Letters to the Editor

13th July 1997

Mirror Magazine


That point of no return is close at hand

There are two types of wars being waged in this island with a vengeance. The first is the Jaya Sikurui assault launched by the security forces intended to beat a track from Vavuniya to Jaffna amidst fierce resistance, reminiscent of the legendary offensive of Prince Sapumal whose forces battled their way through to the Northern peninsula.

The other, less violent, though lacking neither in propaganda verbiage nor in State sponsorship, is the Vaga Sangramaya - the elegantly phrased agrarian invasion, ostentatiously launched in recent times.

The supermarkets are being flooded with imported luxury foods. How does one then explain this frenzied eagerness to engage the entire nation in a warlike food production drive if Thai and Basmathi rice are available in plenty. Why this sudden predilection for the local farmer whose livelihood has been rendered so miserable as to provoke him to the point of self-destruction?

The only plausible reason one can think of is the recent visit of the Minister of Agriculture to a United Nations Conference on Food Security. This Conference caused tremors among Third World participants whose countries would be forced to face an inevitable famine by the year 2005, if food production was not accelerated to satisfy the oncoming hunger of their peoples.

Our staple food, rice, is being produced by farmers with their small holdings. But rice production has been stagnant in recent years, due mainly to the high cost of production and the availability of cheap imported varieties in the market which undercut our poor farmers.

If Basmathi rice can be purchased for a price as almost as low as the price of the local varieties, why bother about the plight of the local farmer? In spite of the glorious platitudes heaped on him of being the Raja (King) of the Sinhalese, sans crown and throne, this epithet sounds so hollow in the light of the many adversities the farmer is forced to face.

The fact that stares at us right in the face is that due to high cost of production and the inability to compete in a market flooded with imported goods, some farmers have preferred to find solace in suicide.

In 1986, the cost of rice alone imported to this country amounted to Rs. 5118 million. Other consumer commodities, such as potatoes, onions, chillies and other food items cost the nation Rs. 10,232 million, a tidy sum that could have been ploughed into subsidizing farmer requirements, particularly fertilizer. What boggles the mind is why such imports were needed when both the Yala harvest of 1995-96 and the Maha harvest of 1996 had recorded a production of 2,061,540 metric tons of rice, substantial enough to satisfy the consumer demands in rice of our people.

The reasons for importing rice and certain other consumer items under pretexts of dwindling local production need to be carefully examined and exposed so that the nation could be made aware of those miscreants whose selfish interest far surpasses that of the nation.

In recent times, another category of farmers that has been put to the test are the Raja Rata chillie growers. 15,000 hectares of land had been put under chillie cultivation, which yielded 3000 metric tons, sufficient to satisfy 90 percent of the country's requirements of the red pepper. But the cost of production had turned prohibitive. A bag of fertilizer which cost Rs. 550 in 1996 had risen to Rs. 740 in 1997. A four ounce bottle of chemical weedicide had taken a quantum leap from Rs. 800 to Rs. 1200.

Tractor hire made a rocket-jump from Rs. 1200 per acre to Rs. 2000. Labour charges per person soared from Rs.125 per person per day to Rs. 150 or 175.

At these rates, the chillie farmer would have to market his produce at Rs. 140 per kilo to cover his costs.

The previous year, "Sathosa" purchased the stock of chillies at prices ranging from Rs. 100 to Rs. 105 a kilo. Private buyers purchased chillies at farm-gate prices of Rs. 95 to Rs. 100 per kilo. Today, farmers are finding it difficult to dispose of their produce at the rate of even Rs. 45 a kilo as the market has been overwhelmingly flooded with imported chillies.

What is seriously needed is an agricultural policy where the small farmer will be protected and a reasonable price fixed for his produce to cover at least production costs.

All other countries seem to frame policies that protect their farmers, why not we? Are the EU, NAFTA, SAPTA, APEC and other economic alliances so open as to lead their farmers to the point of suicide? Why are we so insensitive to the plight of those who provide us our daily plate of rice? These are matters that call for serious consideration, and remedial measures taken with least possible delay, lest catastrophe afflicts the nation's backbone to the point of no return.

