By Rathindra Kuruwita
Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.
Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.
Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.
“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality. The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.
The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.
Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”
In response, Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.
“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.