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Egesun focuses on its own raw materials projects

by Karin Heinze (comments: 0)

organic pineapples
Contract farmers growing coconuts for the Egesun subsidiary Tropical Health Food in Sri Lanka. Photo Karin Heinze

The Morgenland brand has been established in the wholefood trade for more than 30 years and offers a comprehensive range of nuts, dried fruit, conserves and coconut products. Behind the name Egesun stands a visionary, restless spirit called Orhan Yilmaz. Long ago, he realised that using raw materials from his own projects certainly involve high costs and much effort but that in the long-run it’s an approach that proves its worth - both for the farmer on the front line and for product quality and transparency. In Sri Lanka, a group of organic traders were able to see for themselves how cropping and processing are organized.

Contract farmers growing coconuts for the Egesun subsidiary Tropical Health Food in Sri Lanka. Photo Karin Heinze

Organic pineapple farming. Photos Karin Heinzee
The Morgenland-Tour 2015 for customers
Inspection of the pineapple fields
Nature in balance at the plantations
Organic pineapple variety Mauritius
Storage of coconuts
Contract farmers growing coconuts for the Egesun subsidiary Tropical Health Food in Sri Lanka. Photo Karin Heinze

The Morgenland brand has been established in the wholefood trade for more than 30 years and offers a comprehensive range of nuts, dried fruit, conserves and coconut products. Behind the name Egesun stands a visionary, restless spirit called Orhan Yilmaz. Long ago, he realised that using raw materials from his own projects certainly involve high costs and much effort but that in the long-run it’s an approach that proves its worth - both for the farmer on the front line and for product quality and transparency. In Sri Lanka, a group of organic traders were able to see for themselves how cropping and processing are organized.

Contract farmers growing coconuts for the Egesun subsidiary Tropical Health Food in Sri Lanka. Photo Karin Heinze

Tropical Health Food in Sri Lanka

The Egesun subsidiary in Sri Lanka is called Tropical Health Food (THF). The company really does deserve to be described as a success story. This respected firm, in which around three million euros have been invested, provides employment for up to 90 people in the vicinity of the firm’s headquarters and creates an income for hundreds of farming families through the cultivation of organic coconuts and tropical fruit – mainly pineapple, papaya and mango. In the factory in Kurunegale, to the north of the capital Colombo, there are, alongside the manual sorting and processing of fruit, skilled jobs in the laboratory and the administration. The managing director Gamini Sellahewa is focused on both the wellbeing of his employees and the wellbeing of nature – as soon as you enter the company site, you are aware of his commitment: a meticulously tended garden, a canteen, high safety and environmental standards and a warm welcome for the group from Germany, who sell to customers in their shops the end products of Tropical Health Food under the Morgenland brand.

Tropical Health Food processing organic pineapples. Photos Karin Heinze
Tropical Health Food is an Egesun branch in Sri Lanka
A warm welcome for the guests from Germany
THF-CEO Gamini Sellahewa, Kees Maris, Egesun International Projects,
Alice Fridum Marketing Morgenland and Uwe Hansemann, Customer Relations
Control and advice for the farmers.
How it all began – the story of Mauritius

Orhan Yilmaz is constantly on the lookout for new sources of raw materials that fit into the wide Morgenland brand portfolio (150 articles). He was, therefore, thrilled when about 20 years ago he discovered in Sri Lanka an “unusually delicious” pineapple called Mauritius, an old and extremely robust variety. They carried out processing experiments, and it turned out that the golden-yellow flesh of the Mauritius pineapple was ideally suited to drying and that the aromatic taste was outstanding for conserves. The Mauritius, that produces rather small fruits (1kg), is grown in mixed cropping with coconut palms and other tall trees (cashew, papaya and mango). The main harvest is between April and July, but the pineapples ripen throughout the year.
 

Around 140 certified organic farmers, with farms of varying size and cultivating over 2,000 hectares, supply Tropical Health Food (THF). There the pineapples are processed, some as rings or chunks in jars and some as dried fruit. What’s special is the fact that the pineapples are preserved in their own juice and without the use of sugar. Dried papaya and mango are similarly important products. They are planning to expand the offer of tropical speciality conserves and they are carrying out experiments with jack fruit, limes and other exotic fruits in the laboratory kitchen. At THF headquarters cans of coconut milk - filled at a partner of Tropical Health Food – are labelled and made ready for dispatch by sea container to Germany.
 

