19th August 2001
Front Page
Editorial/Opinion| Business
Sports| Mirror Magazine
The Sunday Times on the Web

Bitter harvest

One year has passed since the farmers' 'fast unto death' but they have had no relief reports Hiranthi Fernando

Although one year has passed since they held their 'fast unto death', the desperate plight of the farmers of Hingurakgoda has not eased. And last week, the farmers came into the city with the hope of rekindling public awareness of their woes. 

They also launched Govi Upawasaya (Farmers Fast), a book by Ariyaratne Subasinghe at the auditorium of the Institute for the Advancement of Science in Colombo. The author dedicated his book to all the farmers who participated in the death fast: those who had killed themselves in desperation and all those who shed bitter tears for them.

President of the Society to Protect the Rights of the Farmers M.K. Jayatissa said they were happy that their problems were the subject of a book. 'We started the fast to obtain some relief,' Jayatissa said. 'In 1993, we were in a bad way. We could not sell our produce at a fair price or earn a livable income. In 1994, the Peoples Alliance promised to make the situation better for farmers, but so far, we have had no relief. There are 18 lakhs of farmers whose hopes have been lost. Unable to bear their burdens, eight farmers in the Polonnaruwa District killed themselves by drinking pesticide last April. They could not pay their debts.

'It is a vicious cycle,' Jayatissa commented. 'We take loans to cultivate our fields. After the harvest, we have to repay the loans. But, expenses are high and we do not get a good price for our rice. The price is dictated by brokers and middlemen. The farmer has no rights. W do not earn enough to repay our loans and carry on.' 

When the farmers began their campaign, they put forward 29 requests. 'We asked to save our agriculture from this suicidal system,' the farmers said. They explained that prices should be set taking into account the fluctuation of the dollar. They asked the government to intervene to protect the farmer as is done in many countries during a bad period. When rice and other foodstuffs are imported indiscriminately, the selling price of their produce drops. They asked that a committee be set up with the relevant Ministers to decide on what should be imported. Fertilizer and farm implements should be given to them at a reasonable price, they say. 'A Pajero is given as a land vehicle at low duty rates,' claimed Jayatissa. 'In the same way, why cannot we have a system for tractors and farm implements?'

Land ownership is another problem, the farmers said. They have been given a 99-year lease, but the two deeds (Swarmabhoomi and Jayabhoomi) are subject to various conditions. If a farmer dies without leaving a will, the land goes to the Divisional Secretary to decide on the ownership. It is the eldest son who has the rights, not the mother or the younger children. This often creates many problems in a family. The mother often becomes destitute.

Selling their harvest is one of their greatest problems. 'Rice is sold in the market at Rs.28 or 29 per kilo,' Jayatissa said. 'We sell paddy at Rs. 8 to 10. In Polonnaruwa, there are six Sathosa centres, which buy paddy at Rs.13 and 14. However, although a price of Rs. 13 or 14 has been set, when we take our paddy to the Sathosa store, they reject it on the grounds that it is too wet or too dusty. Then we have no option but to take it to a henchman of a powerful politico in the area. He buys our paddy at Rs. 8, takes the same paddy to the Sathosa store and to sells it at Rs.13. The store manager also then gets his share of the profits.'

'The poor farmer has no consolation,' said G.G. Haramanis, a 76-year-old farmer. 'Those who have money can keep their stocks till the price improves but we have to sell our paddy as soon as we harvest it. Our main problem is marketing.'

'We spend about Rs.14 to produce a kilo of paddy' Haramanis said. 'But we have to sell at Rs.8 or 9 . Before the elections, we were promised that our paddy would be bought at Rs.13. Last Yala season, they bought a small amount. The mudalalis helped the politicians obtain large bank loans to buy our paddy at lower rates. We have spoken to all the authorities but they only buy 10 per cent of our paddy and reject the rest.' 

'We have pawned every bit of jewellery we had and even our furniture to carry on,' he lamented. 'We now have nothing more to sell and no money to buy anything either. All parties make promises before the elections but nothing happens.'

'We farmers have had no relief though we participated in a fast for seven days,' said C. Wimalin Nona, a 63-year-old woman farmer who participated in the death fast. She cultivates a small plot, having given land to her children. Wimalin had 10 children, of whom only five are alive today. 'I feel it is better to die than live like this. I have voted for this government all my life. However, now I would like to go on stage to speak in favour of the J.V.P.' 

The problems at Hingurakgoda are not restricted to the farmers. H.G. Appuhamy who started a small paddy milling operation in 1986, has had to close down. 'We used to get loans to buy and stock paddy,' Appuhamy said. 'After stocking, when the imported rice comes into the market the price drops. I have had to sell the milled rice at the same price that I bought the paddy and fell back in paying my loan instalments. I even sold five acres of land I had inherited, to pay the loans. The bank asked me to renew the loan and pay the arrears. However, the valuers refused to grant the loan. Now the bank is sending notices to auction the property we are living on. I have my mother and six children to support. Where are we to go? If the bank auctions our property, we will have to go on the streets.'

The farmers of Hingurakgoda's only hope is that public awareness of their desperate situation would help to bring them some respite. 

Index Page
Front Page
Mirrror Magazine

More Plus

Return to Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to 

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.
Hosted By LAcNet