RICE: Economic Boom or Bust? Part IV
Bojoon.com and CIC has teamed up to review one of the most
controversial debates of Sri Lanka - is rice as an industry worth the
The discussion so far...
Rice as an industry comes under heavy fire as an unprofitable venture
notes Dr. Sumith Abeysiriwardena - Senior Consultant Researcher of CIC
Agri Businesses. Yet, he points out, instead of being abandoned as such,
rice production over the last 6 decades has increased by 12 times! He
continues that as the staple of 140 countries, and consumed by 180 more
countries, there is a tremendous demand for rice.
As a crop, this is the easiest grain to handle, especially in terms
of storage. Also, rice cultivating is the only use that can be made out
of marshy lands. Due to the high technology and the unique hydraulic
systems of Sri Lanka, our production is very high - almost as high as
the highest producer of the region, Indonesia.
History proves that rice is not only our staple, but also our
stronghold against our many enemies asserts Dr. Abeysiriwardena. Though
rice farming is projected as obsolete, many countries including
Australia appreciate the value of rice and has created a viable export
and domestic industry in less than a century.
The discussion continues:
Long after we regained our independence we remained chained to the
whims of the International community for we were no longer
self-sufficient, states Dr. Abeysiriwardena. Though our entire
population was 6 million, we were importing 60 per cent of our foods.
There were a number of reasons for this insufficiency, notes Dr.
Abeysiriwardena. One of the main reasons was that our productivity was
so low that we were only producing about 1 tonne / hectare of rice. The
other main reason is that we had become used to consume wheat-based
products. Our annual per capita consumption of rice used to be 100 kg,
but since the increase consumption of wheat-based products, this rate
was drastically reduced to about 35 kg.
Dr. Abeysiriwardena cautions that this dependency on wheat-based
products could create a very dangerous complication. Currently, there is
a delicate balance between the rice produced and the wheat imported.
Today, within this balance, we are near self-sufficiency. However, if
something was to happen to change this balance, then the country would
be grappled with a serious issue warns Dr. Abeysiriwardena.
For example, if wheat was marketed at a lower price than rice, then
the consumption of wheat would increase and rice decreases. This would
create a surplus of rice in the market, which in turn would lower rice
When the farmer cannot meet his production costs he faces a financial
catastrophe for he will not be able to serve his bank loans and meet his
living expenses till the next cultivation cycle. With farmers
constituting a large segment of the population, their problems would
create a significant impact on the incumbent government.
When the rice prices lowers and rice cultivation becomes a profitless
enterprise, fewer farmers would grow rice. As the productivity drops if
wheat prices were to increase, there would be an increased demand for
With a shorter supply and an increased demand, the market prices for
rice would also inflate. As the prices of both staples - rice and wheat
- rises, people would be directly affected. The steeper the rise in
prices, the more vulnerable the incumbent government becomes as food is
the most basic necessity to man, notes Dr. Abeysiriwardena.
Therefore, he says, that while we remain strong consumers of exported
food products like wheat, we remain vulnerable to the manipulations of
adverse external forces. These changes take place so very subtly that
unless a keen observer, often the implications of these changes are not
recognized in time.
The markets are thus manipulated for a myriad of reasons and not
necessarily to promote an agricultural produce. Many a time, the cause
is totally unrelated to agriculture, but with the resulting
vulnerability, governments are more easily coerced into situations that
in effect are detrimental to the country.
Join Daily News next Friday as bojoon.com unravels with CIC many
mysteries and misinterpretations surrounding rice cultivation in Sri
Share your own opinion by simply dropping an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Sandamalee de Fonseka is the founder of www.bojoon.com that is both
the organiser of action-packed one-on-one cooking programs with top
chefs of Sri Lanka, and the portal of food in Sri Lanka.