Tropical Health Food processing organic pineapples. Photos Karin Heinze
Pineapple blossom.
Pineapples being processed.
A lot of manual labour goes into processing.
Organic pineapples in their own juice for the Western markets
Coconuts on the up
coconut harvest
Harvest workers climbing the trees to collect the coconuts. Photo Karin Heinze

“Coconuts are our end product,” says a delighted Kees Maris. Three to five containers with the products of this all-round plant are sent on their way every week to Europe. The coconut products, milk, cream, shredded coconut, crisps and oil (VCO Virgin Coconut Oil) are manufactured and filled by the partner firm under the control of managing director Sampath Anuruddha. He was previously an employee of Egesun and, with the help of the company, he set up his own firm and has now taken over the processing of coconuts. “We’re comfortable with the idea that committed individuals take the initiative here and cooperate with us,” Kees Maris explains. Alice Fridum confirms that “coconut milk from Sri Lanka is currently the best-seller in the Morgenland product assortment,” and she sees great potential in the whole coconut range. The Egesun marketing manager from Germany is in Sri Lanka for the first time and is very impressed by the huge commitment of the plantation operators, the consulting agricultural engineers and the processing firms (see video interview).


We have to remember that for many years the people of Sri Lanka have not had an easy life – there was civil war in the north. After the war, from 2000, the country and industry were re-built.
The coconut plantations, that alongside tea and rubber are among the most important edible raw materials, had however been suffering since 1962, when they were nationalized under the Communist regime and scarcely tended. Productivity in the so-called Coconut Triangle, the most important agricultural region and found in the west of the island, declined massively. After the war, when they began to invest in looking after the plantations and production rose, climate-related catastrophes like tornados and the tsunami once again impacted production in the Asiatic region. The effects were felt in particular by the important coconut suppliers, the Philippines. “Worldwide, coconut production declined by about a third,” Maris explains. In consequence, prices rose, demand for coconut products from Sri Lanka increased and the Egesun project and the THF factory prospered.

Harvest workers climbing the trees to collect the coconuts. Photo Karin Heinze

High demand for virgin coconut oil

A further factor was that coconut oil, which had previously been very cheap and had a rather poor reputation, suddenly became a star on account of a study in the USA. “Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) is just as healthy as other high-value plant oils. Good not only to eat, but also for use in natural cosmetics,” says Maris. The manufacturing processes were refines, so that the “the quality is now really excellent”. The oil, that crystallizes white at temperatures below 40 degrees, is also valuable especially as a food supplement and is a sought-after product, particularly by people with a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Organic coconut processing. Photos Karin Heinze
Processing coconuts is costly.
The coconut harvest employs many people.
helled coconuts for milk, oil and shredding.
Cocorasps
Jobs for women from the locality
Coconut milk Morgenland brand
Framwework conditions have improved
cooperation team
Kees Maris, 2nd on the left, with his Sri Lankan business partners. Photo Karin Heinze

“Our Sri Lanka project was not always as successful as it is today,” Kees Maris recalls. The head of the international projects, who has been active worldwide in the organic and sustainability field for more than 20 years and has worked almost as long for the firm Egesun, talks about the difficult years at the outset and the prevailing context of conditions that made many initiatives on the island – smaller than Bavaria – difficult if not impossible. “Right at the beginning lots of things weren’t right, but we kept our eyes on the potential,” says Orhan Yilmaz. “Our goal was not only to export food but also to help the people of Sri Lanka and to establish organic farming there. Because this paradise is worth preserving.” Without doubt, Sri Lanka is an island paradise: the people are very friendly and obliging but also hard-working. The climate and soils are in general good, and the Coconut Triangle in particular is ideally suited to growing coconut palms and other exotic fruit.

Sri Lanka is no low-wage country. The government guarantees basic social security for every citizen (health and social insurance). It makes it easier for a foreign firm to build on this and expand fair conditions. Egesun pays 15 to 20 percent more for certified organic goods and further supports contract farmers by bearing the costs of training, advising, organic controls (Control Union, Demeter), quality controls and laboratory testing. Tropical Health Food is in the process of acquiring certification for FairTSA. In its assessment of a company, this system includes sustainability criteria alongside the international fair trade criteria.

Organic farming in Sri Lanka. Photos Karin Heinze
A cooperative converting its fields to Demeter.
Warehouse for bio-dynamic preparations.
Papaya farmer with young plants.
Adviser and a committed farm manager.
Cows grazing under coconut palms
Further Morgenland projects worldwide

Sri Lanka is primarily a supplier of pineapples and coconut products. However, Egesun began with its own project in Turkey, that is today still an important source of dried apricots, apples, figs, sultanas, hazelnuts and apple concentrate for the manufacture of fruit spreads. A promising goji project is being set up in Chinese Inner Mongolia. Maris maintains contact with other projects around the world, and it often takes years of work for the raw materials to find their way into bags, cans or jars at Egesun under the Morgenland brand. 

Impressions of the country and its people. Photos Karin Heinze
The people of Sri Lanka are very friendly
Buddhism is present everywhere.
The number of elephants is relatively high in Sri Lanka.
Coconuts are one of the country’s most important raw materials.

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