Farmers Cry Foul, Threaten More Strikes

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Namal Karunaratne also in the picture

The farming community will to take to the streets once again as no solution has been given to address their concerns, the convenor of the All Ceylon Farmers Federation, Namal Karunaratne said.

However, when inquired from subject Ministers P. Harrison and Daya Gamage they said mechanisms for the provision of solutions for the farmers’ issues are currently being implemented.

Last week farmers took to the streets and protested. Dairy farmers also staged a protest recently based on their insurance and discrepancies in the distribution of dairy cows etc.

Similarly, the pepper and betel farmers who faced numerous difficulties with their crops also voiced their concerns.

As an initial step in resolving the problems faced by the betel farmers, farmer associations suggest that the Government negotiate with countries that betel is exported to regarding the increase in taxes imposed in these countries and negotiating the reduction of taxes.

As for the pepper farmers, Minister Daya Gamage stated that the Government is prepared to purchase the pepper harvest of the farmers. Namal Karunaratne claims that this is a positive development as prior to this, the Government did not have a mechanism to purchase the pepper harvests from the farmers.

However, betel farmers recently launched a poster campaign demanding their rights. Further the Betel Farmers Collective said they will be on the alert in the future as well.

Sri Lankan betel is being exported to Pakistan, India, Maldives and several other countries and Europe including the UK.  Hence it is a crop that brings in foreign exchange.  Accordingly, white betel, short betel and black betel are the various varieties, while black betel has a high demand internationally.  Today the price paid for betel has reduced. The selling rate for betel was Rs. 15,000 per 1000 leaves. However the price has gradually decreased and currently 1000 betel leaves fetch only between Rs. 500-800. In accordance, the price of other varieties of betel too has reduced significantly.

According to farming organisations, considering the drastic price reduction and the escalating costs of fertiliser and costs related to preventing diseases etc, farmers are facing a dilemma, being unable to cover their costs. Namal Karunaratne said, if the reason for the loss in profits was due to the imposition of taxes by the countries that import Sri Lankan betel, then the Government should intervene and negotiate some tax concessions that will benefit local betel farmers.

Meanwhile even the pepper farmers are facing difficulties due to the drop in prices as never seen before. Although the Government has promised to resolve the issues facing the pepper growers, so far there is no solution in sight. Hence Karunaratne warns that they would give the Government a certain time frame to implement these pledges made to the farmers but in the event the Government fails to come up with a solution within a reasonable time frame, farmers will be forced to launch protests and drastic action in the future.

It is the farmers who bring prosperity to the country and it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the farmers, pointed out the farmer organisations highlighting the difficulty faced by farmers in making a living. The farmers who make ends meet with the greatest difficulty say after having invested everything they have, if the crop is affected by any disease they lose everything. Having lost everything they then have to wait for several seasons in order to be in a position to replant their crops. They live a hand-to-mouth existence and when they have to face such losses, it is very difficult for them to recover.  These farmers are then forced to get into debt in order to survive. With the current drought experienced currently in the North and Wayamba provinces, farmers are facing untold hardships and they claim that the option for them now is to commit suicide.

Meanwhile, commenting on the plight of the dairy farmers, the national organiser of the Sri Lanka Dairy Farmers Association Chamili Jayaratne said due to the imported milk, thousands of locally produced liquid milk is being discarded. But, the subject minister refuting these allegations said, no irregularity had taken place during the distribution of dairy cows.

However, currently almost all of the farmers be it cultivators or dairy farmers, they are all facing debilitating difficulties and the farming associations have taken measures to notify the President in writing of the plight of farmers in the country. They are hopeful that the President will look into their grievances sympathetically and take measures to provide them a favourable response.

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