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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.

The Remedies

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.

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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 –

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COVID-19 and the Sri Lankan economy: Policy choices and trade-offs



By Chathurrdhika Yogarajah

Sri Lanka’s macro-economic outlook amidst the COVID-19 pandemic came under the spotlight at a webinar panel discussion held on October 11, to mark the release of IPS’ flagship report, ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’. The event featured presentations by Dr Dushni Weerakoon and Dr Asanka Wijesinghe from IPS with expert insights from Dr Missaka Warusawitharana, Financial Economist, Johns Hopkins University, USA. Tharindu Udayanga from IPS moderated the discussion.

Prospects and Possibilities Dr Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director, IPS

A V-shaped recovery is likely to take shape, but Sri Lanka faces a relatively weak output growth. A critical challenge is to lift the growth rate to, at least, 5-6% and maintain that momentum in the medium term. How investments perform will be a crucial determinant, as the dip in investment was a major driver of output contraction in 2020. With little fiscal space, Sri Lanka relied mostly on monetary policy. There was a surge in direct financing of fiscal spending, and there were efforts to ensure that borrowing costs were kept low via yield-control measures.

Sri Lanka is not so fortunately placed when considering the risks related to large-scale debt monetisation programmes due to high debt levels, elevated exposure to foreign debt with repayments of sizeable amounts in the medium term, and the low reserve stockpiles. With such weak fundamentals, the backbone of debt monetisation programmes is policy credibility. But for the last 18 months, there has been no notable effort to curtail discretionary spending and anchor fiscal plans. Thus, Sri Lanka is reluctant to deal with IMF conditionalities.

Policy measures must address fiscal imbalances through cuts in national spending or raising national income. As the latter takes time, the governments tend to focus on a policy mix to cut national spending that includes tighter budgets allowing interest rates to move with market fundamentals and implementing more flexible exchange rates. The downside is that the growth suffers in the short term with worsening debt ratios. These are politically difficult choices when economic conditions are tight as they are now.

Sri Lanka must firm up its access to foreign capital markets to balance the risks. If Sri Lanka comes to an adjustment on the fiscal front and improves access to capital markets, this will free up the space for a more orderly macroeconomic adjustment. Though the exchange rate may initially overshoot, it can be stabilised over time. This will allow the Central Bank to reverse its debt monetisation and focus on price stability, as that will be an area of concern in the coming months. A policy framework along these lines will provide a more robust environment to support investment and sustain Sri Lanka’s recovery.

Opportunities and Costs Dr Asanka Wijesinghe, Research Economist, IPS

During the pre-pandemic period, there was stabilisation in the rate of globalisation, but Sri Lanka’s openness has continuously declined especially after 2005 due to GDP growth in nontradeable sectors. However, Bangladesh, India, and South Asia, in general, show an increasing trend of openness. COVID-19 led to a deep plunge in the world’s industrial production and trade in 2019. But even after this collapse, it recovered by the beginning of 2021. There is no evidence to show deglobalisation effects due to the pandemic.

When the world trade outlook is taken into consideration, the WTO predicts a pickup in global trade volumes for the year 2022. An IMF database that uses signals emitted by sea vessels also showed an uptick in world trade from the beginning of 2021. Sri Lanka should ready itself to take advantage of trade diversion and investments opportunities the tariffs imposed on China’s textiles by the US, for instance. At present, its global value chain (GVC) participation is low and in fact declined from 2009 to 2019. In contrast countries like Bangladesh, Viet Nam, India and Pakistan showed an increasing trend. He pointed out that the US-China trade war presents opportunities for Sri Lanka to increase both forward and backward GVC participation.

A key challenge is the costly policy of import substitution, resulting in resource misallocation, reduced competitiveness, and possible retaliation from trade partners. Another challenge for Sri Lanka is the potential withdrawal of GSP+ which will be a hard hit on the seafood and textile industries. Sri Lanka should work to secure GSP+, disengage from the ‘anti-trade’ bias, integrate with GVCs, and restructure existing regional trade agreements.

Roads to Recovery

Dr Missaka Warusawitharana, Financial Economist, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Sri Lanka’s growth trajectory has not been in line with its true potential, adversely impacting the well-being of the people. This can be attributed to the low level of productivity growth. Although the manufacturing sector has contributed to growth, it has not demonstrated sufficient productivity that would enable the country to achieve a better output.

Further, the current fiscal difficulties can be pinned to structural imbalances in the country’s budgets that have spanned decades along with different administrations that have been unwilling to make hard choices. In the longer term, budgets must be structured to bring the debt down to a manageable level.

The world economy is moving away from physical goods to a digital-based economy, requiring greater provision of services. Sri Lanka scores well on the Human Development Index with its knowledgeable workforce. The need is to increase productivity by investing more in education and service-producing industries and improve the business environment by reducing institutional barriers.

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Chathurrdhika Yogarajah is a Research Assistant at IPS with research interests in macroeconomics and trade policy. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Technology and Management, specialised in Applied Economics and Business Management from the University of Peradeniya with First Class Honours. She is currently reading for her Master’s in Agricultural Economics at the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, Peradeniya. (Talk with Chathurrdhika:

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SLIM launches ‘Future-Ready Sri Lanka’ national initiative to inspire and motivate the nation



This initiative is brought together under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office in partnership with the Ministry of Youth & Sports

SLIM – Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing, is the national body for marketing in Sri Lanka with a mission to establish marketing as the driving force which enhances the business and national value. As the country ends its lockdown and progresses well with its vaccination programs, SLIM under the auspices of the Prime Minster’s Office and in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports is launching the National Initiative – Future Ready Sri Lanka, aiming to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, skills, and knowledge-based industries and a society, which they believe are essential as we embrace this new normal and prepare for the economic recovery.

