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SL’s agriculture sector has nose-dived over the past three decades – SJB MP

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Due to mismanagement of successive governments

by Saman Indrajith

The country’s agriculture sector has declined over the past three decades due to mismanagement of successive governments, a SJB parliamentarian said.

Participating in the committee stage debate on Budget 2021 on Thursday, SJB Kurunegala District MP Ashok Abeysinghe said that there had been eight ministers of agriculture since 1994 with various concepts that had been worded nicely but none of them was able to prevent the country’s agriculture sector’s march towards total collapse.

He said: “In 1994, the agriculture sector’s contribution to the GDP was 12 percent. The main income of the country was from tea, coconut and rubber. Today the GDP contribution is at 7 percent with a minus 5.6 growth rate. With such figures what sort of future could one expect from the country’s agriculture sector?

“There are 12,000 hectares cultivated for paddy and around three to five million metric tons of paddy produced in Yala and Maha seasons. Ten percent of the total number of families numbering around 5.4 million in the country is connected to paddy cultivation. When the harvest is good, we get around 5 million tons of paddy. We hope this season too we’ll get around five million metric tons of paddy harvest.

“After five million tons of paddy are milled, we get around 3 million metric tons of rice. The country’s consumption is around 2.6 to 2.7 million metric tons of rice. So we have a surplus of rice when the harvest is good. Why cannot the rice prices be brought down so that consumption would increase? In this country, daily consumption of 450 gram loaves of bread is 3.5 million. If the rice prices are brought down, then people will consume more rice instead of bread.

“The government keeps printing gazettes indicating controlled prices for rice, but there is no rice at those prices in the market. Under this government five such gazettes have been printed”.

MP Abeysinghe said that till the issues pertaining to mismanagement are addressed, the concepts and projects implemented for the development of agriculture would remain mere beautiful words.

“In 1994 under Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government, Agriculture Minister DM Jayaratne worked under the theme ‘Waga Lanka Waga Sangramaya’. Thereafter, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, as the minister of agriculture, launched a 10,000 tanks project. His successor SB Dissanayake introduced the ‘Paladaaithvaya Diyunu Karamu’ (Let’s improve efficiency) project. Thereafter, Mathripala Sirisena became the agriculture minister and launched ‘Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu’ (Let’s grow and build the nation) project.

His successor Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena continued on the same lines of his predecessor’s theme. Duminda Dissanayake as the minister of agriculture launched the ‘Jathika Nishpadana Sangramaya’ (National Production Campaign) project. Mahinda Amaraweera worked under the theme ‘Api Wavalai Api Kanne’ (We eat only what we grow) national project. Now the incumbent Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is working under the theme ‘Batha Bulathin Saru Ratak’ (Country full of rice and betel). Now after all those projects what we got? We have today a seven percent GDP contribution from agriculture with a minus 5.6 growth rate, the MP noted.

“Today, we have 200,000 hectares under tea cultivation that produces 300 million kilos annually. Rubber is cultivated on 150,000 hectares and production is around 75 to 80 million kilos while coconut is cultivated in 500,000 hectares producing 2,000 to 3,000 million nuts. Our liquid milk production is at 400-450 million liters”, he added.

He further said: “These indicators will turn better if the government genuinely attempts to develop the agriculture sector under proper management. In this budget for the next year, only Rs 4,500,000 allocated to develop the poultry industry which currently produces around 12 million eggs per year. This is not a practical allocation. When the President took oaths at Anuradhapura, free fertilizer was promised to all farmers but the budget proposals say that only the paddy farmers would get it free while other farmers will have to pay Rs 1,500 per a sack of fertilizer”.

“The farmers have a problem with seeds. They have crop destruction problems from floods, drought and wild animals. Those who lose their crop cannot survive such a season without borrowing. The agrarian insurance scheme has numerous problems with around one fourth of farmers being excluded from it,” MP Abeysinghe said.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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