In an important step towards restoring the vital place that agriculture had in Sri Lanka’s culture and civilization, President Maithripala Sirisena- himself hailing from a farmer family in Polonnaruwa presented national awards in Embilipitiya yesterday to the Mahaweli Maha goviyas and best Farmer movements.
Parallel to the three year national food production goal, this competition was begun to stress the importance of organic farming and efficient water management to the farmers in the Mahaweli zones. In addition to the first three places, six consolation prizes were awarded in both categories. All winners will get the opportunity for an overseas study tour on the use of organic manure and water management.
The 2016-2018 Mahaweli Maha Goviya was R.P Premadasa of the Huruluwewa Mahaweli Zone. Second place went to A.A Somadasa of Mahaweli ‘H’ Zone and third place to P. A Muthubanda of Mahaweli ‘C’ Zone. Selected as the Best Farmer Movement was the group from the Moragahakanda ‘G’ zone with second place going to the group from Walawa zone and the third place to the Dimbulagala ‘B’ zone.
President Sirisena, speaking with heartfelt feelings and conviction, said he was determined to restore the status and dignity of tens of thousands of farmer families who had over the past few decades been mired in the mud holes of debt and destitution. He said one of the main reasons for this was that most farmers were actively involved in the field for planting, ploughing and harvesting only for about two months of the year while for the rest of the year they were idling. The President said that as part of the solution, the government hoped to diversify paddy farming so that farmers could get involved in the cultivation of vegetables, fruits and grains and even animal husbandry so that their products could go not only to the Sri Lankan market but also be exported.
According to the President, rice production in Sri Lanka is about 2.3 million metric tonnes a year but he believed we could produce double that amount and the government intended to take the farmer towards that target. He lamented that Sri Lanka was importing about 900,000 million metric tonnes of wheat flour a year. As a result the rice production target was lower than it should be. People were eating more wheat flour products and as a result were becoming unhealthy. He said the government in its long term economic development strategy was planning to reduce the quantity of imported wheat flour to about four hundred thousand metric tonnes a year. This was not an easy task but if the people also cooperated we would not only be restoring the dignity of farmer families but also building a healthier Sri Lanka.
Analyzing another aspect of this issue with his home grown knowledge the President said D.S Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister and the Father of the Nation, had revived agriculture by providing each farmer family with 5 acres of land but over the decades this area was broken up into smaller plots and given to the four or five children of the farmer. Later under the accelerated Mahaweli Development Project in 1978, Minister Gamini Dissanayake had given each farmer family three acres of land but this also had not worked effectively due to various reasons.
Last Tuesday, The National Consumer Network of Sri Lanka was launched under the auspices of parliamentarian Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thera who is giving active leadership to the movement for a ‘wasa wisa nathi’ country. The organisers say their main aim is to make it possible for Sri Lankans to eat toxin-free foods, to live healthy lives, to have access to comfortable and timely public transport and to high quality energy. The Consumer Network was launched at a seminar held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute with the list of speakers including Venerable Athuraliye Rathana thera, Asoka Abeygunawardana, A.A.D.D.D Arandara, Damitha Kumarasinghe, Dr. Vinya Ariyarathna and Dr. Damayanthi Perera. Those wishing to join the Consumer Network could call the hotline 1916 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
While the government takes the initiatives and the farmers willingly cooperate the proactive role needs to be played by the people to movements such as the National Consumer Network which will closely monitor the situation and ensure that the food production movement bears good fruit.