The Sunday Leader

Government Plays Down Fears Of Threat To Yala Harvest

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

  • Almost 900,000 people in hard-hit areas of Sri Lanka are faced with serious food insecurity
  • The authorities say that there will be no shortage of food
  • President Sirisena recently took steps to grant compensation to farmers who were unable to cultivate due to the prevailing drought 
The government has played down the threat to the Yala harvest in September saying steps have been taken to face any situation.

The main harvest (Maha) in March 2017 declined by more than half and the secondary harvest (Yala) in September will also be significantly impacted, bringing hardship and suffering, and increasing indebtedness for poor families, the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a country brief on Sri Lanka recently.

Almost 900,000 people in hard-hit areas of Sri Lanka are faced with serious food insecurity and malnutrition due to the country’s worst drought in 40 years.

However when The Sunday Leader inquired from the relevant authorities, they insisted that there would not be a food shortage. They claimed that in such situations the government had devised alternative plans and if required the government would import the essential food items.

Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the government had implemented measures to mitigate the effects of the drought and had implemented alternative plans. He explained that the reason for the reduction in this seasons harvest was the lack of rains, adding that of the 800,000 hectares usually cultivated, this season only 4500 hectares could be cultivated. He pointed out that the upcoming Yala season too would be affected due to the lack of rains adding that the government however, had implemented measures to address the water crisis of the farmers.

The farmers in the Ampara district recently held a protest demanding that the government take measures to address the issue of water scarcity faced by the farmers in the East.  They accused the government of not offering them relief as their crops had been affected by the drought.

However according to Minister Dissanayake, “We have already implemented a plan to release a certain percentage of water to these areas as relief to the farmers. We have done so irrespective of party, race or religion. We have only decided on the percentage of water per farmer based on the extent of their lands and the crop they cultivate. We did not decide on the volume of water based on any religious or ethnic basis. Hunger is common to all irrespective of whether they are Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslim. Hence we treat all alike and distribute the water available in a fair manner,” he said, adding that some elements are trying to interpret it in a different manner to gain undue political gain.

Meanwhile, President Sirisena recently took steps to grant compensation to farmers who were unable to cultivate due to the prevailing drought. Therefore, Minister Dissanayake said having taken all measures to address the plight of the farmers it is unreasonable for them to take to the streets in protest. He said certain parties were trying to get the farmers onto the streets with political intentions. The Minister also said that although the Yala season could be affected due to the lack of rains, there is sufficient stocks of rice imported to meet the demand. He said with the local stocks and imported stocks of rice to meet the shortfall, there will certainly not be a shortage of rice under any circumstance.

According to Dissanayake, such natural disasters cannot be prevented and in preparation for the future, the Agriculture Department has initiated a programme to send agriculture officers to every village educating the people on farming practices and home garden farming. He pointed out that by encouraging people to grow their own food requirement in their own garden plots, it could reduce the dependency on purchasing food from the market.

While the Agriculture Ministry had taken such steps to deal with the situation, The Sunday Leader also spoke with the Minister of Industry & Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen regarding the current situation in the local market. He too assured that there would be no shortage of food in the country under any situation.

“There is no reason for such a shortage. During the festive season certain parties tried to portray a lack of food items in the market with the aim of increasing the price of essential food items by creating panic among the consumers. However, the government having anticipated such a move by unscrupulous elements took measures to address the issue before hand and thwart these sinister plans. There are adequate stocks to meet the demands of the people. Sathosa is well stocked and is geared to meet the demands of the country and if we could have handled the situation during the festive season and ensure that there would be no shortage of food stocks, I am certain of ensuring that there would be no shortage of food items in the future too. The government will take all measures to ensure that there are adequate stocks of food, no matter what,” he said.

Social Welfare Minister S.B. Dissanayake meanwhile added that in order to address the shortage of food in the country, and the issues faced by farmers,  farmers should be encouraged to cultivate alternative crops. He said such projects to educate farmers on alternative crop cultivation had already commenced through the Samurdhi officers and further plans were in the process of being implemented for the future too.

“Take for instance the drought and the floods that affected our crops. Hence we need to have an alternative aimed at dealing with such situations. Due to natural disasters, the paddy crops were affected but in these villages the farmers can opt for alternative crops such as Kurakkan, gingerly and Menery in place of paddy. The Samurdhi officers had instructed the farmers and a group of farmers had embarked on a project to cultivate Kurakkan and this project proved extremely successful. The harvest will be reaped within the next few weeks. Hence this is a good example of how we can opt for alternative crops in the event the main crops fail and we need to be prepared to face such situations,”  he said.

 

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