In what could be another major shift in the country’s retail sector, the government last week announced it would formulate a systematic mechanism to regulate the supermarkets, to protect the rural small scale farmers/vendors.
According to the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture , W. Sakalasooriya, the produce of these rural farmers often gets rejected by the supermarkets as they fail to match the same quality with that of larger players and imports.
“So, the whole idea is to create market access for these farmers in these supermarkets”, he said.
Meanwhile President Mahinda Rajapaksa participating in a progress review meeting last week too has instructed officials to regulate supermarkets, providing rural small scale vendors access to supermarkets.
However t he government’s claim t hat t he super markets are discriminating village level small scale farmers seems to be contradicting with the advertisements in both print and electronic media where it shows those same supermarkets visiting the village farmers to purchase their produce right from the fields.
According to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation’s website, the President who is also the Finance Minister has expressed his concerns on the high import bill on food items which he believed could be curtailed by growing here. The President has requested officials to prepare a systematic program to increase local food production in collaboration with the private sector.
However asked if the government will push for curtailment of import of food items by the supermarkets through these impending regulations in order to make shelf space for local produce, Sakalasooriya was quick to respond in the negative. “No, no, no… we are not going to curtail imports by the supermarkets by any means,” he responded.
“Nevertheless, somebody will have to assist these rural farmers. So, as the government, initially we are going to approach the merchants of these supermarkets and find out whether they can help these farmers,” Sakalasooriya explained.
Further he said that the Ministry would provide instructions and education to these farmers in order to improve the quality and the productivity to meet quality expectations of supermarkets.
It was only this January the government imposed a 12 percent Value Added Tax on the supermarkets disregarding the protest by the industry which narrowed not only their margins but also of the entire value chain. (DK)