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DateLine Sunday, 23 March 2008

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Paddy farmers in dire straits

Paddy farmers in all parts of the country are in dire straits as heavy rains during the past three weeks have destroyed their harvest.

According to estimates 5-6% of the Maha season harvest has been lost and the price of paddy has dropped to Rs. 17 per kg.

Farmers in Deulapellessa, Rotawewe, Girandurukotte, Dehiattakandiya, Ginnoruwa and Dambarawa in Mahaweli System C face a severe problem as their entire harvest has been destroyed by rains. Farmers said that nobody purchases paddy and they are unable to dry the wet paddy due to the prevailing weather and no one purchases the paddy because it is wet.

Prior to the rains the open market price of paddy went up to Rs. 30/kg. In Ampara, private traders purchased Nadu paddy at Rs. 25/kg while red rice in the Hambantota district fetched Rs. 30/kg higher than what the government purchasing outlets paid.

However, the situation changed after the rains and the price dropped to Rs. 17/kg. Market sources said that the price will improve after the weather conditions change. The market has set a reasonable price for paddy this year. Before the rain, private traders purchased paddy competitively and the government purchasing centres did not receive any stock as the open market price is well above the government prices.

Chairman of the All Ceylon Farmers' Federation S.K. Subasinghe said that the biggest issue faced by the farmers is the low price in the market. The problem is harvesting while maintaining the quality of the rice. The wet paddy too could be sold for animal feed.

However, today the large mill owners exploit the situation and purchase paddy at a lower price.

He said that the price of paddy has dropped below the cost of production. Today, the production cost of paddy is Rs. 19/kg and farmers need at least Rs. 30/kg. Large mill owners are exploiting the situation since they have driers and storage facilities.

They can grind the paddy and keep it for long periods. Recently they warned that the paddy price would go up to Rs. 100/kg due to the rain and crop loss. They are planning to sell the produce at Rs. 100/kg although they purchased it at Rs.17.

1.6 kg of paddy is needed to produce one kg of rice. Therefore if the price of rice goes up to Rs. 100, farmers should receive Rs. 50/kg for their paddy, Subasinghe said.

He said the government should assist the farmers affected to overcome the crisis. They are in financial difficulties and cannot even meet the labour costs incurred in harvesting. The Agro insurance scheme is not functioning due to the negligence of the relevant authorities and farmers are helpless.

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