Sri Lanka: MONLAR rejects proposed National Agricultural Policy

The Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) yesterday alleged that the proposed National Agricultural Policy put forth by the Ministry of Agriculture had failed to address the concerns of Sri Lankan small scale farmers, which amounts to 90% of the country’s food producers.

Moderator of MONLAR, Chinthaka Rajapakshe said that the policy did not focus on livestock development. It was a serious concern as livestock was an important part of agriculture and especially sustainable agriculture.

“In the last few weeks, a high powered committee too had been appointed to transform our economy into a sustainable one. However, the proposed Agricultural Policy has not even made any substantial proposals on sustainable agriculture. This is the problem with our governments, successive regimes have tried to implement mutually exclusive policies at the same time,” Rajapakshe said.

MONLAR believes that any National Agricultural Policy must give priority to addressing issues such as the country’s overdependence on food imports, the dwindling health and nutrition of farmers (for example CKDu, other non-communicable diseases and malnutrition,) high indebtedness and the landlessness, human – wild animal conflict and bad institutional support to farmers. Unfortunately, the proposed National Agricultural Policy has completely ignored these and has proposed market-based mechanisms that will only make matters worse.

“Successive Sri Lankan governments have signed several agreements with the World Trade Organization. These have led to serious issues in the sector. Instead of learning from the past mistakes, the government is planning to sign more bilateral and multilateral agreements that will further challenge the sustainability of Sri Lankan agriculture. However, the proposed National Agricultural Policy does not look at these future challenges,” Rajapakshe said.

Sri Lanka’s National Policy on Climate Change, National Environmental Policy and Strategies, National Wetland Policy and Strategies, Sri Lanka’s Forest Policy and its Land Use Policies should be linked with a successful National Agricultural Policy. However, none of them had been considered when drafting the National Agricultural Policy, he said.

The MONLAR moderator added that “Women play an important role in the production of food by small holders. The role played by the women are important in ensuring regional development, ensuring food sovereignty at the regional level and when disasters strike. Their contribution is also vital for the development of the national economy.

“However, none of our agricultural policies recognize that the woman is an equal partner in agriculture. Thus, they face a lot of discrimination in the policy formulation. There are many land laws that are discriminatory towards women, i.e. land development ordinance. They also face difficulties in accessing agricultural subsidies and insurance schemes. Women in agriculture also find it difficult to access the market and access technologies. Due to the above mentioned factors, women in agriculture face a great deal of difficulties and are vulnerable to various actors. The proposed National Agricultural Policy too suffers from the same weakness,” he said.

The proposed National Agricultural Policy speaks in length about the need for public – private partnerships in agriculture. However, the last four decades show that this approach would not be beneficial to small scale producers, consumers, and our natural resources. By continuing with this same failed policy, the proposed National Agricultural Policy can only make matters worse, he said.

“Most Sri Lankan farmers are indebted. This is an indication of the failure of existing agricultural loan insurance schemes. Leasing and loan schemes have also been used to make the farmer buy agricultural equipment, which are not being used optimally. The proposed National Agricultural Policy has not paid attention to strengthening the economy of small holders that would automatically address the social issues created by indebtedness. Given these MONLAR has no option but to reject this draft policy in whole,” he said.

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