North-East farmers: Give them tools to reap results
A couple of days before leaving
for another round of talks, this time in Cherry Blossom land - the
LTTE's chief negotiator fired several broad sides - not from any
weapon recently smuggled in we are assured - at some of the NGOs
operating in Tiger-held areas.
only dole out mugs, plates and mats to our people," cried Anton
Balasingham in an uncharacteristic condemnation of those do-gooders
who vector in on developing countries with the canny instinct of
vultures to carrion.
This is not
to say that all NGOs, be they foreign or local, only provide carrion
"What have they done for our people in this area," Balasingham
questioned in a mixture of anger and frustration. His anger must
also have been directed at some of his own people who loved to welcome
foreign NGOs specially with obsequiousness without realising that
altruism was not always the guiding motive.
criticism was directed at the non-government sector (pity he did
not say whether they were local or foreign), the LTTE's political
leader Thamilselvan has been directing his verbal fire at the government
for lack of tangible progress in the field of economic development
in the north and east.
One year has
passed since the ceasefire was signed and still there were no visible
signs of economic development. He said the other day that the Tamils
in the north and east were getting restless as a result. How much
of this is a tactical ploy by the LTTE leadership to divert attention
from the numerous occasions the LTTE was caught with its pants down,
particularly with regard to arms smuggling, and how much real frustration,
is hard to say.
One of the problems
is that the highly publicised visits of foreign dignitaries and
diplomats to the north and east for talks with the LTTE leadership
and promises of aid for rehabilitation and reconstruction of that
part of the country, have been seen by the people of the north and
east as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
on when such tentative promises of financial assistance are made.
Supposing country A makes a commitment at the end of its financial
year, it has necessarily to wait and try to include such monies
in the next budget which then has to be introduced, debated and
eventually passed by Parliament.
All this takes
time. It could well happen that the government that originally made
the offer is defeated and its successor has other aid priorities.
An aid project has then to be identified and its feasibility studied
and accepted. With the Cold War over, western donors are too shrewd
today to let their monies flow down the drain. They want to see
tangible benefits from their investment. The Sri Lanka government
has then to find counterpart funds for local expenditure.
can take two to three years and even more. In the meantime are we
to let those whose support is necessary to make whatever political
solution work - the people of the north and east - sit there waiting
for another Godot, like the South has been waiting for the cost
of living to drop?
It is the prime
duty of the government and the LTTE to find alternative means of
improving the economy of the north and east until reconstruction
with foreign assistance will help integrate this region more closely
to the national economy. But it is not merely the task of the government
and the LTTE. Everybody including the media have a major role to
play in identifying ways in which short and medium term gains could
much of today's media is one dimensional. They see our conflict
in monochromatic terms, black or white. The problem is largely because,
like everything else in this country, journalism too has become
over politicised. It is a symbiotic relationship that is sometimes
incestuous because progress and steps up the journalistic ladder
sometimes do not depend on ability and capability but on the theory
of relativity. Whose who you are and what family connections you
have to some ministerial spouse or her second cousin, sometimes
are the determining factors.
has led journalists, by and large, to seek solace in political relationships
and concentrate on political writing to the detriment of other fields
where the attention of the media, the glare of publicity and the
exposure of official and other wrong doing are equally, if not more
Sri Lanka is
an agricultural country. But how many of our media today devote
time to the plight of our farmers, to their costs of cultivation,
the problems of marketing and other issues that are vital to them.
I have travelled the length and breadth of Sri Lanka particularly
in the second half of the 1960s and in 1970s writing on agricultural
issues, the condition of our farmers and exposing administrative
shortcomings where they were found.
Those were the
days when such eminent and honest politicians as Prime Minister
Dudley Senanayake and Agriculture Minister M.D. Banda and later
Hector Kobbekaduwa took an interest in trying to solve the problems
of farmers and make this country self sufficient.
of the north and east, as did the farmers from the rest of the country,
responded to the call for greater productivity. Today we only pay
lip service to the farmers of this land. Examining their plight,
bringing their difficulties to public and official attention, is
far too passe for today's media. I was reminded of this when I read
an article written by Charitha Ratwatte, Secretary to the Finance
Ministry, headlined "Regaining Sri Lanka - The four Initiatives"
in which he proudly boasts: "Already as a result of the Peace
Process up to 125,000 acres in the North and 250,000 acres in the
East have been put back into productive use".
We would like
to know, for instance, the current price of fertilizer used in the
rice fields, the price two years ago and the prices of other necessities
such as labour, tractor or buffalo hire and weedicides. Returning
paddy lands to their rightful owners must be applauded. Just as
man does not live by bread alone, rice does not grow on its own.
It needs several inputs not the least of which is fertilizer because
over the years farmers have been cajoled into planting high-yielding
varieties of seed.
If the cost of production proves prohibitive, these lands that Charitha
Ratwatte says have been restored might be cultivated for a season
or two and abandoned again, not because of war but because of financial
If we are keen
to see that the people of the north and east are gainfully employed
and occupied while giving the economy a boost until long term plans
reach fruition, give them the tools with which to make sustainable
agriculture possible. They, like industrious farmers elsewhere in
the country, do not want official sympathy. They want the wherewithal
to practice what they know best. Farmers in the north and east have
proved their mettle before. Let them do so again. Meanwhile set
up mechanisms to market the produce without letting them rot in