The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka Is A Rice Eating Nation

The hike in the price of bread by Rs. 4 per loaf is likely to be accepted by most consumers as an inevitable inflationary rise but not so by an extremely hyper active ‘Joint Opposition’ which may see this as even an international conspiracy by anti-Sri Lankan forces against the Sri Lankan people.  Remember Chandrika Kumaratunga in her first election campaign in 1994 promised to bring down the price of a loaf to Rs. 3.50. Now a loaf averages around Rs. 50 and certain varieties such as brown bread much more Rs. 80! This was caused by inflation and not by international conspiracies. But statistics to a virulent opposition are meant only to be twisted in favour of their arguments and the price hike is a superb penalty kick to be placed on the bottoms of the Yahapalanaya leaders.

Certainly, price hikes of bread or any hike on an essential commodity should be seriously examined and the causes for the hike determined. The government should reveal the mechanism deployed for price hikes to the public to diffuse conspiracy theories. In the past a major supplier of wheat flour has been taken to courts on a public interests application and it would be in the interests of the government as well as the country to keep track of increased prices of commodities supplied.

The fact that Sri Lanka has a fair proportion of bread consumers and that hikes on bread – paan as it is known – creating political and economic pressures on Sri Lanka is indeed a matter for great regret. We take pride in proclaiming that we are a rice eating nation. It is no secret that most Sri Lankans gobble down platefuls of rice and curry for all three meals. So why should a price hike in the price of wheat flour turn out to be a political issue?

On one occasion when the price of rice rose in the open market and bread was the option, posters appeared on the walls of Colombo demanding rice at fair prices.

The Sinhalese are so nationalistic about their preference of rice that they are contemptuous of imported flour – American Piti – they say with disdain and pay much reverence to their own rice – sown, grown, threshed and husked by themselves. The tank and the dagobas lie alongside their paddies as seen in the rice bowl. It is part and parcel of their heritage. With great pride we wax eloquent of the great Hydraulic Civilisation built by their ancient engineers and rulers. Modern historians still do it. Rice is the product of that Hydraulic Civilisation which  Sinhalese are still proud of.

Another country that jealously guards its rice industry is Japan. Despite its close post World War II links to America and trade, economic and defence ties, Japan still does not permit any inroads being made into their rice production. Rice, they have said, is of strategic importance to the Japanese nation.

Making Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice was the dream of the country’s first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake followed by his son Dudley and then Sirima Bandaranaike. She even laid a foundation stone to inaugurate the Mahaveli Diversion Scheme at Polgolla even though Dudley Senanayake had done so at another spot before he was defeated in 1970. It indicated Sirima Bandaranaike’s desire to attain self- sufficiency in rice.

Now with the Mahaweli lands bringing in bountiful harvests, Sri Lanka is self- sufficient in rice to feed its 20 million people. However, attempts are now being made by foreign experts to divert the country’s agricultural efforts to cash crops other than rice.

The sudden rise in the price of wheat flour prices – for whatever reasons – underscores the need for the continued increase e in the production of rice.

Due to changes in socio economic conditions a section of the populace has shifted to consumption of bread, particularly in cities. This is due to a multiplicity of causes such as the lack of living space in urban areas for cooking. These problems have to be overcome with urban planning and new technologies not by giving up producing our staple food. There is an over production of paddy and now there is lack of storage facilities. If the bread consumers take to rice this surplus can be eliminated or reduced greatly.

Meanwhile, it is incumbent on the Agriculture Department to produce new varieties of rice that can be marketed abroad as many South East Asian countries do.

Of course there will be some consumers who will want their daily bread. Others would like to see both sides of their bread buttered and there will be thinkers and poets like the great Omar Khayyam who will yearn for a: Loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou beside me……

While bread at Rs 50 will be still manageable, the other two commodities of Khayyam the Yahapalanaya leaders are burdened with their taxes, place them beyond the reach of the common man.



2 Comments for “Sri Lanka Is A Rice Eating Nation”

  1. Jaenthu Liyanage

    1. “This was caused by inflation and not by international conspiracies”.
    2.” should be seriously examined and the causes for the hike determined.”

    Excellent, impartial rational Journalism, of course!

    Say no more.

  2. Ordinary people eat what they can afford to eat. This is like eat cake if you don’t like bread.????

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