ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered his agriculture minister to buy paddy for 95 rupees per kilogramme, amid a chorus of complaints about the government’s ban on inorganic fertilizer that led to a drop in production in the ‘Maha’ cultivation season.
The Maha season usually sees the largest paddy harvest in Sri Lanka’s farmlands found in the island’s rural areas that are home to 70 percent of its 22 million population.
Some farmers did not cultivate in the season because the government could not provide organic fertilizer on time as promised. Others cultivated with whatever they had, but now complain the yield is lower because no weedicide and pesticides were made available by the government.
President Rajapaksa banned agro-chemicals in April last year although the original plan was to phase them out gradually over a period of 10 as per his election manifesto.
Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on January 03 offered 75 rupees per kilogramme of paddy as compensation for paddy farmers due to the government’s fertilizer policy which has widely been called a failure.
However, President Rajapaksa has now ordered to raise it to 95 rupees, which is a record high for paddy in Sri Lanka.
“This morning when I met state minister Siripala Gamlath, I asked him ‘are you buying paddy?’ He said, ‘yes, harvest season in Vavuniya is around the corner’,” Rajapaksa said, referring to a legislator who owns one of the top private rice businesses in the country.
“I asked how much he was offering. He said wet paddy is purchased at 80 rupees a kilo while dried paddy is purchased at 90 rupees a kilo,” he added, speaking at a ceremony that marked the opening part of the central express highway from Mirigama to Kurunagala.
“All of you know farmers could not sell their paddy at 25 rupees in the past. Today they sell at 90 rupees. I told the agriculture minister if outsiders are buying at 90 rupees, the government should buy at 95 rupees. That money will go to the farmer. That’s okay,” the president told the gathering.
President Rajapaksa did not comment on the government’s new fertilzer policy, but said it was his government that gave fertilizer free of charge.
“Unfortunately, the opposition instigated several farmers to protest. But who gave fertilizer free of charge? Who increased the minimum price to 50 rupees? It is this government,” he said.
“I call on the farmers to trust us. Although there were some delays and hiccups in the beginning, we are now going forward, doing this the right way.
“I request farmers not to get carried away. I am a president who came forward on behalf of you. That’s why I gave fertilizer free of charge. We are committed protecting farmers.
“Our parents also cultivated. My father is famous among the public those days for coming to parliament straight from a paddy field after washing the mud on him. We will never ever forget farmers,” said Rajapaksa. (Colombo/Jan16/2022)