RSB PO Update: Biomass Group responds to the coronavirus crisis

RSB’s community of members and certified operators around the world are adjusting to the coronavirus crisis – responding to challenging economic and social situations, mitigation regulations and the remote working.

RSB  Participating Operator, Biomass Group – a renewable energy company that develops biomass resources for chips, pellets and power – to find out about how they are responding to the crisis. Lucky Dissanayake, the Founder of the Biomass Group, shared the following insights from work and home life.


Can you tell us a little bit about the COVID-19 situation where you are?

 On 10 March, the first Sri Lankan local national residing in Sri Lanka tested positive for COVID-19. Within a week of the 1st case, the Government of Sri Lanka took swift action to prevent escalation and to flatten the curve. All schools, universities were closed and private and public sectors were urged to work from home. Sri Lanka has been on curfew (lockdown) since 20th of March with essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies making home deliveries. Some districts including Colombo are considered high risk areas and are on curfew until further notice, whereas since Monday 20th April in the rest of the island, curfew has been lifted from 6am to 8pm daily. Wearing face masks outside the home is now mandatory and media is promoting social distancing, and the need to wash hands thoroughly. Compared to other countries Sri Lanka is doing well – as of 22nd April we had a total of 321 cases, with 104 have recovered and 7 deaths.

 

How has your organisation responded?

Our most important asset is our diversely skilled, passionate and committed team. Their safety is of utmost importance; we established a work from home policy from the 17th of March – at the very onset of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.

Our business is built on developing and supporting an outgrower network of smallholder farmers, and creating an income for them and our field staff has been of paramount importance. We have temporarily changed the focus of our Field Officers (who coordinate with registered farmers) from fuelwood to cash crops so that we can be a conduit for market access for food crops. We are also in the process of implementing a Village Coordinator program for women in rural areas to work alongside our Field Officers.  They  will connect with farmers in their respective villages and provide that last mile access and logistics capability.

These strategies will provide an income for the smallholder farmers and women in rural areas whilst catering to the essential needs of those in urban areas, while allowing our current field officers to continue to build trust in their communities.

 

How has life changed in the past few weeks?

Like everyone, we have had to adapt to a new normal of life under lockdown. Technology has enabled us to continue communication and business. We have also had to think of creative new avenues of business to continue to engage our stakeholders, investors and the media.

 

Do you feel a commitment to sustainability in the bioeconomy is more important than ever? Why?

Absolutely! The pandemic has forced us to stop and take the time to re-think and re-boot on what we do, how and why. We must evaluate our relationship with nature, and respect and protect her because in that lies our own health, wellbeing and economic stability.

A sustainable robust bioeconomy will enable us to minimise dependence on oil, promote a circular economy, safeguard our environment and tackle climate change, while increasing scope and opportunities for the agricultural sector. We believe this will help us to secure our own health and future.

This pandemic is only a prelude to a MUCH greater existential risk that is climate change – and we ignore this warning from nature at our own peril.

What does your organisation need in order to continue to thrive in a post-pandemic world?

 We had started fundraising in Q3 of 2019 . We are looking for strategic investors or companies and partners whom we can collaborative with – who share our vision and values. Impact investors who are looking for transformative change with their funding. And companies looking for deforestation free certified, sustainable ethical, holistic fuelwood or raw material solutions that won’t cost the earth!

Clockwise from left:

Jack Fruit hanging off the tree. This tree is grown in home gardens of smallholder farmers, the meat-like texture is packed with energy and vitamins. It is the national fruit of Sri Lanka.

Biomass Supplies village level training session with registered smallholder farmers on how to make organic fertiliser using Gliricidia

Lucky Dissanayake is the Founder of the Biomass Group.

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