Posted: 25 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

Addressing rural Sri Lanka's poverty trap

Deloitte was presented with a unique pro bono opportunity to support the SUNRISE program, which aims to strengthen the opportunities for disadvantaged communities throughout Sri Lanka. Oxfam needed support to shape the second phase of SUNRISE, with guidance on how to uplift the income and increase female participation in Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon and Handloom industries.

Jon Ma, Deloitte’ National Pro-Bono consulting lead assembled a team of consultants, Sanj, Nic, Sha, Imogen, Marissa, and Callum Bowles, based on market analysis skillset and displayed interest and experience in the international development sector.

Our initial task was to determine the industries in Sri Lanka with the greatest potential for development in terms of commercial opportunities and alignment to the social development objectives of SUNRISE. Analysis led us to investigate the Ceylon Cinnamon and Handloom industries.

During the initial market scan, we realised the competitive advantage and potential of cinnamon. Sri Lanka produces approximately 95% of the world’s Ceylon Cinnamon, which is regarded as “true” cinnamon. It has numerous health benefits (specifically for the liver) and an aroma that is more intense than the alternative known as Cassia Cinnamon (from China and Indonesia) which is more widely consumed. We also found that the industry was entrenched in traditional methods, among other issues, which presented opportunities to increase the volume and price across the value chain. This would translate to greater incomes for producers, families and communities.

The handloom industry was identified as an important alternative income source for many families and had high female workforce participation – an important objective of SUNRISE. In the most disadvantaged communities —Batticaloa and Ampara in the Eastern Province, weavers earned below the national average and were struggling to become independent weavers able to achieve a higher income. 

Shortly after we arrived in Sri Lanka, we began our interviews. The potential to have a profound impact on the livelihoods of the Sri Lanka’s most disadvantaged primary producers was evident as we sat with people in their homes, surrounded by their families talking about daily challenges they faced. Within the two-week period, the team travelled to Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Batticaloa and multiple villages around these cities. The culture was welcoming and wonderful, while the food was diverse and delicious.

One of the most memorable moments for the team was a value chain workshop to gather 30 participants across the entire Cinnamon value chain; such as producers, peelers, processors, exporters, and government agencies. The workshop was held at the iconic Galle Face Hotel in Colombo.

It was a unique moment for many who never partaken in a workshop or interacted with other players across the value chain. For example, many producers blamed the government for their struggles, however during the session began to understand the government agency were frustrated they could not offer more support due to resource constraints.  

Back in Australia, we began to define and articulate the future initiatives would Oxfam implement within these industries. We came to two very different scalable solutions for Oxfam to consider when uplifting the cinnamon and handloom industries.

For Handloom we recommended an intervention program led by Oxfam. This would build a sustainable weaver ecosystem ensuring higher weaver income and options for weavers to progress their careers while achieving greater independence and more sustainable and suitable working conditions.

We recommended two programs for Cinnamon. A domestic program focused on proving a productive farming model to deliver an annual profit uplift of USD $2.9k per acre of cinnamon; and   an international awareness program to develop high quality marketing material and visual branding for Ceylon Cinnamon with consumer awareness campaigns in two test markets to explore the willingness of consumers to switch from Cassia to Ceylon cinnamon.

Deloitte is heavily invested in the future success of the SUNRISE program, which will be measured through the income improvement for primary producers, along with the increase in female participation. Projects such as these also have a lasting positive impact on our Deloitte employees, who not only increase their consulting fundamental skills, but also develop a larger appetite to solve client problems through an impact-led lens – this is what truly differentiates Deloitte from its competition.

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Sha Rai

Sha Rai

Senior Consultant

Sha is a strategy practitioner with Monitor Deloitte, with approximately 5 years of Consulting experience. Sha primarily focuses on growth strategy, cost reduction and business model transformation and has worked across 9 industries in Asia. Sha has a bachelors degree in Finance from Georgetown University.