Lassana Flora aiming for global expansion

Lanka yet to tap global horticulture market

The global greenhouse horticulture market reached a value of US$ 25.2 Billion in 2020 and looking forward, it is expected to grow at around 5% during 2021-2026.

“However sadly Sri Lanka has not exploited even 1% of this huge market despite having the geographical potential to do so,” said Dr Lasantha Malavige.

Sri Lanka’s horticulture exports are around USD 2 million while over 60% of the world market share is taken by the Netherlands.

Some African countries are making rapid progress in entering these markets and it’s high time the local authorities have taken a keener interest in promoting this segment which has huge export value.

Being among laboratories, test tubes, autopsies he always had a liking towards artistic ideas and saw and admired the nature and beauty of flora and fauna.

It’s this passion that drove Dr Lasantha Malavige to diversify and commence a small business as a wedding florist in 1998 while being in the medical faculty as a third-year student with the branding Lassana Flora in Colombo which was completely different to his medical profession.

To gain experience, he used to linger among the flower shops in Maradana and other places to study the trends, arrangements and designs and even travelled to Meepirimana in Nuwara Eliya to find suppliers and to Wewaldeniya to purchase cane baskets to arrange flowers.

“While continuing my medical education and focusing in the flower business I also obtained my MBBS, DIPM, PhD and was presented with the TOYP award for the best researcher in medical science for the year 2010,” recalled Managing Director and Chairman Lassana Flora, Dr Lasantha Malavige to our Daily News Business feature series ‘Meet the Chairman.’

He is married to Senior Lecturer and specialist in Immunology, University of Jayewardenapura Dr. Neelika Malavige and is a father of two children.

Q: What made you give up higher studies in medicine?

A: I wanted to specialise in surgery, but thought it would be impossible to run a business and engage in surgery as well. I did my internship at the Homagama hospital and after completing my internship I resigned from the Government service and joined the Family Planning Association as I wanted to specialise in Sexual Medicine.”

I also did research work at the University of Sri Jayewardenapura and later was offered a place at the University of Oxford to do further research from where I obtained a Diploma in Psycho Sexual Medicine as well as a PhD in Sexual Medicine both from the University of Oxford and Sri Jayewardenapura.

Though listening to patients, diagnosing and treating them and the praise I received from them was satisfactory I always loved the fresh fragrance of flowers and the soft touch of its petals and decided to shift my focus more towards it through Lassana Flora.

Q: Initially what were the grey areas you saw?

A: One of the difficulties I faced especially during the busy wedding season was the lack of supplies, in turn, to supply good quality flowers to this growing wedding market. After a thorough study, I knew that I had to nurse my suppliers in Meepilimana near Nuwara Eliya which was quite a remote village at that time. After going into great details about the difficulties they faced, I mediated with NDB and provide loans for these growers to purchase better planting material and other resources to improve their production.”

Looking back today most of these growers have financially grown to have their vehicles and houses and I am happy that I was able to make a difference in their lives and help them become economically more stable.

Q: Looking back what would you rate as your biggest achievement?

A: Having started as a Wedding flower supplier we have instilled professionalism not only to Lassana Flora but to the industry as well and have diversified to cakes, agro and delivery services. We have our own flower growing facilities in many parts of Sri Lanka. In addition, we are a proud contributor to the economy by way of exports to many parts of the world.

We are now looking at having our Seed nursery and produce hybrid plants and seeds for other growers as well.

I must recall that one of the most rewarding moments in my business was obtaining the prestigious ISO 9001:2008 certification, thus not only becoming Sri Lanka’s first, but also South Asia’s first florist company to have this accolade.

Also, our online wedding planning service has helped many foreign nationals and Sri Lankan expatriates to have their weddings in Sri Lanka.

We also don’t use plastic at all in our fresh produce delivery, only paper bags and cardboard boxes.

We have a strong R&D team that came out successfully to implement systems to minimize post-harvest wastage which was around 30-40% in fruits and vegetables. We have been able to bring down this loss to less than 10% and we now share this success story with others by educating growers on how to minimise post-harvest losses minimising fertiliser and other chemicals and also how to improve the quality of produce.

Q: What are your views on the use of fertilizer?

A: We need chemical fertilizer and pesticides to maintain the quality of our products. As flowers are not edible we don’t see any health hazards to them. However, we maintain great care in environmental protection when using fertilizer and we do use organic fertilizer as well. However, I must say we can keep our flowers in their original freshness for seven days without spraying chemicals due to the stringent quality standards we maintain.

Q: What are some steps adopted by Lassana Flora during the pandemic?

A: During the lockdown, there was a major breakdown in the supply chain and our in-house agri-experts and IT department worked who changed our website to accommodate online delivery of essentials. We used our Cold storage truck in most instances and also adopted other novel measures logistical innovative systems to deliver essentials. We also cleared our cool room facilities and started utilising them for storage, sorting, and packing of essentials. Today too we continue this.

Q: What are your expansion plans?

A: We have plans to branch out to many countries like Japan, Bangladesh, Jakarta and Myanmar but some of them are on hold due to the pandemic. In addition, we will also install more Solar in our nurseries in the future. The expected boom in tourism to continue and therefore we are concentrating on this sector as well.