out that the brewing of illicit liquor within the estates remains a major obstacle to curtailing alcohol consumption, while the government's liberal approach in issuing alcohol licenses has also compounded the effect.

Maraya Bazaar, a street market in Lindula, in the central hills of Sri Lanka, has become a popular gathering place for the estate community. According to Seevaratnam over 10 licensed taverns operate within a space of just 100 yards in the bazaar.

“As a rule of thumb no one knows how much illicit liquor is being produced,” says Seevaratnam.  “If 40-50% of wages earned are used for the consumption of alcohol who is benefiting?” he questions. “Definitely not the worker. Not even the government. It is only the illicit liquor industry which will prosper.”

However Dr Nanayakkara stressed that the full potential of the programmes targeting the youth can only be reached if they are implemented over a long period of time but most programmes have come to a halt due to lack of funds.

Released in July 2012