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Sunday, 16 January 2011

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Farmers to earn more:

Army helps consumers to pay less

Soldiers selling vegetables ! To many it sounds strange but the need arose when traders began to sell vegetables at high prices. This compelled the soldiers to step into the business.

Over 25,000 soldiers, who carried weapons to free the country from the scourge of LTTE terrorism have waged a ‘mini battle’ against the errant vegetable traders who increased vegetable prices at exorbitant rates.

It is yet again a humanitarian operation to save the poor consumers and also the farmers. The government which tolerated enough took a decision to take over control of selling vegetables to avoid the black market mafia that sold the vegetables more than the normal selling prices.

The approval came from the Commander-in-Chief President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to launch a project to purchase vegetables to facilitate the consumers.

“ The Sri Lanka Army (SLA), which is now engaged in peace time activities embarked on this project under the instructions of the President last week. It is a success and we hope to expand it islandwide”, the Army Chief Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya said.

It was 10 am on Friday. A large queue was at the small ground of the Colombo Municipality in front of the Gangaramaya Temple.

People of all walks of life gathered to buy vegetables sold at the SLA outlet. The officer in-charge of the outlet said there was a good response from the public and they sold over 600 kilos of over 20 varieties of vegetables daily.

The price list indicated: a kilo of carrot Rs. 70 and beans Rs. 80 a kilo whereas a kilo of carrot was sold for Rs. 140 and beans for Rs.

160 in the open market.

He said there is a good demand for vegetables sold at the outlet and the consumers want the Army to continue the operation till the prices in the open market comes down.

Maduka Shiromi, a young mother who had come to buy vegetables after dropping her daughter at the preschool said all her neighbours now buy from this outlet as they could get very fresh vegetables. “ The prices here are very much less than the prices of the open market.

We are happy with the Government’s decision to ask the Army to take over the selling of vegetables”, she said.

Next in the queue was Maapriya Pieris. He said he buys vegetables sufficient for a week and the wastage is zero as the vegetables were fresh. “ What we have noticed was the vegetable curries were tasty as the vegetables are fresh.

We are lucky that the Army came forward to help us save money. I think the Army should open these outlets all over the country”, he said.

Maapriya Pieris K.D.S Jayatilake

K. D.S Jayatilake who came to buy vegetables on her way home after visiting her relative requested the Army to start the business in their areas too. “ We should thank the Government for launching this project to give the consumers a financial relief. If the Army can continue to sell vegetables until the prices in the open market are stable”, she said.

However, this endeavour by the SLA has been criticized by the Opposition claiming that the Government is trying to militarize the day-to-day activities.

“This is not an effort to militarize but an activity of an Army during peace time”, the SLA military spokesman Maj. Gen. Ubaya Madewala said.According to the Army Spokesman, peace time army has a responsibility to provide military assistance to civil authorities if the Army has the resources and expertise to handle assistance. “ The Army can assist the civil Ministry, the civil police, civil community and also peace keeping missions.

“When the vegetable prices are soaring, the Army decided to commence a project to facilitate the people, who pay the Government to maintain the Army. It is our responsibility to come forward to help the people of the country when they are in distress. We sought the approval from the President, who gave us the final nod to our project”, he said.

He said the main desire of the project was to bring down the prices of vegetables and to give a fair price for the farmers who had been duped by the middlemen. An inquiry done by the Army showed that vegetable prices in the open market was one and half more than the prices of vegetables sold by the farmers.

“We wanted to give a relief for the farmers as some times they don’t get a price to cover the initial cost of the cultivation. In this project there is no middle man and the Army doesn’t add the transport cost to the selling price”, he said.

The SLA vegetable outlets are open from 10 am to 6pm daily in the following locations:

* Maligawatta Housing Scheme,
* Fort Railway Station,
* Campbell Park,
* Hyde Park,
* Muttiah Road,
* Ja-Ela,
* Katunayake,
* Kaduwela,
* Homagama,
* Rajagiriya,
* Borella,
* Torrington Square,
* Ekala and Ratmalana.

Initially the project started with opening outlets in Colombo in 14 locations but as the request from the people to Army to sell vegetables in their areas, was high, the Army decided to expand the service to greater Colombo. Now Army’s vegetable selling points are open in Moratuwa, Homagama, Kaduwela and Katunayake.

Maj. Gen. Medawela said though the public requests were high, the SLA faced a difficulty in expanding the project in other districts as they lack resources like transport facilities.

The vegetables are directly purchased from farmers in vegetable growing areas including Diyathalawe, Kandy, Anuradhapura and Avissawella and sold in locations that are close to different Army camps.

Some of those areas will continue to have permanent outlets while Army mobile service is to sell vegetables at other locations.

According to the SLA Spokesman, farmers are enthusiastically selling their products to the Army except some farmers who are bonded with some businessmen who sponsor them in providing fertilizer and pesticide.

He said the SLA does not want to be a threat to the retailers but want them to maintain a reasonable price for vegetables in the open market.

Maj. Gen. Medawela said as the ‘Army Elawalu pola’ is getting popular among the masses, the SLA is to commence mobile services to facilitate consumers in other districts, soon.

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