Ensuring food security
weathered the worst period of the world food crisis when rice
prices sky-rocketed in the world market amidst an on setting
world financial crisis.
The success is largely due to the food production drive of
the Government. The opening of new lands in the North East for
paddy cultivation was also a contributory factor. However, there
are no grounds to be complacent. There are no grounds, however,
for complacency due to a multiplicity of factors.
The world rice market is not stable yet. Though the high
prices found in 2008 have declined they are likely to remain
volatile and high for years to come, according to a report of
the Asian Development Bank.
A disturbing feature is the decline in paddy production
yields throughout Asia. Rice yield growth is slower than the
growth of population. Besides demand for rice is growing due to
increase in population as well as more people switching over to
rice as a staple diet. The population of Asia is growing at a
rate of over 100,000 a day. More than half the demand for food
will come from Asia as a result.
With global fuel prices again taking an upward trend
fertilizer prices tend to escalate. Countries like ours which
import fertilizer will have to pay more for their imports
causing paddy production costs to escalate further.
Despite the success of the food drive Sri Lanka is yet to
reach the illusive goal of self-sufficiency in rice. The reason
being the existence of too many variables on which paddy
production is dependent. First of all it depends on weather as
rain water fed cultivation is predominant. There is no guarantee
against drought. On the other hand the probability of floods
destroying the crop is also considerable with no tangible flood
protection in place.
The high price of fertilizer is yet another burden. Though
the State provides subsidized fertilizer it does not even then
guarantee a sizeable profit to the paddy farmer. Long-term use
of chemical fertilizers has caused a decline in soil fertility.
Besides it has also caused contamination of groundwater with
several toxic chemicals. The effects of such water contamination
are not known or researched yet. The possibility of the
mysterious kidney disease that has afflicted the population in
the North Central Province being due to contaminated water or
contaminated food is also not ruled out.
Global warming has disturbed the weather patterns in most
Asian countries including Sri Lanka. They are more susceptible
to droughts and floods. Paddy crop is affected by both.
From the foregoing it is clear that much effort is needed to
secure stable paddy harvests and food security. The paddy farmer
could not be liberated from his present plight of barely making
ends meet unless new high yielding, water resistant and drought
resistant varieties of paddy are found. This involves a greater
allocation of resources for research. Much research in this
sphere has been done in India and in other countries including
some in Africa.
It is also necessary to develop organic farming and gradually
phase out the use of chemical fertilizers. Organic farming
improves the soil and it could recover the soil that was
degraded by chemical fertilizer usage. As a low cost method it
could increase the profit margin for the cultivators and make
farming attractive for youth.
Making paddy production profitable to the farmer by itself
would not be adequate. The benefits of agriculture as well as
industry should be equitably distributed. Though paddy yields
did increase during the past few years it has been accompanied
by an increase in malnutrition, especially in the rural and
Though no one was literally hungry malnutrition is also a
form of hunger or a consequence of it. The incidence of
malnutrition, if not addressed now could continue even after
attaining self sufficiency in rice. What is necessary is to make
food available and accessible to the poor. Complete food
security wood be achieved on the day when malnutrition could be
banished from this land of ours.