Many of life’s problems as well as its solutions originate as a thought.

Fear of lack is a thought.

Fear or another is a thought.

Crisis first begins as a thought.

As a country inhabited by many Buddhists, we should well know this.

If a person thinks he or she is inferior, does not have superior expertise, would need to depend on someone better, richer, with more advanced education for guidance for his or her life management, that individual will likely forever be in this position. Thoughts are energy. It is so powerful that even a mere wandering thought of attachment to something or someone can bind us after death as well. This is a basic of Buddhism.

Countries are a segment of people.

If a country thinks it is poor, it is likely that it will be so. Everything the country does will be within the hollow and lethargic framework of this paucity.

If a country thinks it has to depend on others for ‘expertise’ to solve its problems, it is likely that this nation will be steeped in the abyss of that thought until it is exorcised.

Thought becomes habits, attitudes and behaviours.

In some countries such as Singapore where the habit of hard work is overwhelmingly ingrained into the thinking pattern of its citizens, it is not uncommon to see billboards, reminding people to smile.

In a country like Japan (and Singapore) one may travel far and wide within the country and not find a single shred of paper strewn on the road or one may witness a Japanese or a Singaporean clutch onto a disposable cup for as long a time until he finds a designated place to dispose it.

In Japan, children are taught efficiency in practice in schools and the kitchens and school cleaning as well as the gardening are largely organised and administered by students. Trains are impeccably clean and washrooms are not nightmarish. There are no garbage dumps which explode and citizens schedule quality time to separate garbage into many categories. This strict adherence to good hygiene comes easily to the Japanese as part of their culture of respect which goes back to the Samurai tradition.

Considering the above, it is not a mystery that countries such as Singapore and Japan can boast of almost magical rags to riches metamorphosis – from a deprived fishing village just about seven decades ago – Singapore, and a war decimated defeated nation, Japan – rising to be a global trade hub capitalising on its almost single significant resource, the port (Singapore) – and to be a mecca for technological creativity and unique invention (Japan).

Mind boggling success

Anyone who looks at these two countries in retrospect would agree that their mind boggling success began first as a thought. The leaders and the people thought that they must – somehow – move away from squalor and deprivation. That they must somehow put the hate of war aside, embrace peace and not pursue enmity even after its cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed by atomic bombs. They just did not think and speak but acted.

The leaders and the people of these countries thought, believed, stood firm and was relentlessly confident that they would not withhold diligence towards the possibility of maximising the resources they had. Their main resource was that they were aware of the riches the nation had, of which the most outstanding were the people itself. The people and the leaders vowed never to plunder these resources but to use it for common advancement in a manner where future generations could prosper.

Now, let us revert to Sri Lanka. We say we are in a crisis. We know corruption is a problem. We do not know really where or how all the money went during all these decades or why we needed to get into utter debt. Let us leave this line of the analysis aside. It’s too dark and dismal to grope in.

Let us instead look at a small segment of earth resources of Sri Lanka; tea, herbs and everyday foods we largely underestimate such as Gotukola and Jackfruit and appreciate an innovative step by a member of the private sector to reverse the ‘debt mentality.’

Merill J. Fernando, the founder of Dilmah Tea interviewed by this writer in mid 2020,during the then raging Covid pandemic which seemed to have debilitated the economy expressed a totally different view to that expressed by many other business leaders at the time.

Merill J. Fernando who in 1985 began innovating the concept of Lankan tea and has since then encompassed nature conservation into his business agenda, pursuing especially the protection of medicinal herbs of Lanka, did not, like many of his counterparts, express gloom or doom about the economy. When many others were cutting salaries he never considered it. He instead exuded optimism that the pandemic was a blessing in disguise.

He expressed absolute trust, confidence and belief in the innovativeness, endurance and the resilient nature of Sri Lankan entrepreneurship.

“When the world wakes up from this pandemic, there will be a new set of entrepreneurs to lead the way,” he said, seated in his Colombo house, and reminiscing how the odds were once stacked against him, with no Sri Lankan bank willing to grant him a loan to start his dream venture nearly four decades ago.

On March 30 this year, at the very same premises in Maligawatte, that Merill J. Fernando 38 years ago began Dilmah Tea, commenced Genesis, a new beginning for innovation in the food and agri sector by upholding the concept of sustainability through inculcating respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures. It is a platform for Sri Lankans to ideate, discuss and promote creativity in integrated entrepreneurship that chiefly includes focusing on Sri Lanka’s undervalued commonplace food resources that we take for granted but which are highly appreciated globally.

