Minister Dissanayake like his predecessors
Betrayal of Sri Lankan paddy
By Quintus Perera
Who says paddy farmers have benefited from the policies
of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the farmer-friendly
JVP or for that matter any government in power?
Lanka's rice bowl boils with the tears of the farmers who have toiled
to obtain a bumper harvest and are now forced to sell their produce
'for a song'. One woman, H. T. Ukkumenike of Mahindagama, Welikande
was forced to sell her 40 kg of paddy at an incredible five rupees
per kg - when the promised government-purchasing price is Rs 15.50-16.50
- and is now unable to pay even the transport charges.
crisis is so bad that R. M. Ballammenike, a farmer from Welikande,
says that coconut - much less than rice - now fetches Rs. 25 per
nut while a kilogramme of paddy has been reduced to Rs. 10 or less.
desperate farmer committed suicide while another attempted to do
so and survived. Last week the Sunday Times FT visited the rice
growing areas of Polonnaruwa, Hingurakgoda, Minneriya, Dambulla,
Welikande, Kaduruwela and Kaudulla to assess the real situation
of the rice farmer as the picture painted by the authorities in
the metropolis has been that the farmers are well looked after.
situation is bleak and volatile.
While Agriculture Minister Anura Kumara Dissanayake has announced
that an unprecedented Rs 1 billion has been allocated to purchase
paddy this season, farmers in these areas challenged the minister
to prove his claim with statistics of paddy so far purchased by
utilizing state funds.
of rice farmers, we met, said they were very optimistic of a fair
deal based on promises made when Dissanayake became the minister.
Now farmers say the minister is no better than his predecessors,
in deceiving the farmers.
season about six months back, farmers sold paddy at over Rs. 20
a kilogramme and were optimistic of fetching the same price this
time since rice was selling in the open market at around Rs. 40
promises to buy at the guaranteed price, state purchasing points
were either open two months after the harvesting season or had poor
facilities to make purchases.
the trader who supplies inputs to the farmer was at their doorstep,
equipped with lorries and weighing scales to remove the 'pound of
flesh'. These traders have so far purchased paddy at prices ranging
from Rs. 8 to 12. Though the farmers believed Minister Dissanayake's
assurances, they were also aware of the machinations of powerful
trade personalities with strong government backing including a deputy
state buying points have virtually collapsed. For example the Welikanda
Mahaweli storage facility can store 300,000 kg but the target to
purchase by the government there is only 62,500 kg due to a cash
number of farmers hoping to sell their crop before the New Year
desperately began drying the paddy on open roadsides after rain
affected the current season's crop. Traders are cashing in on the
desperation of farmers to sell their wet crop before the New Year
and demanding low prices for the paddy.
are unable to cope with the crisis. Last week, 81-year old W. Haramanis
from a Polonnaruwa village committed suicide by swallowing insecticide
due to accumulated debts of Rs 67,000 to the bank. Another farmer
A. R. M. Wijeratne, 37 and a father of two children, attempted suicide
but thankfully for his family, he survived.
tears, his wife Kamala explained that her husband resorted to this
move as he was frustrated having pawned their jewellery for Rs 75,000,
owed another Rs 75,000 to a trader and also had problems with workers
he had employed.
was rushed to hospital after swallowing pesticides but recovered
seven days after doctors battled to save his life. Kamala helps
in the household income by working in a garment factory. Wijeratne
is still sick due to the near-lethal dose of pesticides and is unable
to work as a labourer.
M. Amithasiri Silva, SLFP Branch Secretary and a farmer, said that
around 25 farmer representatives met JVP stalwarts in the area who
explained the arrangements made to purchase paddy at Aranaganwila
and the allocation of funds.
a few purchases have been made under this arrangement. When they
complained to Mahaweli Minister Maitripala Sirisena about the crisis,
he promised to look into it but also said agriculture and marketing
of paddy was in the hands of the JVP.
85 percent of the 150,000 acres of paddy in the Polonnaruwa District
has been harvested. Farmers traditionally sell around 50 percent
of their harvest before the New Year and are at the mercy of the
trader to whom they owe money for inputs received.
the case of farmer D.M. Premasiri Dissanayake who was forced to
sell his paddy at Rs 11, he ended up with a total sale of Rs 62,016
for his crop while costs were Rs 57,002, leaving him Rs 5,014 for
six months of hard work. V. Rajaratne who harvested around 7,500
kg of paddy cannot sell his crop because traders complain about
the quality and offer very low prices. "My family faces the
bleakest Sinhala New Year ever."