Future Ready Sri Lanka is not merely a campaign, it’s a national call with a sense of emergency to encourage Sri Lankans to adapt to this new normalcy, challenge dependent and risk-averse mentality and enforce an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset with the right skills and knowledge to drive Sri Lanka towards economic recovery and prosperity.

Thilanka Abeywardena, President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing stated “As the second phase of Re-start Sri Lanka, we are launching the National Initiative – Future Ready Sri Lanka to inspire the nation to embrace the new normalcy and to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and upskilling & education and focus on building a knowledge-based nation. In essence, a knowledge-based economy will have four key areas which need our focus and attention; education and training to create skilled and knowledgeable human capital, information infrastructure to facilitate knowledge driven society and industries, economic incentive and institutional regime with right policies to empower and encourage and, a system for innovation that connects right stakeholders and institutes encouraging innovation in the country. . I wish to extend our gratitude to the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Youth & Sports in providing the state endorsement and direction in launching this national initiative. Our vision as the national body for marketing is “To Lead the Nation’s Efforts Towards Economic Prosperity” and we have been doing our part to the best of our ability over the past 50 years by inspiring and motivating our nation through the profession of marketing and this is yet another in line with this vision

‘The pandemic dramatically changed countries, organizations, and individuals, and while the process of adaptation and change has been painful, they have all acquired new knowledge, new skills and grown new behaviors. Therefore, it’s time to settle down with the hard truth that this new normal life is here to stay and that we cannot continue to work the same way we used to and it’s time that we embrace the present and prepare for the future.’

This cannot be accomplished in isolation, they require all hands on deck and public-private sector partnerships. Policy makers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, women, youth, innovators, educators, trainers, SME’s and basically every single Sri Lankan is required to take the ownership.

Commenting about the Future-Ready Sri Lanka initiative, Minister of Youth & Sports, Namal Rajapaksa stated, “Sri Lanka has achieved great success with vaccination drives and is preparing to embrace new normalcy and accelerate plans to strengthen our economy. As we prepare for post-pandemic economic recovery, it is crucial to understand that we operate in an ever-evolving world that is transforming at a rapid pace and our strategies to navigate through this new landscape need to be with right skills and knowledge. I wish to thank the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing for coming forward at a time like this to emphasize the importance of creating knowledge-based industries and society at large. I hope this initiative brings positivity, motivation, and encouragement to all Sri Lankans. We are a resilient nation and I am certain we will bounce back fast.”

As Sri Lanka is fast adapting and embracing the new normal, SLIM believes that this is the ideal time to provide a common purpose and motivation to businesses and individuals alike to contribute to the post-pandemic economic recovery with a positive spirit. Therefore, creating a knowledge-driven economy through knowledge-based industries and a society is essential. SLIM invites all businesses, leaders, SMEs, entrepreneurs, innovators, educators, marketers and all citizens to join hands in creating a Future-Ready Sri Lanka”

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CSE records Rs. 3.4 billion turnover as investor sentiment rises



By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The CSE yesterday snapped a four-day losing streak as investor sentiment bounced back slightly after the Central Bank kept policy rates unchanged. Trading activities were positive at the beginning of the day and by mid- session the market witnessed selling pressure and later began to recover, stock market analysts said.

The bourse jumped back to the green zone from Wednesday’s massive downfall while recording a two-and-a-half-week high gain as CBSL announced policy rates to be maintained at the current level, analysts added.

Amid those developments the market recorded a healthy turnover level. Both indices moved upwards. All Share Price Index went up by 2.16 points and S and P SL20 rose by 2.07 points. Turnover stood at Rs 3.4 billion with ten crossings. Those crossings were reported in Sampath Bank where 5.4 million shares crossed for Rs. 299.7 million, its shares traded at Rs 54.50, Vallibel One 3.2 million shares crossed for Rs 189 million, its shares traded at Rs 60, Kotagala Plantations 25 million shares crossed for Rs 160 million, its shares traded at Rs 6.40, Royal Ceramic three million shares crossed for Rs 141 million, its shares traded at Rs. 47 and ACL Cables 1.9 million shares crossed for Rs 85.5 million and its shares traded at Rs 45. Meanwhile, JKH 500,000 shares crossed for Rs 44.7 million, its shares traded at Rs 149, TJ Lanka one million shares crossed for Rs 43 million its shares fetching Rs 43, Laugfs Gas one million shares crossed for Rs 27 million, its share being traded at Rs 27, Lanka IOC one million shares crossed for Rs 27 million, its shares traded at Rs 27 and Dialog 1.9 million share volumes changed hands for Rs 21.3 million and its shares traded at Rs 11.25.

In the retail market, five companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Holdings Rs 317 million (1.6 million shares traded), ACL Cables Rs 283 million (5.7 million shares traded), Royal Ceramic Rs 272 million (5.6 million shares traded), LOLC Holdings Rs 157 million (257,000 shares traded) and Browns Investments Rs 155 million (14.8 million shares traded). During the day 142.8 million share volumes changed hands in 24000 transactions.

Yesterday, the Sri Lanka rupee was quoted at Rs 201.25 to a US dollar. This was the Central Bank ‘s controlled price, which cannot exceed the Rs 202 level to prevent escalations of prices in essential goods. However, the real price of a dollar would be more than that, market sources said.

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