A fillip for food production | Daily News


 

A fillip for food production

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an election campaign meeting with farmers has pledged to halt most food imports to enable them to sell their crops at a good price while his Government has embarked on a local food production drive in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is indeed heartening to observe the public at large taking to home gardening in earnest heeding the advice of the Government which has also provided incentives for more local production of food crops now that it has greatly restricted the import of a variety of food items.

Hopefully, the trend would continue obviating the need to depend on food imports spending valuable foreign exchange at a time the economy is in dire straits as a result of the Coronavirus. In fact the habit that was ingrained in the public by past Governments should have continued to this day.

For instance, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s Grow More Food campaign, had it been taken to its logical conclusion would have made this country self-sufficient in all food requirements but sadly the project met with a natural death following the ouster of the Premier. The 1970-77 Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government too imposed severe restrictions on food imports with the intention of encouraging the local farmer.

One recalls the warm reception always accorded by the Jaffna chili and onion farmers to Premier Bandaranaike whenever she visited the North due to their economic status being lifted by the State purchasing all their produce. Hector Kobbekaduwa was received with garlands of chilies when he visited the North during his 1982 bid for the Presidency.

True, food scarcities ensued due to the import ban and in typical Lankan style the people voted the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government out of office as a result of shortages and rationing. Had the public been more patient until the programme yielded results the country would certainly have been self-sufficient in food within the ensuing 45 years. Hopefully, the people would be able to see the larger picture this time around and bear with the Government until success is achieved.

From the look of things the people have taken the advice of the Government in the right spirit and are putting their heart and soul into the food production drive. It is also gratifying to see the Security Forces giving the lead in the exercise in many instances. People in cities and urban enclaves too are making use of the little space available in their compounds to cultivate whatever crop they could lay their hands on.

This indeed is an encouraging sign that augurs well for the country’s future. The Government cannot continue to rely on imports to sustain the population. Even many countries in the developed world which are economically stable have restricted food imports following the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Government should give utmost priority to the local food production drive and draw up incentive schemes to encourage more people to embark on the project. Schools too which are to reopen soon should be co-opted in the exercise. All available arable land in the country should be used for cultivation. There are large tracts of abandoned land in the country where no ownership is claimed. These should be acquired by the Government and used for cultivation of various crops.

Paddy, vegetable and fruit farmers should be given a better deal and guaranteed prices for their crops should be ensured perhaps with a Forward Purchase system. From what is shown on television farmers today have become a frustrated lot since they are unable to sell their produce at a fair price and are exploited by crafty middlemen. If this state of affairs continues farmers may give up cultivation altogether, jeopardizing the Government’s food production drive. Already there is a dwindling of the farming community with the next generation opting for other employment avenues that yield better economic fruits.

Hence, all efforts should be concentrated on making the farming community a contended lot. Their fertilizer requirements should be granted on time and the threat they encounter from wild elephants and other animals that destroy their crops too should be looked into and solutions found.

There is also the shortage of water in many farming localities and also the destruction of crops due to droughts and floods in which case the farmer is rendered helpless, unable to repay the loans. Farmers have also fallen into the clutches of the micro finance companies according to media reports with some even committing suicide unable to repay their loans. Laudably, the President had taken steps to alleviate the condition of farmers by imposing a moratorium on the repayment of loans obtained by farmers from the State banks. President Rajapaksa who hails from a farming area and is quite familiar with the woes of farmers, we are certain, will offer a better deal to improve their lot and redress all their grievances. 


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