Rising price of rice in Sri Lanka: The roots and remedies
By Manoj Thibbotuwawa
Rice is the dietary staple and the major domestic crop cultivated in Sri Lanka since ancient times. Therefore, the production and availability of rice are closely tied to food security as well as political stability in the country. Every government since independence has given prominence to the goal of achieving self-sufficiency in rice. Accordingly, a significant amount of resources are allocated for the supply of irrigation water, land development, research on technological improvements, farm mechanisation, and support facilities such as credit, subsidised inputs, and farmer welfare measures.
As a result, the cultivation of paddy and production of rice increased steadily with Sri Lanka reaching near self-sufficiency in rice and rice imports dropping to an insignificant amount. Despite these achievements, problems relating to the paddy and rice sector continue to occupy a foremost place among the country’s socio-economic issues. At present, supply shortages and rising retail prices have caused severe social unrest. In this background, this blog identifies the current problems in the rice sector and suggests some policy recommendations.
Demand and Supply Dynamics of Rice
Rice is an essential consumer good with inelastic demand in the local market and the consumption of rice is important not only to the economy but to Sri Lankan culture as well. Based on 2016 per capita consumption of 104.5 kg per annum, the annual national rice demand was 2.1 million MT which is equivalent to 3.2 million MT of paddy. After adjusting for seed paddy, processing, waste and other requirements, Sri Lanka needs to produce 4 million MT of paddy to fulfil the above national demand. No significant change in national requirement is expected in the near future due to the balance between gradual reduction in per capita consumption and population growth.
Sri Lanka managed to achieve this target over the last two years and is on course to achieve the same this year as well. The 2020 Yala output of 1.9 million MT paddy (equivalent to 1.3 million MT rice) produced around September 2020 was sufficient to feed the country for about six months. The 2020 Maha output of 3.1 million MT paddy (equivalent to 2 million MT rice) produced around March 2021 is sufficient to feed the population for about nine months. The Department of Agriculture estimated a harvest of 1.5 million
MT for the 2021 Yala. Therefore, any current or speculatory rice shortage is not expected.
The Problem: Pricing Dilemma
The rice market has a delicate system of price determination that is associated with availability in the market. It is connected to seasonal harvests of Maha and Yala leading to high fluctuation of prices over certain months of the year. From January, the prices of paddy and rice decline gradually and reach their lowest in March with the major Maha harvest. It increases slightly from April and undergoes a minor slump during July-August when the minor Yala harvest reaches the market. The rise of the prices of all types of rice is quite sharp from September onwards reaching the peak in December and begin to decline again in January continuing the cycle. The difficulties faced by consumers due to a sharp rise in rice price during September-January is one of the most politically sensitive issues in the country.
Severe disruptions happened to this usual pricing mechanism in recent times by the cooperative decision making and anti-competitive practices of large and leading millers who have large storage facilities, purchasing power and economic stability. Farmers are inherently disadvantaged in the market because a large number of farmers sell their harvest at the same time due to lack of capacity to store paddy and credit bound relationships due to up-front capital requirement for uncertain several months.
Cooperative decision-making by large millers who handle a sufficiently large (about 33.8%) share of purchase in the paddy market gain an oligopolistic advantage by releasing large stocks of rice to the market during the harvesting period to create a glut so that they can purchase paddy at minimum prices. Also, their anti-competitive practices such as exclusive supply agreements, horizontal cartel practices and compelling farmers to sell paddy only to them prevent small scale millers from purchasing paddy. Curtailing stocks thereafter create a scarcity of rice to maintain a high price till the next harvest period.
Different command-and-control methods such as adhoc price controls and emergency regulations were used by successive governments to control the market. These were easy to enact, yet have proven ineffective. Therefore, measures that provide facilitation, monitoring, and regulation should be the key strategies of the government in both the rice and paddy markets while allowing market forces of supply and demand to determine prices.
Promoting competition is the key to constrain the oligopolistic market power enjoyed by the large millers. However, small and medium millers will find it difficult to survive in the market due to strong competition from the successful, large ones that dominate the space with wide-ranging products including premium and mass markets. Thus, small and medium millers should be empowered through credit facilities to buy paddy and to upgrade their mills to achieve economies of scale and production cost advantage.
Further, organising them under a suitable collective business model such as cooperatives will facilitate competition while providing a sustainable solution. In the meantime, as a short-term measure, the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) can increase its purchases so that these can be milled by small and medium millers on a quota basis and distributed through Sathosa.
