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by Camelia Nathaniel
Having gone through many hardships during the previous regime the farmers were hopeful of a better future when they supported President Maithripala Sirisena, whom they identified as a leader hailing from the farming community. However farmers today are disgruntled with the lack of commitment to their issues by the government and charge that they have been let down by the government.
In protest of the step motherly treatment they are being dished out by the current government, the farmers are planning a series of protests and according to the JVP affiliated All Ceylon Farmers’ Federation, the farmers are planning to march to Colombo in their traditional farming attire – the loin cloth – next week if their grievances are not addressed.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader regarding the plight of the farmers, the National Organiser of the All Ceylon Farmers’ Federation (JVP) Namal Karunaratne said the government has reduced the price of paddy and are planning on stopping the fertiliser subsidy. Hence the farmers are all planning on a massive protest campaign island wide in protest of these measures taken by the government. He said that the farmers had already commenced agitations in Dambulla, Embilipitiya, Anuradhapura and upto Ambalantota. “We have already conducted Satyagraha in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa along with farmers and Buddhist monks to express our opinion over the budget proposals. We expect to hold another protest within the next two weeks in Colombo with a large gathering of farmers, protesting in their traditional farming attire the loin cloth and farming equipment” he said. According to Karunaratne, the protesting farmers had reached Ambalantota on Wednesday and had commenced a sathyagraha there. On Thursday the protestors marched from Amparai, Mahiyanganaya towns and staged Sathyagraha protests. On the 11th we commenced the protests in Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, Kanthale, Kurunegala, and Galgamuwa. In all these places Sathyagraha were organised through the night and day. Before the Sathyagraha, protests and demonstrations were organised in all the areas.
‘After that we will see what the government’s reaction is to our issues and we will continue these agitations and protests throughout the country. However if the government still fails to pay attention to the grievances and concerns of the farming community, despite the peaceful protests staged island wide, the farmers will march to Colombo, clad in traditional farming attire along with their tools used in farming , before the 3rd budget reading.
We have challenged the government to produce even one farmer association in the country who is against this protest, if there are any, and bring them before the media. But the government has not accepted this challenge because they cannot find a single organisation that is against our actions as every farmer in this country is against the government’s treatment of farmers. All farmer associations will join us. The government has let down the farmers badly and through is budget too they have not given any of the privileges that were promised to the farmers, but instead what they have done is further reduce the benefits and privileges that were there,” added Karunaratne.
He said that prior to the elections the president had promised many benefits to the farmers as he too hails from the heart of the paddy farming district. The farming community played a huge role in bringing the president to power as they voted for him readily, as he was considered as a man who would understand their issues and help them. However he said that it is sad that in the face of the current plight of the farmers and the ill-treatment of farmers by the current regime, the president is silent. Instead of the president speaking up for the farmers, the Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake is the one who is talking. Karunanayake is very openly talking about doing away with farming and using these farm lands for commercial purposes. He says that importing rice is much cheaper than growing rice locally.
“When we hear this we are reminded of what Ranil Wickremesinghe said some time back that the paddy lands should be filled, and similarly Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said in Kuliyapitiya recently that it was alright to fill the paddy lands in and around Kuliyapitiya. Ravi Karunanayake said that paddy farming should be stopped in the country. From the comments that these ministers are making it is very clear that the government is intent on doing away with farming and wants to import rice. When they keep harassing these paddy farmers so much and keep depriving them of their benefits, then it is inevitable that the farmers will eventually give up farming and resort to some other means of income. In the face of the grave wrong being done to the farmers, President Maithripala Sirisena is silent. We are very saddened that we voted for him and supported him as he was a person from the farming region of the country, but he has turned his back on the farmers and is now allowing others to destroy the farming tradition of this country.”
Karunaratne further stated that the cropping of privileges and facilities for the farmers commenced during the previous regime, and unfortunately, this government too is continuing on the same path. Even the fertiliser subsidy was not something that the government thought of and gave the farmers, he pointed out adding that it was something that the farmers had to fight for and after many protests and fast unto death campaigns, and the farmers were able to win these concessions. “Even the Rajapaksa regime stopped the fertiliser concessions. For example for cultivation per acre of land 134 kg of Urea fertiliser is required, MOP fertiliser (potash) 35 kg, granular fertilizer (Keta pohora) 45 kg per acre. At the start the government gave the entire fertiliser requirement to the farmers for Rs. 350. But in 2010 the Rajapaksa regime reduced it by half and only gave 86 kg of Urea fertiliser, MOP fertiliser 20 kg and granular fertiliser 22 kg. Then they increased the price and made the fertiliser Rs. 500 even though it was halved. The previous regime thus on two occasions reduced the fertiliser subsidy to the farmers and now this unity government is trying to stop it altogether, in a final blow to the farmers,” said Karunaratne.
He said that farmers who have five acres of land would lose Rs. 37,500 per year due to the recent budget proposal taken to curtail the fertiliser subsidy and insisted the allocation is inadequate for current farming needs. Criticising the Government suggestion to give Rs. 25,000 per hectare (two and a half acres) for farmers instead of the traditional fertiliser subsidy, said that amount was insufficient to buy fertilisers for both Yala and Maha seasons. In other words per season farmers receive only Rs. 12,500. This means per acre the farmers will receive only Rs. 5000. When you compare the government fertiliser grant and the current cost of fertiliser, the farmers are at a great loss. The government certified price per sack of Urea today is Rs. 2641.28, MOP 2829.50, and granular fertiliser is sold at Rs.3004.62 per sack. Hence the farmer will need Rs. 11,162.51. However the farmer receives only Rs. 5000 from the government. Accordingly the farmers have to spend over Rs. 6000 per season out of pocket, amounting to over 12,000 per year. According to the earlier system, the farmer had to spend only around Rs. 3000 extra for the whole year.
“Just like everything else the price of fertiliser will also keep increasing and this will put the farmer further into trouble and deeper into debt, said Karunaratne. He further pointed out that farmers would have to pay thousands of rupees more to buy paddy seeds because of the Government’s “secret agenda” to give ownership of seed farms to the private sector.
“Even today the government seed farms cannot supply the seed paddy to the farmers and they are forced to buy seeds from private companies who charge high prices for them. The recent Budget did not propose effective action to overcome these difficulties but only created even greater woes for the farmers and are trying to completely wipe out the farmers of this country.’ Hence he said farmers impacted by the Budget proposals will take to the streets in protest wearing their traditional loincloths and farming equipment if the government fails to look into their issues and come up with viable solutions.
However when asked about the farmers agitation Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said that so far the farmers associations had not approached the agriculture ministry in order to highlight their grievances with regard to the fertiliser subsidy. The minister assured that this measure is in no way an attempt to discourage farming in the country and said that it is not going to cause any injustice to the farmer. According to minister Dissanayake, the new allowance will be based on the productivity of the farmers and this in turn will compel them to work even harder in order to achieve the required targets. It will therefore have a positive effect on the agricultural productivity of the country and boost production. He also added that this would also encourage farmers to resort to using of organic and compost fertilisers instead of the harmful chemical fertilisers that are being used at present,that is also the cause of kidney related diseases. The minister also assured that his ministry is working with the best interest of the farmers at heart and will continue to serve the farmers to the optimum. He said that the agriculture ministry is ready to discuss their issues and find solutions to their grievances that will be beneficial both to the farmers and the people.