Greed drives farmers to disaster


The Mahaweli Authority’s aim of growing at least 10 percent of essential subsidiary crops that are now imported during the current Yala season has come a cropper with farmers in the biggest Mahaweli zone; the system H, in their greed planting vast acreage of paddy due to rice continuing to fetch unprecedented prices.

At present such essential commodities like dried chilies and onions are imported to meet the local demand. In addition, according to Director of the Mahaweli Authority’s Planning and Monitoring Unit Chulananda Vellappuli, considerable quantities of soya bean, ground nut, green gram and even kurakkan are imported spending billions of rupees.

The authorities had planned to cultivate some 31,900 hectares during the Yala in the Mahaweli System H with 60 per cent of it being for subsidiary food crops and the balance 40 percent for paddy due to the limited water supply in this perennial dry season. But the farmers ignoring the Authority’s advice had planted some 22,000 hectares of paddy and only about 8,900 hectares of subsidiary crops. This was with the hope of freak rainy weather as experienced in the last Maha, the availability of subsidized urea and the unprecedented prices for paddy. “We have always advised them to plant no more than 10,000 hectares of paddy during Yala,” System H’s Deputy Resident Project Manager (Agriculture), H.A. Nimalaratna said.
With the area not experiencing any freak rain, many of these farmers are facing disaster. According to Mr. Nimalaratna already they have been forced to restrict the issuance of water to farmers once every ten days from the usual practice of once a week and soon they would be forced to reduce it further to once in 12 days. The fear now is that without adequate water much of the planted paddy will wither away.

There is now further worry as the country might even have to import more essential subsidiary food commodities that are usually supplied by Mahaweli regions. In the System H alone, according to the Deputy RPM, only banana and papaya planned cultivation targets have been met by farmers and that too because these two crops are continuations from past seasons.

The Director of the Planning and Monitoring Unit noted however that there were some drawbacks facing farmers when they turn to subsidiary crops. Firstly he said there was a problem of obtaining quality seeds for onion growing and what is available are inferior quality seeds smuggled from India. There is somewhat of a similar problem with chilies. Secondly, the weather had brought ruination to some farmers with unprecedented freak rains submerging crops. Finally they were yet caught in the grip of the middle man as they do not have a ready market for their produce. But in the case of rice now the middleman comes running to their farm gate offering rewarding prices for the first time in their living memory. (RA)

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