A war on hunger? | Daily News

A war on hunger?

It has been reported that there are paddy cultivators that are abandoning their paddy fields to convert them into gem mines. If they are so fortunate to find any gems they may make a fortune that never would have come their way in the best of seasons for paddy.

However, that’s hardly the point. Most cultivators anyway would not make much money from gem mines if they make a rupee or two at all. The tragedy is that they have had to resort to alternatives to paddy cultivation when the country may face a severe food shortage in the near future.

What’s unclear is whether a food shortage is bound to happen. Certainly our paddy yield is not anywhere near enough to meet national demand. Therefore it is not clear how we are going to meet the shortfall. If there is a currency issue and we do not have the dollars to import our daily staple, would a food shortage be a real possibility?

Perhaps the country would be able to stave off a food crisis of this nature. We would probably be able to find the dollars for imports of food. In any event the paddy yield is not negligible. It just doesn’t meet demand, and it is a matter of meeting the shortfall.

However, all eventualities should be planned for. Rather than dig for gems it would have been a better prospect if those paddy cultivators who are missing normal yields grew alternate crops where their rice paddies used to be.

However, it is easy to pontificate. Cultivators may be anxious that they would not get the necessary fertilizer for alternative crops either. It is known though, that there are certain varieties of crops that do not need fertilizer in copious quantities.

But yet, the regular growers of food crops are not about to take a chance. They feel that this is not the best time for cultivation, which is why they have decided to opt for gem mining instead. This is ironical. If a food shortage is looming, they would probably be better off having an edible crop instead of a few gems dug up for sale.

But we badly need the foreign exchange also, and it could be argued that if there is a considerable supply of gems, that our coffers would probably be benefited in terms of a dollar inflow.

Those who are mining for gems couldn’t probably care less. They probably feel shortchanged that they could not engage in their regular Yala and Maha season paddy planting. These types of aggrieved people could be excused if they do not think in terms of enriching national coffers.

Even so, they are aware that the dollar exchange rate is high, and that they could be in for a windfall if they are able to export gems in substantial quantities.

Those who cultivate cash crops that have an export market also think along these lines. But it’s not the cash crops but the edible crops that would be useful — to put it mildly — if there is a food shortage.

This fact is being underscored by so many people in civil society, and in active politics that have some influence in society as folk who have a public profile. They have all been exhorting the people to start cultivating as if their lives depended on it.

What’s pertinent is that their lives may in fact depend on it. On the surface the impression that most neutral observers have is that the general public is not interested in cultivation in any big way. But, this may be a cynical assumption.

The fact is that it is not easy for ordinary folk to cultivate. They too have problems such as plant pests and weeds and if the regular cultivators have problems obtaining pesticides etc. due to importation, it can only be imagined how trying it would be for ordinary people who have never cultivated anything to take to agriculture.

As a result even though there can never be any discouragement of cultivation programmes, it is imperative that there are no assumptions that the rice crop shortfall can be met eventually with local production of alternate edible crops.

Importation of rice or other alternatives such as flour or pulses should be very well-planned and should take precedence over all else. A petrol shortage can be tide over, but a food shortage can lead to riots and other calamitous consequences.

What steps are currently being taken to ensure that there is no shortage of rice or alternate commodities in the months to come? The country should be focussed on that fact before all else including discussions on the 21st Amendment.

This time nobody can say they were taken unawares. It’s not just the politicians. Businessmen should leave the profit motive aside and focus on food imports that would stave off any kind of food shortage. It’s not patriotism. There would be no society as we know it, if there is no food.

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