While the Consumer Affairs Authority Act, No. 09 of 2003 was designed to control anti-competitive practices that harm consumers, this is constrained by resource limitations and information asymmetry. This can be minimised by establishing a market information system with mandatory reporting under Section 12 of the Paddy Marketing Board Act No. 14 of 1971 which provides for recording data on production, sale, supply, storage, purchase, distribution and milling of paddy and rice.
Other than the anti-competitive practices, the cost of production of paddy and bargaining power are also factors that determine the price received by farmers. Modern technologies should be promoted to optimise the input use so that the cost of production could be minimised. The current policy drive on organic farming could be rationalised to reduce the dependency on costly imported inputs such as chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals gradually.
Small-scale farmers should be organised under suitable operational units such as The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) so that their farming efforts are coordinated and consolidated to increase their collective bargaining power. Decisions on rice importation should be based purely on market conditions given by the proposed market information system. These strategies can stabilise the prices of paddy and rice without severe fluctuations and make paddy farming a viable livelihood with a sustained income for small-scale farmers.
Link to blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2021/10/07/rising-price-of-rice-in-sri-lanka-the-roots-and-remedies/
Manoj Thibbotuwawa is a Research Fellow at IPS with research interests in agriculture, agribusiness value chains, food security, and environmental and natural resource economics. He holds a BSc (Agriculture) with Honours from the University of Peradeniya, an MSc (Agricultural Economics) from the Post-Graduate Institute of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya, and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. (Talk with Manoj – email@example.com).
Hemas Hospitals makes national-level contribution through ‘Upakara’ initiative for deprived CKD patients
In a concerted effort to ensure healthcare equity for all Sri Lankans, the country’s foremost trusted private healthcare provider Hemas Hospitals introduced ‘Upakara’, an unmatched timely initiative which offers free monthly dialysis cycles to a selected number of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patients from low-income backgrounds, through Hemas Hospitals.
Hemas Hospitals’ Upakara is a one-of-a-kind initiative, contributing to the health and wellbeing of individuals from underprivileged and less fortunate communities, who are suffering from CKD. While most individuals face difficulties with affording basic healthcare during the country’s perilous economic situation, this facility will be considered a life-saving, monumental effort from a private healthcare provider, contributing on a national level.
“Chronic Kidney Disease is one among the most prevalent non-communicable diseases in Sri Lanka. Statistically, 20-25 percent of diabetic patients and 18-20 percent of patients with hypertension are prone to CKD. Holistically, one in 10 Sri Lankans is estimated to have CKD, while the vast majority is unaware of the fact that they have it, resulting in most patients seeking healthcare support at its late-stages. This forces CKD patients to either opt for kidney transplants or regular dialysis treatments, both bearing an intense level of financial burden on patients and their loved ones. Given the volatile macro-economic environment in the country today, this financial burden is heavier than ever before,” stated Dr. Lakith Peiris, Managing Director Hemas Hospitals.
“A statistically higher number of CKD patients from the underprivileged communities who are affected by fewer resources prompted us to address this issue by extending our support to these communities with essential infrastructure and services through Hemas Hospitals’ Upakara initiative,” he added.
CKD is fast becoming a major public health concern, attracting increased global attention due to rapid spread of the disease, and its grave impact on patients and their quality of life. With a larger number of CKD patients reported from Sri Lanka each year, the national healthcare system often finds it difficult to cater to the full requirement of all patients requiring dialysis, affecting their health and wellbeing on a large scale.
With the aim of ensuring good governance and community participation, Upakara will be overseen and operated by a governance committee inclusive of key opinion leaders within the hospital and communities.
With a vision of ‘Making Healthful Living Happen’, Hemas Hospitals intends to support CKD patients in a manner that eases the great financial burden that falls on them every month and enhances their access to life-saving dialysis treatment. At a time in the country when macro-economic volatility has destabilized personal economies, Upakara will lend greatly to easing the financial pressure of healthcare on these chronic patients and enable them to re-establish a sense of wellbeing.
“Therefore, in such a dire context, we believe Upakara is an important step forward in assuring health and healthcare equity in Sri Lanka, and consider it our duty as a responsible healthcare provider to ensure that all Sri Lankans have access to the life-saving treatment they require regardless of their financial background. Upakara was therefore borne with this vision, and we consider ourselves privileged to launch this vital CSR programme as we continue to work to eliminate disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases in Sri Lanka,” stated Dr. Peiris.
