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Agricultural experts warn of looming food crisis 

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ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is facing its worst performing cultivation season in more than a decade during the ongoing Yala season and there is a possibility of a looming food crisis in the coming months,” a group of Agriculture experts have warned.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ban on chemical fertilizer a year ago is now taking the toll on the agricultural sector with the paddy production has plummeted nearly by 50 percent.

Rice is Sri Lanka’s staple food and nearly 80 percent of the 2.2 million Sri Lankan farmers cultivate paddy in 800,000 acres of land, the biggest by any crop.

“This season has not yet begun, but it is already finished. There is no hope for it,” K.K.I.U. Arunakumara, a crop science professor at University of Ruhunu told reporters on Wednesday (27) in Colombo representing Academics’ Movement to Safeguard Agriculture in Sri Lanka.

“If we cannot get enough seed paddy for next season at least, Sri Lanka will have to depend on imports even in 2023. We cannot see this crisis coming to an end.”

The fertilizer ban has led Sri Lanka to import rice from India, Pakistan, and Myanmar while China has agreed to grant 5,000 metric tons of rice.

Critics say the government’s objective of chemical fertilizer ban is lost because the island nation has to spend more dollars on imports while people are compelled to consume rice grown under agrochemicals in a foreign country instead of Sri Lanka.

The experts also said apart from rice,  yield of corn, a crop largely used for animal feed, went down by over 70 percent. while decline in tea production has led to a fall of 52 million US dollars in the first quarter due to fertilizer ban. They also said vegetable yield also had also gone down by 30 percent.

President Rajapaksa and his cabinet ministers were stubborn on organic fertilizer. The government first imported organic fertilizer from China, but the consignment was rejected because the authorities said the shipment contained harmful bacteria. Later it imported liquid Nitrogen fertilizer, but farmers complained that they do not prefer to use them due to bad odour.

Last week, the President said banning chemical fertilizer was a mistake and he would reverse the decision for the this Yala cultivation season.

Experts said a looming food shortage could be due to farmers temporarily abandoning Agriculture due to the unsustainable costs of the occupation.

“Fertilizer prices have gone up by seven folds, and farmers no longer receive subsidies. A 50kg of fertilizer was 6000 rupees in the past. Now it is over 45,000 rupees. Large commercial farms can cover the costs, but most farmers decided to reduce production area or temporarily stop agriculture,” Arunakumara said.

The initial ban on chemical fertilizer in April last year resulted in widespread protests by the farming community. After the ban is lifted, now fertilizer scarcity is haunting the farming  community hard.

Arunakumara stated that importers were finding it difficult to open letters of credit due to the forex crisis, and that the Russia Ukraine war, as well as China’s export ban on chemical fertilizer was also impacting the scarcity.

Experts noted that the lack of weedicides, pesticides and insecticides also had a huge impact on crops, especially on corn, which is highly affected by growth of weeds.

Professor Saman Dhamakeerthi from University of Peradeniya told Economy Next that the reduction of corn production could have adverse effects on the animal husbandry industry, particularly poultry farms, and that meat prices would also increase as a result.

Experts stated that Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in paddy since 2008, producing on average an excess of 800,000 metric tonnes of paddy per year, except for two years of extreme drought. In contrast, Sri Lanka had to import 650,000 kg of rice since the ban on chemical fertilizer, experts say.



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Speaker proposes how to steer SL out of crisis

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Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has handed over a set of proposals to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, spelling out how to resolve country’s economic crisis.The proposals made by the Speaker pertain to a number of important sectors and highlight the importance of providing relief to low income groups.

The Speaker has said Sri Lankans working or doing business overseas or foreign investors depositing USD 100,000 with the Central Bank for a period of two years should be paid a 10% interest per annum in Sri Lankan rupees and allowed to credit the interest to any account preferred by the depositor. He also proposes that the government issue a vehicle import licence worth USD 25,000, six months after an individual makes a fixed deposit while also allowing him to pay a standard tax of USD 10,000 to the government for that vehicle.Speaker Abeywardena has proposed how to reduce energy costs, release adequate stocks of LP gas to the market, boost domestic production food production, stabilise the banking system.

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MR had not decided to resign on 09 May, says Weerasekra

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP MP Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera says Prime Minster Mahinda Rajapaksa had not decided to resign on 09 May 09 although the SLPP MPs had been asked to bring supporters to Temple Trees for a meeting.Weerasekera said so when The Island asked him why he had skipped the Temple Trees meeting.One-time Public Security Minister said that the then PM Rajapaksa had, during a conversation with him on 08 May had denied reports that the latter was planning to resign the following day. MP Namal Rajapaksa, however, had asked a group of MPs and others to bring supporters to express support for the PM, MP Weerasekera said.

Weerasekera said he had been among those contacted by MP Namal Rajapaksa.The former Navy Chief of Staff said that the failure on the part of law enforcement authorities and the military to respond swiftly and decisively to a threat of breach of law and order had led to a disaster at time global attention was on Sri Lanka due to the deteriorating financial situation.MP Weerasekera questioned why police had refrained from firing at least once into the air when mobs arrived at some MPs’ houses, which were destroyed. For over 48 hours mobs had ruled the country, the MP alleged, demanding an explanation why shoot-on-sight orders had not been issued as soon as mobs started to attack MPs’ houses.MP Weerasekera said that serious accusations made by SLPP members, particularly Wimal Weerawansa, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Mahindananda Aluthgamage couldn’t be ignored. They accused some sections of the SLPP of conspiring to unleash violence and the police and the armed forces turning a blind eye to countrywide retaliatory attacks.

Newly-appointed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said that he would order a thorough probe into the May 09 incidents. Minister Alles said so when The Island asked him what he would do against the backdrop of allegations of the police facilitating attacks on protesting public in the Kollupitiya and Fort police areas.MPs, Weerawansa and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana alleged in Parliament that Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration and C. D. Wickremaratne, Inspector General of Police prevented Deshabandu Tennakoon, Senior DIG, Colombo from mob attacks on the protesting public.

Former Minister Weerasekera said that the government, the SLPP and the police should come clean on this matter. MP Weerasekera said that the government mishandled the challenge posed by those who cleverly exploited the economic crisis. “Perhaps one of the major blunders was allowing the public to block roads. Now, it has become a style. Interested parties also exploit the media and social media. The government seems clueless,” MP Weerasekera said, urging the government to review the developments.MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage, too, told The Island, the top SLPP leadership ignored repeated warnings. The former Agriculture Minister questioned whether those who had advised the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by the President deliberately deceived them.

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Lankan-born Cassandra elected to Australian Parliament

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She beat another candidate of Sri Lankan origin, Ranj Perera

Cassandra Fernando of Sri Lankan descent has been elected to the Australian Parliament.Cassandra, an advocate for essential workers and the Federal Labor Candidate for Holt.She migrated to Australia with her family when she was 11.She began working at Woolies Dandenong Plaza as a teenager. She now represents workers in the retail and fast food industries, fighting to improve their pay and conditions. She has also volunteered to tutor migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds so they can make the best of every opportunity.

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