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Sunday, 23 June 2013

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Seashells - resource depleting but industry continues unabated

The seashell processing industry in Kinniya is a major threat to the environment and affects biodiversity as well. The continuous collection of seashells has depleted the natural environment in the area. If this process continues the region will depend on imports for the calcium requirement of the country. Mangroves founds in the coastal belt also face destruction.

A.G.M. Najaath M.H.M. Najath S.L.M. Jawadullah

No action has been taken by the authorities to minimise the damage caused to the environment and biodiversity as well. Destruction of one acre of mangrove forest will lead to the destruction of nearly 100 varieties of fish. The concept of sustainable development has been violated. If this process continues the region will face severe environmental hazards and despite environmental degradation, Seashell collection is continuing unabated.

The Kinniya Divisional Secretariat Division which is situated along the Eastern coastal belt in the Trincomalee district has plenty of natural resources. If people use these resources, the region will turn into a hub of prosperity. The fishery industry, salt production and seashell processing industry are the main livelihood modes of nearly 30 percent of the people in the region.

We talked to a cross section of people with regard to the seashell processing industry. Kinniya Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, S.L.M. Jawadullah said a plan will be implemented to regulate the industry. Individually seashell processing plants should be brought together generating employment opportunities.

He said that the Pradeshiya Sabha has the authority to issue permits and it will be valid for two months and if they misuse it will be cancelled. He said that a large number of people who live below the poverty line were engaged in collecting seashells and earn enough money by selling them to seashell processing plants.

He also urged plant operators to take steps to minimise damage to the environment by the emission of smoke and dust from the plants.


Dried seashells to be used for processing. Pic -:Mohammed Naalir

Jawadullah said that if plant operators collaborated a large number of problems can be solved. Environment pollution can also be minimised.

M.H.M. Najath, Principal of Al Siraj Muslim Maha Vidyalaya in Thambalagamuwa, an environmental activist said that a large number of people were engaged in this industry but have failed to pay attention to the environment and biodiversity.

He said that the industry should be sustained as it is the livelihood of a large number of people in the region and should function in an environment-friendly manner.

The relevant authorities should come forward to train people in the seashell processing plants. He said that a person who sells seashells earns nearly Rs. 1,500 a day. If the industry is regulated it will be a boon to economy in the region, Najath said.

He said that due to the smoke and dust emitted from the seashell processing plants a large patch of mangrove trees have turned brown. The mangrove trees provide shelter to certain kinds of fish and support them to breed. He said poultry feed is produced from seashells. The plants in Kinniya cater to the demand for poultry feeds in the region.

He said sustainable development was neglected due to lack of knowledge. Awareness campaigns are crucial to make seashell processing plant operators aware of the damages caused to the environment and biodiversity by the smoke emitted from the plants. "Earlier, the Lagoon close to Kakkamunai and Naduttivu was famous for diving for pearls and was known as "pearl reach", he said. He said that nearly 20 percent of people in the region depend on the fishery industry. The people who fish in the lagoon have also been affected after the emergence of the seashell processing industry.


A worker at the grinding machine

Besides, Najath said when he was the principal of Dharul Uloom Vidyalaya in Kakkamunai, Kinniya, to mark World Environment Day, he organised a protest against seashell processing plants which operated in the vicinity of the residential area.

Aliyar Thambi Nasurdeen said that he worked in the seashell processing plant for the past three years. The plant has the capacity of processing 300 bags of seashells per day, each bag consisting of 50 kilos. A worker who operates the machine is paid Rs. 40 for each bag. He works for 25 days a month.

M Imamdeen said that the seashell processing industry function in these areas for nearly 15 to 16 years as a domestic industry. Earlier, the industry was not profitable. Now this industry has turned into a profitable venture. Earlier people went in canoes with great difficulty to collect seashells in the lagoon. But with the development of the industry the people go in motor boats to collect seashells.

There are 15 plants in Kakkamunai and nearly 40 people work and 10 plants function in Naduttivu.

He said that the Pradeshiya Sabha charge Rs. 2,500 to issue permits to seashell processing plants and transport processed material for marketing. He said that a large number of poor people in the region benefit from this industry. Products are sent to Kurunegala, Kuliyapitiya, Ketipola, Kandy and Colombo for poultry feeds.

B.K. Kaleel said that in the initial stage he used seashells to produce lime, as the product couldn't reach the market, he shifted to producing poultry feed. The Kinniya Bridge plays a pivotal role in improving the economy of the region. The transportation of raw material and other products takes place smoothly. The seashell processing industry has attracted a large number of people as it is easy to start and was a viable business, Kaleel said.

A.G.M. Najaath, a businessman in the area said that he started seashell processing industry in 1996 with the help of a friend who migrated from Hambantota. In the early days only a few people were involved in this industry, now it is a common industry in the region.

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