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Farmers breathe a sigh of relief with Bank of Ceylon's intervention

True to the word of Buddha, "Sabbe sattha Aharattitika (all living beings survive on food), the Bank of Ceylon steps in to extend assistance for the government's efforts to make Sri Lanka - Granary of the East, once again.The BOC is to implement a programme to expand paddy storage facilities of farmers as well as to fund the paddy purchasing process countrywide. The farmer community in the country is now breathing a sigh of relief with the disbursement of a Rs.2.3 billion loan facility by the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) to the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) to purchase paddy directly from farmers at a guaranteed price, during this Yala season.

This highest loan facility has been given to PMB with the aim of protecting farmers from private sector traders and rice millers as well as middlemen who were in the practice of buying paddy at very low prices, said the BOC Deputy General Manager (Development and Banking) Sam Samarasinghe. He noted that these funds were released to the PMB to encourage local paddy production, under the bank's 30 day paddy purchasing crash programme 2010, initiated in accordance with the plan devised by the Secretary to the Treasury to grant loans for PMB through state banks. As a result private traders had to purchase paddy at the same guaranteed price and it has stabilised the price of paddy.

He disclosed that the BOC has pledged a sum of Rs. 6 billion for leading rice mill owners and big traders to purchase paddy from farmers but they have used only Rs.1.5 billion for this purpose. The BOC's initiative has helped to protect consumers, and even the small scale mill owners from the hands of large scale mill operators. These rice millers are now competing with the Paddy Marketing Board in purchasing paddy from farmers as a result of the BOC's intervention, Mr.Samarasinghe said.

The Finance Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, Agrarian Services Department, Economic Development Ministry ,Government Agents, The Central Bank, other state banks ,Agriculture Department and Samurdhi Authority joined hands to strengthen the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) in the paddy purchasing process bringing price stability for the benefit of the farmer community, he added. Mr. Samarasinghe revealed that at a meeting held with the Finance Ministry Secretary, it was mentioned that the programme launched by the BOC will be a precursor for the paddy purchasing process in the next Maha Season. Mr. Samarasinghe pointed out that it is essential to double the efforts in the upcoming Maha season when a bumper paddy yield is expected. Action will be taken to expand the small scale paddy purchasing programmes implemented by the bank during the Yala season.

The Bank of Ceylon is planning to revitalize the ancient paddy storage system called Traditional Wee Bissa maintained at houses of farmers. The bank will help them to store paddy in rooms at their houses by providing a loan facility to the maximum of Rs. 50,000 at an interest rate of 8% per annum with a repayment period of six months on easy terms and conditions with simple surety. Arrangements have been made to provide loan facilities to maintain small scale paddy stores belonging to farmer societies or farmer organizations. The BOC is planning to assist small mill owners, farmer societies or small traders to maintain buffer stocks of paddy at large buildings which can be used as paddy stores. Stocks of paddy belonging to several persons could be stored at such complexes, Mr. Samarasinghe said. Such paddy storage complexes should be maintained in all paddy producing districts in the island he said.

The BOC has stepped in to extend loan facilities for this concept of food security based on the ancient Sri Lankan traditional farming practices. Farmers will also get an opportunity to process their paddy stocks and sell rice packed in packets to the market under a new brand name giving it a value addition, during their spare time after the completion of the paddy cultivation process, Mr. Samarasinghe added.

These farmers will get an opportunity to become entrepreneurs there by expanding the Small and Medium Enterprises sector. Reiterating its unstinted commitment to uplift the agricultural sector, the BOC is now fully geared to the extend its maximum assistance to farmer community who supply rice to the nation.

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