IN PURSUIT OF GREENER FIELDS AND FULLER STOMACHS

DIMO – a name long synonymous with the automobile industry – has ambitious plans to transform the nation’s agriculture

DIMO HAS UNVEILED PLANS TO HELP MODERNISE SRI LANKA’S AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY. IT REGARDS AGRICULTURE AS ONE OF THE STRATEGIC AREAS THAT WILL OFFER THE GROUP SUSTAINABLE GROWTH IN THE YEARS AHEAD.

The prominent ecologist Allan Savory called agriculture the foundation of civilization and any stable economy. Without agriculture, he noted, it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army.

Diesel & Motor Engineering PLC (DIMO) seems to hold similar views about the importance of agriculture. The corporate – long associated with the motor trade – has diversified into the agricultural inputs business. It has ambitious plans in this domain and sees great potential for the future.

DIMO’s Chairman and Managing Director Ranjith Pandithage says their agribusinesses will play a role in transforming Sri Lanka’s conventional agriculture to modern high-tech agriculture. “Our plan is to become a major player in Sri Lanka’s agricultural industry,” he states. “It is an important area in our group’s future strategic drive.”

Pandithage noted that DIMO was already into mechanized agriculture when they entered this business, supplying tractors and combine harvesters to the local farming community. “We thought it was time we looked at agricultural inputs, since filling stomachs is one of the big challenges of our era,” he said.

DIMO’s new agriculture initiative includes fertilisers, seeds and agri-specialty products. The company hopes to broaden its footprint in the industry, specialising in the food sector and expanding operations internationally in the coming years. The initiative has so far involved investments in a new centralized office and warehouse complex at Sapugaskanda, and a land in Naula for seed-related experiments and testing modern growth technologies for crops. Though still in its very early stages, the project has so far been successful. DIMO fertilizer entered the market as a completely new player several months ago and is already an established name. It has spread to all parts of the country and is challenging the giants in the fertilizer industry. Recently, DIMO partnered with Plantchem (Private) Ltd., and Plant Seeds (Private) Ltd., to expand its product portfolio in crop care solutions, seeds and other agriculture speciality products.

“We see agriculture as one of the areas that will offer DIMO sustainable growth in the years ahead,” said Pandithage. He believed that the demand for healthy and responsibly grown food will increase over time. He also stated that they plan to have their own farms in the future.

“We want to function like a testing ground, introducing hybrids and new technology and showing farmers how they can modernize,” said Pandithage. He stressed it is important that Sri Lanka, being an island, should strive to become self-sufficient.

The strategy and future direction of the DIMO agribusinesses is to operate in appropriate links of the total agriculture value chain; it will offer customers differentiation in quality, performance and services.

According to Pandithage, organic farming will be a key area of focus in the future. He expects demand to be driven by the younger generation, which is more eco-conscious. He says: “There was a time when the soil was healthy, but damage was slowly brought about by chemical fertilizers. Pests developed resistance to the chemicals. Now many people prefer organic farming again. This is after learning that current farming methods come with a host of problems including diseases like cancer, pollution, degradation of soil and water, and adverse effects on domestic animals.”

DIMO’s agricultural operations will initially focus on the local market; however, their plans include exports as well.

Pandithage sees an abundance of opportunity in Sri Lanka to cultivate various types of crops. “There is great potential, for example, in cocoa, but nobody has seriously looked at it,” he says. “There is a massive demand for cocoa in the Chinese and Indian markets, driven by booming chocolate consumption.”

DIMO’s past experience and expertise may prove advantageous in its new initiative. After all, it has been involved in the agri industry for over two decades. It boosted the agriculture mechanisation process in the country through products like Mahindra Tractors and Claas combine harvesters. It has also facilitated agriculture transportation through the Tata commercial range for many years.Pandithage noted that their small truck – DIMO Batta – has revolutionized transportation and greatly benefitted farmers. This affordable and versatile vehicle enhanced business at rural level. It enabled farmers to transport their produce to towns at a lower cost, breaking the monopoly of exploitative middlemen. There are other things that will stand DIMO in good stead as it pursues success in agriculture. An example is their extensive branch network, which covers all parts of the island. This allows them to reach consumers and frequently review feedback. They also have expertise in logistics. This gives them access to modern operations and technologies around the world, where they already have partners.

“Sri Lanka has the expertise to drive large scale agriculture related businesses,” says Pandithage. “However, we can always learn from the best practices and the developments in other countries.” He also notes that the country has very clever agriculture graduates.According to him, some of the country’s agricultural policies need to change to adapt to evolving technologies and consumer requirements. This, he says, will benefit both the people and the environment.