Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The President is way off the mark – you cannot cultivate all fallow lands until you change the Laws

Who are you going to give to cultivate?

Frankly I am very surprised and disappointed at the asinine comments made by President Sirisena in an unnecessarily extravagant event in Iranamadu yesterday.

First, let me comment on the word extravagant. I don’t believe half the jokers of Ministers who followed him, should have wasted a Monday to come to this event. The Rs 5M it would have cost for their transport, overnight stay at 5 star hotels in Anuradhapura or flights, might sound peanuts in terms of how much the SL Government wastes, but only The Agriculture Minister and Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister should have been present at this event.

Second, he was seen pushing a transplanting machine, which I am sure the company with the agency for it would have supplied freely, but which is impractical in today’s context, even though it was introduced over 50 years ago by the Freedom from Hunger campaign, as part of the new Rice strains, and weeding between neat rows of paddies, to increase yields. Our farmers just did not embrace these techniques, and a paper on why they did not will have to be left for another entry.

Thirdly, he mentioned that all uncultivated, State and Private land will be cultivated in the future, to reduce the huge import bill we incur just to import our basic food requirements. For a former Agriculture Minister, who in his years on the job could not make ANY HEADWAY in increasing agricultural production, it is a bit rich to score political points.

Ironically in the same paper on page 6 of the Lankadeepa second section ** edition of today, the Gampaha District Agent has said that despite spending vast sums in preparing, previously uncultivated fields, there are no productive results coming out of it. This is an obvious statement and the reason for so much land in the Western Province remaining uncultivated, even low lying paddy lands.

We must first tackle the reasons behind this, and there are so many issues, that can be tackled systematically to achieve the objective. Stating the list of reasons alone will take a few pages, but the most important are to change the laws governing title and ownership, where I can rent my land for 3 years to a productive farmer who wishes to farm all 150 acres of the fields, owned by 60 owners, so he can use the latest techniques and get Govt. help in drainage control of lands, that has become a problem due to housing construction. In this way the yields will be high, cost of production low, the owner of land will get some payment and most of all, know he will not lose title to his property.
The President’s speech said that he would forcefully take over the lands if they are not cultivated. That is the wrong way to go. The previous Govt. also made this threat and got thousands of people in trouble, as they tried to cultivate their lands losing millions in the process, as they felt they will lost their lands!

When you get people who don’t know their subject spouting out statements to get the attention of the media, with a bone dead media who are unable to sift through this anomaly, you allow the President to get away with stupidity.

Improving Agricultural Productivity is the issue here. There is a way to tackle it, and let us go through the steps needed for that.

It is a given fact that SL is one of the most inefficient producers of food in the world. Let us look at each of the zillion reasons and tackle each one.

They range from Educating thousands of female agricultural graduates, none of whom go into farming, to giving inadequate field advice to working farmers by the grossly unqualified Agricultural Extension officers in the Agricultural Department. Youth are NOT going into farming, opening out great chances for larger unit farms, highly mechanized, but unless ownership laws are changed, these budding farmers will not be able to consolidate large tracts of land from presently fragmented little lots of unproductive sizes.

People in Sri Lanka are lead astray, as they have not been taught to think. So they believe what someone says, especially if it is reported in the news, written or electronic and then come to the wrong conclusions. The Media who have a huge role to play in this regard, have completely relegated this to the ether, with no one filling the void, the least of all the politicians.

It is time to get the facts, enact legislation, encourage economies of scale, educate our population in eating healthy, and change consumption habits to more wholesome food, with at the same time making a policy decision of taking this whole Island as Organic.

A holistic approach to tackle nutrition, supplying most of the food intake locally, can be done over a longer period, through conversion to this new environment. It has to be sold to the people conceptually first, for universal acceptance rather than follow narrow political agendas, driven out of greed.

Let us start by ONLY giving prominence to people who are able to make sensible suggestions to the people, NOT POPULIST one for personal glory. Then only people with commonsense will rule the airwaves, sound waves and then people’s heart strings!   

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