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Sunday, 17 January 2010





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Mahinda Chinthana ensures brighter future for agriculture

Director of Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute
Prof. Ranjith Premalal De Silva

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer, an eminent scientist Prof. Ranjith Premalal de Silva, Professor of Agricultural Engineering of the University of Peradeniya comments on the agriculture development proposals and policy implications presented in Mahinda Chinthana 2010.

Q: As an eminent academic, specialized in agricultural sciences, how would you evaluate the progress of the Mahinda Chinthana proposals set out in 2005?

A: The Mahinda Chinthana proposals of 2005 were aimed at reviving the agricultural sector which had not been given its due place in the Sri Lankan economy. Prior to 2005, there was a myth that agriculture was no longer profitable in Sri Lanka and therefore, subsistence farming could never be transformed to generate marketable surplus. Moreover, the World Bank and other global and regional donors advised us to engage in cash crop farming replacing paddy cultivation. The entire agriculture economy was totally destroyed making the self sufficiency of food a dream in the past.

Thus, it is time to look into the proposals presented in Mahinda Chinthana - 2005 and the subsequent implementation strategies implemented during the last four years to achieve the expectations of the people.

The agriculture related policy proposals outlined in Mahinda Chinthana 2005 was aimed at overall advancement of the rural agrarian economy mainly through promoting subsistence farming. Today, we witness the progress made by the policies resulting in the increase in income from paddy three times of the increase in the cost of production, thus making paddy farming profitable. This has led to the cultivation of abandoned paddy lands both in the wet zone and dry zone and also under rain-fed and irrigated conditions due to the increased profitability status of paddy and also due to the provision of inputs at a subsidized rate (fertilizer at Rs. 350/kg). Further, agriculture machinery were also exempted from heavy taxes and profitability enhancement led to push the farmers beyond the subsistence threshold towards producing a marketable surplus. Due to the guaranteed price of paddy, farmers were ensured a reasonable income and overall living standards of the rural peasantry improved dramatically due to the implementation of these policies.

Regarding the need for a state control in the production and marketing sectors, Mahinda Chinthana - 2005 ensured the protection of both producer and consumer. As promised the CWE was liberated from private sector control, re-established and strengthened under the control of the government. Several economic centres were established to reduce market margin of the middlemen thus improving profitability of agricultural production.

In reviewing Mahinda Chinthana - 2005, it was highlighted that there is a conflict of interest in promoting organic fertilizer, while providing chemical fertilizer at a highly subsidized rate. However, the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services managed these two components ensuring the benefits of the subsidy while achieving the environmental targets through the promotion of organic fertilizers. The government has spent 26 billion rupees for the fertilizer subsidy in 2008 which is more than an increase of 476% compared to the 4511 million rupees spent in 2005.

Q: What are the salient features of the renewed policy of Mahinda Chinthana compared with the original policy framework forwarded in 2005 ?

A: In Mahinda Chinthana 2010: Vision for the Future, it has been proposed to provide the subsidized fertilizer in open markets to avoid corruption. However, this should only be a temporary measure since it could lead to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers. The option for the government would be to provide an incentive based on production thus encouraging farmers to improve production using minimum chemical fertilizer and other inputs.

The proposals in the vision of the Mahinda Chinthana - 2010 for regulating the use of chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals by strengthening the existing legislation clearly show that a bright future is expected to be built on an environmentally friendly platform.

Tilling for cultivation

Land reform proposals included in Mahinda Chinthana - 2005 were very comprehensive and considered the overall agricultural policy of the country. Moragahakanda - Kalu Ganga Development Project ensured the addition of another 5,000 hectares for agriculture production. Special emphasis has been made to provide a sustainable solution for the tenant and landless farmer communities who make a significant contribution to the agricultural economy of the country. The concept of giving land ownership to each and every farmer would definitely receive a huge welcome from the landless farming communities. It is also a noteworthy fact that in spite of a donor driven pressure for water marketing for agriculture, Mahinda Chinthana ensured the continuous free supply of irrigation water to the farmers through the development projects while the scale of these projects is considered a rebirth of hydraulic civilization. State patronage for micro-irrigation could be considered as an another progressive step and its focus has been further expanded through drip irrigation in view of the ever increasing need for water conservation and drainage improvements.

Policy on a minimum guaranteed price for agricultural commodities would continue under the Mahinda Chinthana - 2010. However, the proposed programme for a comprehensive ICT platform for market information would lead to a more transparent marketing network with provisions for forward trade agreements, market stock management with minimum transport distances, demand driven production planning, etc.

Further, farmer empowerment approaches are detailed in Mahinda Chinthana 2010 include farmer cooperative system, agricultural banking system and provision for improving domestic storage facilities to continue supply during off season, crop diversifying through the use of modern agricultural technologies, improvement to the quality standard of agricultural products.

Q: How does the new vision for the future ensures food security?

A: Mahinda Chinthana 2005 highlighted the need for a buffer stock of rice. We have been experiencing rice scarcity in the market during the last few weeks and have realized the value of maintaining a buffer stock for ensuring food security of the nation. However, the Paddy Marketing Board should be further strengthened by providing the necessary funds for rehabilitating the storage infrastructure.

There is a marked improvement in fruit and vegetable production due to the home gardening programme conducted during the last four years. Further, availability of fruits and vegetables in the market show a significant improvement due to the technology introduced to reduce post-harvest losses.

Use of safe containers for fruit and vegetable transport has been very popular. In Mahinda Chinthana 2010 several new aspects have been considered to improve the status of fruit and vegetable cultivation and consumption in Sri Lanka.

Value added perishables going through processing at industrial establishments located in Welimada and Nuwara Eliya would undoubtedly open up areas for export niche markets and earn foreign exchange.

The proposals implemented through Mahinda Chinthana 2005 in the livestock sector have a limited scope and a relatively narrow perspectives. We highlighted the need to revitalize the livestock sector in reviewing the Mahinda Chinthana - 2005.

'Mahinda Chintana' 2010 has placed a revolution in milk production by including it as a priority in its agenda. It is commendable that Mahinda Chinthana 2010 proposes programmes for change of attitude of people in consuming locally produced fresh milk. The success of the fresh milk programme for children in low income families achieved during last three years would undoubtedly contribute towards a healthy nation while promoting local fresh milk production. Technology support to the livestock sector is another progressive step proposed in Mahinda Chinthana 2010.

Q: How would you assess the proposals for a knowledge society in agriculture in Mahinda Chinthana 2010?

A: Agricultural education and extension in the country had been purposefully neglected until 2005 and in Mahinda Chinthana 2005 the role of education in the agriculture sector was emphasized.

ICT for agriculture information management and exchange of agri-information are seen as innovative approaches to develop agricultural education in the country. Further, the agriculture extension service, which was crippled by the previous regimes, is proposed to be re-established recognizing this as a responsibility of the government. It is a clear indicator of the policy trend contributing towards food security of the nation through the strengthening of the agriculture based economy.

A special consideration has been placed on seed production and supply through state control. The lack of quality seed for cultivation has been a lingering problem and no previous governments have taken sufficient steps to promote quality local seed production.

In Mahinda Chinthana 2010, a comprehensive set of proposals has been outlined to revitalize the plantation sector. This includes action plans not only for major export crops but also for other export agricultural crops such as Cinnamon, Coffee, Pepper and other condiments.

Finally, it should be emphasized that the agricultural policy reforms and action plans detailed in Mahinda Chinthana 2005 have been successfully implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services.

The vision embedded in the Mahinda Chinthana 2010 proposals will take a quantum leap in the sustainable development of the agriculture sector ensuring a brighter future for Sri Lanka.

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