Cargills Bank reports profitability turnaround with robust income growth and operating cost management
Cargills Bank reported a profit before tax of LKR 206Mn for the financial year 2022, recovering from a loss before tax of LKR 369Mn in the previous year, driven by robust growth in operating income that offset erosions due to increased provisioning and operating costs.
Total operating income rose 74% year-on-year to LKR 4.28Bn on account of growth in both Interest and Fee-based income in similar proportion. The Bank prudently managed its lending portfolio with the intention of preserving liquidity and maintaining asset quality, leading to a slight decline in the portfolio. However, the Bank was able to expand its net interest margins over the previous year, resulting in significant growth in interest income. Meanwhile robust performance in card operations, trade finance and remittances resulted in 75% year-on-year growth in fee-based income.
Mindful of the challenging environment and its impact on customers, the Bank proactively increased its provision cover ratio, resulting in a 114% year-on-year growth in impairment to LKR 1.46Bn. The Bank’s Stage 3 Loans (Net of Stage 3 Impairment) to Total Loans ratio consequently improved from 6.43% in 2021 to 4.85% in 2022.
The Bank prudently managed its operating costs to limit the increase to 16% year-on-year, resulting in the Bank’s Cost to Income ratio improving from 82.8% in 2021 to 55.4% in 2022. Consequently, the Bank reported an operating profit before taxes on financial services of LKR 448Mn.
The Bank maintained healthy capital and liquid asset ratios during the year, reporting a Total Capital Ratio of 22.85% and Liquid Asset Ratio – Domestic Banking Unit of 26.70% as at 31st December 2022.
Senarath Bandara, Managing Director/CEO of Cargills Bank commenting on the performance of the Bank stated, “Cargills Bank navigated the uncertain economic climate of 2022 with resilience and pragmatism.
The Bank adopted an agile approach in response to the challenges to seek growth and stability in spite of external pressure. Our approach has borne fruit with the Bank achieving profitability within the year under review, while also pursuing our long-term growth aspirations to create sustainable value for all stakeholders.”
The Bank continued to expand its network, opening two new branches in Negombo and Anuradhapura, and complemented branch expansion by opening eight new MINI service locations in Cargills Food City outlets. Furthermore, in line with its objectives to promote financial inclusion and financial deepening, the Bank launched a mobile branch vehicle to serve underbanked customers in the Central, North Central and Northern provinces.
Market ends down as investors await financial results
By Hiran H. Senewiratne
Trading at the CSE started off with a positive note yesterday and in the middle of the session, the market dipped due to profit takings. Subsequently, at the later part of the day it showed slightly recovery. However, the market performed in a negative manner in mid-day trade on shares which were down on the financial year coming to an end, an analyst said.
“The market is down as financial years come to an end and investors await reports to be produced,” another analyst said. It is said that profit taking had been witnessed in Sri Lanka Telecom as the Cabinet of Ministers has granted approval in principle for the divestment of the stakes held by the Treasury Secretary.
It is said that buying interest for Lanka IOC as global oil prices have come down, pushing the interest for the index up. While selling pressures have decreased on banks and stability is coming back as the share price has gone down, which has pitched in buying interest for the index, they said.
Amid those developments both indices moved downward. All Share Price Index down by 43.9 points and S and P SL20 down by 2.95 points. Turnover stood at Rs 912 million without reporting a single crossing. In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover Lanka IOC Rs 124.3 million (716,000 shares traded), Sampath Bank Rs 71.8 million (1.3 million shares traded), NTB Rs 62.1 million (one million shares traded), SLT Rs 57.2 million (596,000 shares traded), Dialog Rs 51.1 million (4.9 million shares traded), NTB Rs 43 million (998,000 shares traded), and Melstacorp Rs 40.9 million (438,000 shares traded). During the day 45.7 million share volume changed hands in 12000 transactions.
In the meantime treasury bond yields were steady and the rupee opened stronger in the spot market on Thursday, dealers said. A 01.07.2025 bond was quoted at 31.25/75 percent on Thursday, steady from 31.25/30 percent on Wednesday.
A 15.09.2027 bond was quoted at 28.30/29.00 percent, steady from 28.25/29.00 percent on Wednesday. Sri Lanka rupee opened at 327/328.50 rupees against the US dollar strengthened, from 328.50/329.50 rupees from a day earlier.
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