Welcome news for the public | Daily News


Welcome news for the public

The anticipated drop in the price of rice and vegetables in another fortnight or so, as forecast by the authorities, no doubt, would be received with a huge sigh of relief by the public who had been feeling the pinch of higher prices for most essential items over the past two months.

According to news reports, the prices of certain varieties of vegetables have already come down considerably. Reports from the Dambulla Economic Centre indicate that the price of Big Onions, which had risen to between Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 per kilo, has now come down to just Rs. 45. Green Chillies, that recently sold at Rs. 400-600 per kilo, has now drastically declined to Rs. 45-60 per kilo. Meanwhile, beans which fetched Rs.400 per kilo have now dropped to Rs. 160, while beetroot had come down from Rs. 280 to Rs. 60 per kilo.

The rising prices of vegetables was due to the drop in supply caused by reduced yield brought about by unseasonal, heavy rains in the large scale vegetable growing regions.

Addressing a media briefing on Tuesday, State Minister for Internal Trade and Consumer Welfare Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, said that, with improved weather, the authorities were expecting a bumper harvest of rice and vegetables in the days to come with prices stabilizing to normal levels. He said they expected the price of many essential food items to drop by March and April, in time for the festive period. The Minister also blamed the high prices of rice and vegetables to the machinations of crafty middlemen, adding that action had been taken against some 700 such wholesale intermediaries.

The spike in the price of vegetables, while giving a headache to consumers, also affected the livelihood of people. Because of the higher cost of ingredients, those in the cooked food supply business found it extremely difficult to break even without losing their business. Many cooked food suppliers resorted to serving only the cheapest types of vegetables in their offered meals, while others rationed their normal quota of vegetables, even omitting some, resulting in loss of custom due to poorer quality. Consumers had to bear with the slump in quality.

Reports now indicate that the anticipated drop in the price of items such as chillies and onions was due to increased stocks arriving from the North. In this context it is gratifying, indeed, to note the contribution made by the Northern farmer to alleviate the shortages and scarcities in the South. Not that this is a new phenomenon. During the 1970-77 United Front Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the chilli and onion farmer prospered immensely as a result of that Government's import substitution policy when the produce from the North was purchased wholesale.

A testimony to this was the tumultuous receptions accorded to Mrs. Bandaranaike whenever she visited the North by the Jaffna chilli and onion farmers (the 1982 SLFP Presidential candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa was welcomed by garlands made of dry chilies while on campaign stop in Jaffna).

Alas, three decades of civil war put paid to the enterprising efforts of the Jaffna farmer reducing him to penury with the entire economy of the North suffering as a result. It is time that a major effort is exerted to rebuild the full agricultural potential in the Northern Province.

The authorities, for their part, should ensure that prices of essential items are kept in check at all times. The Government should keep in mind that elections can be won or lost in the kitchen. Of course damage to crops caused by natural disasters is beyond their control. However, a mechanism should be evolved to make available these essential items to the consumer during crisis periods. The capacity of cold room storage facilities should be enhanced and steps taken to provide vegetables to consumers at farm gate prices at all times.

Attention should also be paid to improving cultivation techniques so that fruit and vegetables would be available in all seasons. We should think of adopting the drip irrigation system applied in countries such as Israel with great success.

It is time that a whole new approach is devised to rebuild our agricultural sector with the application of modern methods. This will also change the attitude of our youth who are today increasingly veering away from pursuits such as farming unlike in other countries where a farmer is held in high esteem.

Most importantly, long term environmental policies and programmes are needed to steer the country away from the ominous portents of the Climate Crisis and ecological pollution. Such initiatives should be taken without delay so that future generations will not face even more complicated water supply issues.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has mentioned the need for rapid agricultural modernisation in his Policy Statement delivered in Parliament on January 3. It is hoped that this visionary outlook will rejuvenate agriculture which had been a neglected sector for a long time for want of bold decisions and innovative thinking.

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