Oswald B-Firth OMI

Colombo 10.

They give the best of east and west

My long association with more than one International School prompts me to question Maxwell Keegell's view on International Schools.

M.K.'s foremost viewpoint is that all International Schools, other than the Overseas Childrens' School- by virtue of its five-acre extent - are not worthy of consideration since they are mere cramshops. In today's circumstance of diminishing land space one cannot expect all International Schools to enjoy large areas.

Secondly may I ask whether the availability of land space is in any way proportional to the quality of the products? We are aware of many schools established on massive landscapes producing products of questionable quality. Availability of extensive land space is an added advantage. But it is not the yardstick by which one judges the standard of a school.

The label cramshop which MK gives International Schools, is more suitable for schools,where more than forty children sweat it out in one classroom, whereas there is a ceiling on the number of students in International Schools. Being a mother of two children who studied in Government Schools, I know the tension that prevails in a class of forty to fifty students, the feeling of neglect that constantly troubles the mind of the child, the misgiving that one is being overlooked in addition to the boredom of having to study under teachers compelled to ''teach to the tests".

To relieve many of this suffering, we should encourage International Schools because they ease the overcrowding in Government Schools, and also bring down expenditure and provide jobs to many.

I would like to add that as a grandmother of children going to three different International Schools and as a teacher in another, I constantly come in touch with the absolute contrast in areas of teacher attention, individual monitoring and development of individual talent.

The derogatory manner in which M.K. addresses those have strived to better their financial level to reach the ''new rich'' status, points to an attitude problem. What is wrong in doing honest business, acquiring wealth and owning intercoolers? Isn't the grit, discipline and determination of this new rich class to be admired? Is it M.K's private school that gave him such snobbish values?

Will M.K. refute my claim that an English education makes a person more cultured and creative since the best in the world is accessible to him? Even in the context of the ethnic conflict, International Schools are significant. It is the International School that binds all ethnic groups in one class and fosters the understanding that is most needed today, when all other Schools segregate on ethnic lines.

The decision of the Government to re-introduce English in Grade One indicates that realization is coming. Whatever is said, it is the International School that gives the best of east and west.

Swarna Muhandiramge,


Is this democracy?

Hail the editor who stood by his columnist even at the risk of imprisonment.

Trials and persecutions for some are opportunities to bring out their sterling human qualities. The gossip columnist of The Sunday Times may have erred, but his editor did not betray him. Instead, taking the sole responsibility for the alleged defamatory article the editor spared his subordinate of the rigours of capricious strong-arm methods of investigation.

In Sri Lanka it is commonplace for superiors to let down their subordinates in a crisis. More often, the latter is implicated by the former. In contrast, The Sunday Times editor's example is both salutary and worthy of emulation.

A significant point arises as a corollary to this defamation case. If criminal defamation can be construed from a mere gossip column article in a Sunday newspaper, how much more should politicians be guilty of lies, false promises and deception heaped on the sovereign citizens of this country. Until some remedy is devised, democracy itself in this country, will continue to remain a mockery and an insult to the decency and common sense of our people.



The sun sets for Britain

"Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves, Britons will never, never be slaves"

Whether they made slaves of others is another question.

So sang the poet when the monarch of England was proclaimed as the King (Queen) of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Emperor of India and the imperial ruler of the over-seas possessions, the colonies. Even during this period it was the Union Jack that fluttered and it was the British National anthem, "God save the Queen" that was played with much pomp and pageantry. Politically, economically and military-wise Great Britain held sway over other countries. So much so, that Winston Churchill boastfully exclaimed, "I did not become the King's first Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. They conquered and plundered for the greater benefit of their Empire.

But the liberation struggles waged by heroic and patriotic leaders of those subjugated countries finally triumphed. It was reported in the media that Prince Charles, the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten with his wife and three daughters were in tears after handing over England's last major possession to its rightful owner, China.

The curtain has come down. So has their flag. Nor has God been able to save their empire for their King (Queen). Britain no longer "rules the waves".

Hamilton Senanayake


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