Agriculture has been an important part if not the heart of Sri Lanka’s culture and civilization since ancient times. With modern technology and new processes like regenerative agriculture offering the farmers the opportunity to touch new dimensions, the National Government on Saturday announced practical steps to revive the dignity of farmers who once were kings but now find themselves in mud holes.
Kiribath and other food items made of rice flour are a tasty part of the National New Year, which people of all races and religions will be celebrating this week. At an Aluth Sahal (new rice) festival held at the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura on Saturday, President Maithripala Sirisena significantly offered a bowl of organically grown rice before announcing new steps to make Sri Lanka a “Wasa Wisa Nethi” country and restore the dignity of the farmer community within two years.
The President, who himself hails from a Polonnaruwa farmer family, said that despite growing protests by groups apparently sponsored by vested interests, the government was determined to get the cooperation of the farming community for its mission to stop the import and use of expensive agrochemicals.
In the widely changing Budget for this year, the government announced it was withdrawing the provision of subsidised chemical fertilizer to the farmers and would instead give Rs. 25,000 to the farmer for each harvest, to encourage them to buy or make organic fertiliser from cow-dung, compost or other organic material.
But farmer groups apparently sponsored by vested interests including transnational chemical corporations have been insisting they want to continue with the subsidized chemical fertiliser scheme. This produces a big harvest which is attractive but the unseen danger is that both the rice and mother earth are being polluted or poisoned. Thereby most people are eating a little poison with every meal and it is seen as one of the main reasons why more people are falling sick more often and hospitals are crowded like market places.
President Sirisena said the excessive use of imported agrochemicals was one of the main reasons for the kidney disease epidemic mainly in the rice bowl of the North Central Province. Some 20,000 farmers are reported to have died painfully during the past few years with tens of thousands of farmer families being crippled.
The President said the kidney disease epidemic was producing 500 new patients every year. The government could not and would not allow this disaster to continue, whatever the agendas of the critics. He said the government hoped to educate and make the farmers aware of the hidden dangers and get their cooperation for the ‘Wasa Wisa Nethi’ mission.
Some farmer groups say they have no access to organic fertiliser. Among the groups collecting and marketing organic fertiliser is the Oblate Mission Services Centre in Maradana. Last month alone the mission sold about 1000 one-kg packs of cow-dung fertiliser mainly for home gardens or plant nurseries.
The cow-dung fertiliser is collected mainly from poor villages in the Trincomalee district’s Kuchchaweli area where the enterprising priest Rev. Fr. Jesu Ramesh goes to several villages to collect the cow-dung, heat it in a furnace, powder and packet it.
Most importantly the President also announced that practical steps were being taken to raise the status of farmers. They are now selling only paddy at a varying rate which sometimes plunges to only about Rs. 20 a kg. Racketeering middle men make a huge profit and customers are forced to buy this rice at more than Rs. 100 a kg.
The President said the new plan was to eliminate the middle men so that the farmers themselves could market their rice and get a better price, while the customers also could get ‘Wasa Wisa Nethi’ rice at a lower price. We hope this would be one of the healthiest National New Year gifts not only to the farmers but to all the people of Sri Lanka.