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Govt. decision to give two million farming families freehold land deeds will lead to shanty towns – Udaya

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Udaya Gammanpila

By Saman Indrajith

The government’s decision to give two million farming families freehold land deeds will lead to shanty towns popping up in most major towns in Sri Lanka, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila said.

Gammanpila added that President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Urumaya Freehold Deed Programme could probably mark the end of Sri Lankan smallholder farming.

Gammanpila said that farmers only mad money during crop harvesting periods, i.e., at most three times a year.

“A typical farmer borrows money to cover daily expenses. Then he pays these loans with the money he makes during the harvest. Sometimes, he suffers crop losses due to natural disasters, diseases and insects. Sometimes, the farmers commit suicide, but because they do not have freehold titles, the land remains in the family,” he said.

Gammanpila said that since Independence, successive governments have given farmers deeds that are not transferable or sellable. None of these governments have freehold deeds because it was understood that farmers were in a debt trap.

“These days, farmers are facing greater economic challenges than ever. If we give them freehold land, within two years, a significant number of farming families will sell their lands. We will have so many landless people.”

The PHU leader said that most farmers are indebted to loan sharks. This is mainly the fault of banks, which are hesitant to give loans to farmers. Most bank loan schemes are aimed at monthly wage earners.

“The government recently decided that it will not purchase paddy this year. It will, however, give nine billion rupees to small and medium-scale rice millers so that they can buy paddy from farmers. If the government can come up with new schemes to support millers, it should also do something for farmers.”

About 35 percent of the workforce is in the informal sector, and the government and banks must come up with creative schemes to cater to their needs, too, he said.

“Now, the loan sharks can’t ask the farmers to keep their deeds as collateral. With freehold titles, loan sharks can ask farmers to do so, and the moment something goes wrong, these unscrupulous businessmen will take over farmers’ lands. What will the farmers do? Because of their pride, most people will come into the main towns with their families, instead of becoming a labourer. They will set up a shed, and we will soon have colonies of shanties.”

Gammanpila said that such shanty towns can be seen across South Asia. We escaped that because Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa pumped money into rural infrastructure. Despite the many shortcomings of the initiatives of these men, most Sri Lankan villages have schools, a road network and basic infrastructure that prevented an exodus of villagers into towns.

“These shanty towns become dens of inequity. There will be diseases and crime. Unplanned urbanization will lead to a plethora of socio-economic problems. Just look at India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, etc.”

Gammanpila said the government needs to introduce farming insurance, and state banks should come up with deposit and lending schemes for farmers. Even if we had such schemes, this is the worst time to expose farmland to market mechanisms, he said.

“The price of locally manufactured goods have doubled in the last 18 months. Price of imports has tripled. Most people are selling their assets to make ends meet. At this point, we are giving farmers another item they can sell or pawn. Why are people taking loans now? It’s to bridge the gap between income and expenses. They are not borrowing to invest. There is no way that people can pay these loans. This is the reality.”

The PHU MP said he has no problem introducing a freehold deed scheme once the economy has recovered and bank loans and insurance schemes for farmers have been established.

“Even now, there is nothing preventing farmers from joining hands with others to start collectives, establish businesses or lease the land to another farmer in the same category. There are people who have established farmer’s cooperatives. We also have other state lands that can be released for large-scale commercial agriculture.”



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Advisory for Severe Lightning issued to Western, Southern, Sabaragamuwa, Northern and North-western provinces and in Monaragala district today (12)

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Advisory for Severe Lightning issued by the natural hazards early warning center at 01.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. on 12 April 2024

Thundershowers accompanied by severe lightning are likely to occur at several places in Western, Southern, Sabaragamuwa, Northern and North-western provinces and in Monaragala district.

There may be temporary localized strong winds during thundershowers.

General public is kindly requested to take adequate precautions to minimize damages caused by lightning activity.

ACTION REQUIRED:

The Department of Meteorology advises that people should:
• Seek shelter, preferably indoors and never under trees.

• Avoid open areas such as paddy fields, tea plantations and open water bodies during thunderstorms.

• Avoid using wired telephones and connected electric appliances during thunderstorms.

• Avoid using open vehicles, such as bicycles, tractors and boats etc.

• Beware of fallen trees and power lines.

• For emergency assistance contact the local disaster management authorities.
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