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Rockland infuseslife into the toddy tapping industry

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Seated (L-R) Mr. Derek de Silva Wijeyeratne (Chairman, Rockland Distilleries) and Mr. Malraj Peris (Chairman, Coconut Research Institute)

Rockland is Sri Lanka’s first commercial distillery, established in 1924. It was first commissioned under the British government to manufacture high quality coconut arrack in Ceylon, which remains a distinct passion of the company. The art of sourcing toddy- which is distilled to make coconut arrack is traditionally passed on from one generation to another. Over time this has become a dying art, left unattended, like other local crafts such as lacemaking, cane furniture and wood carving. The art of toddy tapping too could possibly disappear as a unique capability in Sri Lanka.

In this context, Rockland has successfully established a programme to collaborate with the Coconut Research Institute (CRI) and NAITA (National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority) to preserve and develop the art and craft of toddy tapping in the country. NAITA, is the foremost state body with the capacity to provide industry acceptable technical and vocational training through an island wide network of fully fledged training facilities that utilize standardised techniques, a news release on this initiative said.

“Rockland Distilleries together with the CRI and NAITA have developed a proprietary methodology that is progressive in its approach to train a new generation of tappers. With the required financial investment, the company has tailor made a four-month programme that can accommodate up to five batches annually, resulting in the total empowerment of over 50 new tappers a year.

“The programme will consist of the tappers learning safety standards while introducing modern technology and methods into the trade via theoretical and practical training modules at the Coconut Research Institute in Lunuwila. This will be followed by on-ground training under stringent safety guidelines for two months. Rockland is the only distillery to have several of their own coconut estates dedicated to toddy tapping and are therefore able to guarantee employment for successful participants within the company, providing them with a consistent income to enhance their standard of living,” the release said.

“This endeavour will breathe new life into a declining industry of toddy tapping and empower the communities that have inherited this expertise over countless generations. Upon successful completion, all participants will be awarded a NAITA Level 03 certificate, equipping them with enhanced opportunities for personal and professional growth. In addition, by reviving the art of toddy tapping, handmade clay pot making and rope making communities will also continue to prosper.”

With the first batch set for intake in 2023, Rockland Distilleries will continue its legacy of providing exquisite island spirits with the support of the communities it works within. This initiative is the result of the passion and dedication of Devinda de Silva Wijeyeratne – Operations Director at Rockland Distilleries, leading a team of like-minded individuals with innovation and community empowerment at its core, the release concluded.

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