A prudent move | Daily News

A prudent move

A crash programme to grow food crops in all available spaces proposed by agriculture experts in the face of an impending food shortage is receiving due attention, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issuing instructions for all underutilized State lands to go under cultivation. District Secretaries have been asked to ensure that all State lands lying idle be leased out to those keen on cultivating food crops for one year.

The Cabinet was to decide on similarly acquiring all neglected private lands, for cultivating food crops. Indeed there are large extents of land both in the City and in the outstations owned by the rich that could be brought under the plough. In this emergency, they should be persuaded to lend all such lands to be better utilized and for the common good of all. All school lands too should be used for cultivation, including sections in playgrounds.

In fact, every inch of underutilized lands should be tilled. Perhaps politicians should lead the way in this regard. After all, politicians of all hues should be held responsible for plunging the country into its present plight.

According to our front page news item yesterday, President Rajapaksa has also instructed to identify all underutilized land owned by plantation companies and to prepare an expeditious programme for their cultivation. According to the Chief Incumbent of the Malwatte Chapter the Most Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera, a cultivation programme has been launched in all temples as a solution to the impending food crisis. He called all sections of society to earnestly commence cultivating all available land. It was even proposed to grow vegetable varieties and yams in flowerpots.

Hence, it is all systems go to face the food crisis that is soon to be upon us, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe even saying that the people will have to settle for two meals a day. In all probability, most people are going with one meal a day already, given the galloping prices of all consumer items that are now beyond the reach of the average income earner. It is indeed frightening to imagine the plight of the daily wage earner, the self-employed and the unemployed.

The food crisis may arrive sooner rather than later with one agriculture expert saying that the Western Province is receiving only ten per cent of its rice requirement at present, with farmers abandoning their fields due to the lack of fertilizer and the fuel crisis. The impending food crisis should have been foreseen much earlier with the onset of protests by farmers demanding chemical fertilizer and the people galvanized into a rapid programme for food production.

Those pseudo experts who proffered wrong advice to the President including those in saffron robes should be made to answer for throwing the country into a major food crisis and the possible starvation of its population. Similarly, those who are behind the present economic crisis by refusing to seek an IMF bailout at the right time and squandering away our forex reserves by pegging down the Dollar artificially should also be punished. They are living in luxury and drawing fat pensions at the expense of the public. Their assets should be seized, pensions frozen, bank accounts probed and all ill-gotten wealth traced and recovered. An example should be made of such individuals, so that there will be no repetition, keeping all public officials henceforth on their toes.

The food crisis, while deserving urgent attention, should not take the minds of the authorities off other multiple crises affecting the public. The fuel shortage, while sending prices of all essential consumer items into the stratosphere has also brought livelihoods and occupations to a virtual standstill. The operation of private buses was limited to one third of the entire fleet yesterday due to the lack of fuel, with office workers and schoolchildren crammed into available buses.

With restrictions clamped on issuing fuel until the next shipment arrives on June 16, long queues and unrest are again becoming familiar scenes near filling stations. School van owners too are threatening to pull out and with private buses too restricted, parents will be in a quandary on how they are going to send their children to school. Already school van owners have raised their fees by as much as 40 per cent dealing a major blow to these souls who are finding it difficult to make ends meet with domestic lives thrown asunder by multiple crises.

Hence the authorities should somehow devise ways to ease the burden on the people. Once the food crisis hits the country coupled with the other difficulties, there is no knowing as to what form the people's desperation would take. Examples abound in certain countries particularly in Africa of the nature of the upheavals a desperation- driven population could cause, when confronted by crises similar to the ones we are in today. It is not known what will touch off the fuse here. The authorities should not wait until that time.

Hopefully, the proposed Relief Budget to be presented by the Premier within the next few weeks would offer some solace to all segments of the population.

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