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Did we forget the habit of saving rice?

20 February 2020 02:17 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Rice, farmers and votes are subjects that are interwoven and play crucial roles during Sri Lankan elections

 

  • Rice, farmers and votes are subjects that are interwoven and play crucial roles during Sri Lankan elections

  • That’s when lawmaker Philip Gunawardena brought the Paddy Lands Act in 1958

  • The issue of rice rations played a key role in the 1970 and 1977 elections

 

Sri Lankans have a fondness for rice and any politician failing to understand this would be in for a rude shock. At present the regime is involved in sorting out a scarcity for rice. We’ve read enough about the government purchasing paddy from farmers and for that purpose it has roped in the Sri Lanka Army (Army service Corp).  

 
There was a period some months ago when our favourite variety of rice was noticeably missing in supermarket shelves. Speculation was rife that traders and mill owners were trying to create an artificial shortage of rice. That’s when the Government stepped in because rice is considered an essential commodity. 


The Government announced that it was buying rice from paddy from the Paddy Marketing Board. The purpose was to prevent farmers being exploited by private traders and the middlemen. But the larger purpose was to foil attempts by unscrupulous parties to create a rice shortage and inconvenience the Government. For this purpose the regime is maintaining a paddy purchasing centre at Thabbowa, Kurudugaswewa, in the Puttalam district.  

The rice issue and keeping the farming community happy have been key areas of focus in local politics. We also heard of the efforts taken to reuse paddy fields which were idling. We are just months away from celebrating the Sinhala-Tamil New Year; a festival where sweetmeats made of rice produce feature prominently on the dinning table

Rice, farmers and votes are subjects that are interwoven and play crucial roles during Sri Lankan elections. If one turns the pages of time to the 1960s and 1970s the rice issue played a major role in who would form the Government. 

 

Back in the 1950s one of the biggest problems farmers faced was the lack of land. They had to lease land for the season and were often exploited by land owners. That’s when lawmaker Philip Gunawardena brought the Paddy Lands Act in 1958. The politician promised to give local farmers land owned by foreigners. This promise was part of a huge propaganda campaign used during the 1960 elections. Some of the other election pledges those days were granting loans to farmers and sorting out land ownership issues.  

Though we also import rice the country produces a fair share of the rice that’s consumed by its people. In the history of the island nation past regimes have taken steps to address this problem associated with the shortage of rice. For this purpose past regimes adopted two methods; one was to acquire the excess produce of farmers and the other was to increase rice import. For the record our focus here is on an agriculture practice which commenced between 161 BC and 1017 AD and received the patronage of kings. The many tanks that the kings built were to nurture paddy cultivation. 


Rice factor during elections
Over the years we’ve seen that Sri Lanka has faced severe challenges where its agriculture is concerned. Despite adverse weather, catastrophes and similar challenges Sri Lankans have survived thanks to the habit of saving their produce. We’ve been a nation setting aside some of the produce to survive difficult times. We had our methods of storage, but those have been replaced by habits of wasting and overconsumption. 


There were times in the past when the rice issue was a deciding factor at elections. In the run up to the 1970 elections the ruling UNP stopped the rice rations given to the people. This spelled disaster for the UNP. The issue of rice rations played a key role in the 1970 and 1977 elections. The SLFP led Government believed in rice rations and brought down the cost of living by adopting a closed economy. Contrary to that the UNP believed that it could reduce the cost of living by opening up the economy.    

But there is concern when state institution are politisised. Serious consideration must be given when making such appointments because the political appointee should not bring opposing views that clash with the thinking of qualified professionals

When the Government enters and starts playing a role in the country’s agriculture production it becomes a matter of concern. We first saw how the regime got involved in the day-to-day activities of state institutions to make them efficient. The president making unannounced visits to the Department of Motor Traffic  DMT RMV (Werahera) is a classic example. Very soon the president would station one of his representatives at this institute if the authorities there fail to pull up their socks and work towards achieving efficiency. But there is concern when state institution are politisised. Serious consideration must be given when making such appointments because the political appointee should not bring opposing views that clash with the thinking of qualified professionals. 


At present there is much talk about a rice mafia that’s existing in the country. It has been reported that the president and prime minister have expressed their concerns about the rising cost of living at a recent Cabinet Meeting. It had been mentioned that the last regime was to blame for not maintaining an adequate stock of rice. 


The present regime has done pretty well in terms of short-term goal achieving by purchasing 4883 metric tons of paddy from farmers. But on the longrun the regime must instill in the minds of the people that we need to save our produce for consumption during difficult times and shed the habit of wasting. 


We are into the Maha Season which began in 2019. We are also seeing a new regime working hard to stop corruption and put the country on the right path. The president has stressed on the importance of all sectors working hard and the need to adopt new technology in agriculture. 


The rice issue and keeping the farming community happy have been key areas of focus in local politics. We also heard of the efforts taken to reuse paddy fields which were idling. We are just months away from celebrating the Sinhala-Tamil New Year; a festival where sweetmeats made of rice produce feature prominently on the dinning table. If the rice issue is fully sorted out come April we might see sunshine in the faces of both the farmers and those sitting at the dinning table to partake the New Year meal. 

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  Comments - 2

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  • Ranil Subasinghe Thursday, 20 February 2020 08:35 AM

    Who needs to grow food? We need things like Altair and Astoria and Galle Face One and Port City!

    P.D.Fernando Tuesday, 25 February 2020 05:08 AM

    problem is paddy availability in off season. Government should release paddy during this period at lower price. Price control is distorting the issue. Foreign rice ie: fake Basmati is freely coming without controls.


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