By Valerie Lubrano (MBA/MPP ’13)
Every June, the Center For Social Value Creation and the Center for International Business Education and Research team up to provide a Sri Lanka half-internship volunteer consulting experience for University of Maryland MBA and MPP (Masters of Public Policy) candidates. Students spend two weeks on-site in Sri Lanka working with social impact clients, and ultimately deliver actionable recommendations to their clients as well as stakeholders including USAID, VEGA, and IESC.
Today is my 10th day in Sri Lanka and my fourth day working for Aqua ‘N Green (ANG). Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and this consulting program has allowed me to see so many parts of it! Starting from the capital, Colombo, we flew to the northeastern coastal town of Trincomalee. Here, ANG maintains their fisheries, from nursery to full grown fish. ANG is currently primarily focused on Asian sea bass, also called barramundi. One of the things that makes ANG unique is the outgrowers network. This is a collection of local farmers whose responsibility it is to maintain and grow the fish from fingerlings to fully harvestable fish.
The business model for these farmers is very interesting and utilizes a number of business concepts from the classroom in very meaningful ways. ANG provides each farmer with two cages in the Trincomalee lagoon where the fish can grow. ANG partnered with the Bank of Ceylon to guarantee loans for these farmers so they can purchase the fingerlings and fish food. The farmers and ANG enter into a forward contract to purchase a specified amount of fish for 1 year (which equates to 2 six month growing cycles for the farmer). At the end of each cycle, the farmer sells the mature barramundi to ANG, pays off part of the loan to the bank, and takes home about Rs. 19,000 (a bit over 150 USD). ANG seeks farmers who are already fishermen and considers this program (at least initially) as a way to supplement their household income. Under this program, ANG currently has 69 farmers at work and has the potential to employ up to 1300 farming families! What a difference this can make in people’s lives! Not only are they earning more money for their families, but the farmers are also building credit. As someone with an interest in social finance, this clearly makes me very excited.
As not to neglect my policy studies, it has been interesting to see some of the unique political challenges ANG faces. For example, the ANG team was telling us that they face huge hurdles in permitting and licensing. The company is currently building a processing facility in Trincomalee to more efficiently process the fish and maintain the quality. This has been stalled numerous times because of licensing issues. Similarly, any time they want to acquire land in a different village, the process for doing so is long, bureaucratic, and highly political. This is a challenge for ANG because they can only employ farmers in the villages in which they operate. An overarching issue is that Trincomalee is based in the northeast, which saw a great deal of violence from the civil war. While the government of Sri Lanka has indicated that rebuilding the post-conflict region is a priority, ANG unfortunately does not receive any of their support.
Working from the headquarters here in Negombo, just north of the capital on the southwestern shore, my partner and I are energized by the passion of everyone we have met in this country and in this organization. We are leveraging the crucial field experience in Negombo with our daily chats with ANG’s passionate CEO and founder and working on our report on how to take ANG to the next level to fulfill his dreams. So far he has been pleased with our discussions and the direction we are going, and we only hope to continue to make him proud.
Valerie Lubrano is an MBA/MPP ’14 Candidate at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the School of Public Policy, and is currently consulting for Aqua N’ Green.