Sri Lankan grower Harald Alberti

’I’ll probably go on for four more years, until I’m 80.’

How does a Swede end up in Sri Lanka?
”I was travelling in Asia with two other horticulturists 33 years ago. We were looking for a suitable site to grow plants. I considered various countries, but there were always complications. Thailand, Malaysia… I eventually started in Sri Lanka, with cut foliage and young plants. The Swedish government was offering grants, but I didn’t avail of those. It would have meant having to work with the Sri Lankan government. I preferred to do it without them. Over the years, our focus has shifted more and more on young plants and less on cut foliage. And we began to grow indoor plants as well. Out of the three of us, I’m the only one who still has a business in Asia. There’s also a Dutch grower in the same area, we try and help each other out wherever we can.”

What are your distribution channels?
”The indoor plants go to South Korea. The Koreans used to buy their plants in China, but they were unhappy with the quality. So, they came to us. Other countries the plants are sold to include Tehran, Pakistan, the Middle East and Japan. The young plants are shipped all over the world. We try to make our cultivation as environmentally friendly as possible. We use hardly any chemicals. And we use coco fibre pots. The roots of young plants can easily grow through the material and eventually, the pot will dissolve. Another thing we use is neem seed. We boil it, mix it with water and use it to spray against white fly, mosquitoes and nematodes. We’re actually trying to go completely organic. The only problem is that there aren’t any certifying authorities in Sri Lanka.”

How’s the business doing?
”We’ve just expanded the nursery because of the increase in demand from South Korea. We used to have 25 ha and we’re now renting an additional 3 ha. It did mean investing 20,000 euro for a new irrigation system. I’m not sure we’d want to grow any further. I think this is probably big enough for us. If we grow more, we’d have to hire more people and it would be hard to keep things under control. We’ve already got something like 80-100 employees. One of the problems we’re facing in Sri Lanka at the moment is the drought. We haven’t had any monsoons, hence no water. We’ve still got plenty of irrigation water from a well, but the drought has led to a very low humidity. Unlike in Thailand – we’ve also got a site there – where the humidity is too high at the moment.”

Do you spend a lot of time in Asia?
”I live in Sweden. Until recently, I would go over five times per year. But I’ve spent fourteen months in a wheelchair. Nowadays, I go to Sri Lanka and Thailand two or three times a year. We’ve got an excellent manager, with lots of experience in horticulture: Mr. Karunaratne. He’s been working with Asian Cuttings for four years now. In the old days, all communications went by teleprinter. That’s so much easier nowadays.”

Any plans for the future?
”I’m 76 years old! How much of a future do I have left? I’ll probably go on for four more years, until I’m 80. I sold the company to a large Swedish investor seven years ago. I asked him if he wanted to buy the farm and I suggested a price. He signed a contract the following day. I had the money in my account within a week. The new Swedish owner wants to maintain a Swedish connection between himself and the farm. So, one of my three sons is going to fulfil that role. He’s over in Sri Lanka at the moment to learn the job. He tried it before but he wasn’t interested. But he is now.”

About Harald Alberti:
Company: Asian Cuttings
Country: Sri Lanka
Products: young plants and indoor plants
Surface: 25 ha.