Rice Shortage Imminent
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The water shortage in the agricultural areas for the past few weeks has affected 60,000-70,000 acres of paddy land across the country compelling farmers to take to the streets demanding authorities to take note of their plight.
The delay in the rains and the fast increasing numbers of paddy lands being destroyed due to the lack of water, the risk of a rice shortage is becoming imminent.
Ministers have blamed the delay in rains. When questioned about the steps the government would take to address the situation, the response has been, “We will have to wait for the rains.”
Farmers from the Mahaweli H zone last week took to the streets in Thalawa demanding the authorities to address their issues or to pay compensation for the paddy lands that have been destroyed.
Farmers in the Mahaweli H zone are the worst affected with most of their paddy lands being destroyed. The total farm area under the Mahaweli H zone is about 39,900 hectares and is irrigated by the Kalawewa, Dambulu Oya reservoir and Kandalama reservoir.
The All Ceylon Farmers’ Federation is currently in the process of organizing farmers in the dry zone who have been affected by the droughts to demand the government for compensation.
The framers claim that since they have cultivated the paddy lands following an agreement with the government, they are entitled for compensation.
The authorities and farmers have reached an agreement at the Yala meeting held in April this year to cultivate 40 percent of their agricultural land with paddy, another 40 percent with alternative crops and to not cultivate in 20 percent of the land.
Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena however said the government has so far not made any plans to pay compensation to farmers.
“We are still hopeful that the rains will come within the next few weeks,” he observed.
He added that the crop in some areas could be saved if the rains come within the next two weeks.
“We have rice stocks for about six to eight months. However, if the rains do not come and harvest fails the country will face a rice shortage by next year,” the Minister said.
Irrigation and Aquatic Resources Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva contradicted Abeywardena’s comment and said last week that close to 25,000 hectares of paddy land in the country have been affected by the drought.
De Silva said the delay in rains have affected the paddy lands in the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kurunegala districts and that nearly 25,000 hectares of cultivated paddy lands are at the risk of being destroyed.
The Minister says it is difficult to supply water from the Mahaweli reservoirs at Polgolla and the Upper Kotmale region to the Kala Wewa, Giritale, and Elahera irrigation system that provide water to the dry zone.
According to de Silva, the government had identified 207,500 hectares under the department of irrigation and 85,000 hectares in the Mahaweli areas to be cultivated this Yala season after taking into consideration the receding water levels in the tanks.
The Irrigation Ministry has implemented a special programme to utilize the farmers in these areas to assist in the renovation and cleaning of the irrigation channels in the Elahera project of the Mahaweli G zone, the Minister has said.
Meanwhile, the Irrigation Department says the water levels in reservoirs and lakes in the country are down by 55 percent.
The Department has said that intermittent rains experienced in some parts of the country have not increased the water levels in reservoirs and lakes.
The Department notes that although farmers have managed to cultivate 625,000 acres of paddy land this Yala season, the water shortage has badly affected the paddy cultivations of farmers in the Giritale, Kurunegala and Batalagoda areas.
The water capacity of the Parakrama Samudraya in Polonnaruwa has receded to 57,000 acre/foot and water level in Kalawewa in Anuradhapura has receded below the sluice gates.
Meanwhile, water levels of reservoirs under the Mahaweli Authority have reportedly gone down by 50 percent.
Agriculture Ministry statistics show that while the targeted acreage for cultivation during this Yala season was 494,100 hectares only 348,761 hectares have actually been cultivated. The crop is estimated at 1.25 million metric tons.