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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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