This initiative first started as the ‘lost ingredient lab’ a few years back and still retains this tag line as a component within the Genesis initiative. The lost ingredient lab of Genesis seeks to revive, conserve and promote in rural entrepreneurship vegetation that grows naturally and rampantly, such as Gotukola which although a priced nutrition globally, is the rather humdrum addition among the curries in our plate.

At the launch of Genesis, the centre of new beginnings dedicated to all Sri Lankans to create solutions by focusing on the ultra-abundance of Sri Lanka, especially the under-estimated food resources. There were many diplomats and other dignitaries who graced the occasion.

Below is a brief quote from EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Denis Chaibiwho who was one of the chief guests and reiterated about the almost unparalleled richness of Sri Lanka.“Sri Lanka has the best of everything. A few countries would have what Sri Lanka has. It has the best cinnamon in the world, the best tea, cashew and pepper. It has so much in natural resources.”

“Sri Lanka is not a‘poor country.’

“A few countries have the immense natural resources that Sri Lanka has.”

“It has unlimited renewable energy potential,” he said, going onto speak on the natural resources such as sunshine throughout the year and the high tides which are sustainable natural energy luxuries for many countries in the world.

Traditional food

Simon Toohey, Master-chef from Canberra, Australia who is commissioned by Dilmah to take to the world the nutrition and taste of Sri Lanka’s traditional food, commemorated the launch of the Genesis centre, with a master-class on culinary innovation, using herbs such as Gotukola, showcasing a potential for herbs such as these to be heralded as anexotic food addition for both flavour/taste, nutrition and presentation.

“My visit to Sri Lanka accepting the invitation of Dilmah to support their Lost Ingredients Lab, to support food innovation using under-utilised local ingredients such as jack fruit, gotukola and seaweed, has taught me that there are hundreds of such food resources in Sri Lanka that deserve local and global recognition. I travelled widely in Sri Lanka visiting villages and researching how various types of beans, nuts, fruits and herbs found in far flung locations could be turned into exotic dishes.’

“Sri Lanka is a haven for someone experimenting with food based creativity as I do and I look forward to this journey as I work with Dilmah to take Sri Lanka’s local ingredients to the world gastronomy arena,” Toohey said.

Prof. Ajith De Alwis who had served as the Director, ERU – Engineering Research Unit, Faculty of Engineering and Head of the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering of Moratuwa University and the Chief Innovation Officer of the National Innovation Agency (NIA), spoke of the immense wealth of innovation that humans can learn from the natural world, explaining that the creation of new ideas to be the sole saving grace for any country.

“I quote the words of Kumaratunga Munidasa who stated that the nation who does not experiment with new ideas will not rise.”

“Creativity is part of nature. Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot. We need for local entrepreneurship to find us the economic solutions while safeguarding our natural environment. There are many innovations in the world inspired by the natural world. For example, the large retail building in Zimbabwe was built without electrical air conditioning, inspired by termite mounds where the cold night air is kept in circulation inside while warm air is pushed out through chimneys,” Prof. Alwis said.

“The earth provides us with the solutions for the zero waste challenge. We have to learn from it and adopt its knowledge,” he said, citing many other examples such as how water resistant fabric was created after observing skin of certain fruits.

Dilhan Fernando, son of Merrill J. Fernando and the CEO of Dilmah Tea spoke of how the company his father founded in the same spot that the Genesis centre for innovation is now housed, will act as a reminder that anyone can become as ‘self-made’ as his father was and give vision to a goal that encompasses kindness and service to humanity.

Anyone decoding his message to fit this nation and its current predicament could find relevance to how the Dilmah Genesis message could shift for Sri Lanka any threat of the invasion of ‘defeat’ into the territory of the minds of its people.

“It was an impossible dream that my father, hailing from a village dreamt, to take Sri Lankan tea to the world in a route that was hitherto unexplored. What he achieved is nothing short of a miracle. This Genesis centre now belongs to Sri Lankans to take forward as we engage with the world to showcase the abundance of this country. This location will be a base for creation, discussion as well as invention, supporting the resilience of sustainable food,” Dilhan Fernando said.

Many young rural entrepreneurs and those innovating upon Sri Lankan food products from other countries were introduced by Fernando and the coverage of those details will be duly done in a separate write-up.

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