State should rescue the toiling farmer from the feudal time subsistence farming to large scale co-operative farming for better productivity.
In Sri Lanka, today there is a lot of publicity on constitutional reforms, sharing power and reconciliation efforts and much more. But there is a bigger problem the mismanagement of human resources going unnoticed that has been hindering the productivity drive in the country for many decades. The country has for generations been producing agricultural products and exporting plantation crops to earn foreign exchange. Instead of building on this base, the farmers receive subsidy to pursue the feudal times traditional subsistence farming. Then there existed different forms of labour that secured the basic necessities of life, with the arrival of colonial rulers there was a large mobilization of labour to engage in clearing forests for plantation agriculture, infrastructure development, and mining to provide all forms of services to the colonial masters. During this period, the country witnessed the arrival of a large number of hard labour force from India, who were brought to form the bulk of estate work force in the hill country. This century old work arrangement resulted in thousands of these estate workers being exploited and underpaid. Today, they are the most under privileged community in the country. This category was increased with the three decades of civil war that ended in May 2009 by the addition of more people living in other parts of the country particularly in North and East Provinces.
Many labour utilization programme undertaken over the years, have caused a decline in local food production in spite of farmers receiving subsidies from the state. This is because state had not planned the agricultural sector to develop the workforce with any labour saving techniques. Instead it had continued the old feudal/colonial way of life by extracting labour for minimum wage and the manual work force have moved away from agriculture and the production has suffered. The state policy of colonization did no better, where by distributing small holdings to landless people; it caused more negative effects than positive developments.
Today production of paddy, vegetables and fruits is left with farmers with small holdings doing subsistence farming that does not produce quality surplus for sale. What is even more disheartening is the lack of agricultural planning by the state on what to produce where and when produces surplus of some agricultural product that goes waste, while other products in short supply are imported to meet consumer demand. Also due to absence of proper post-harvest handling there is a high wastage of products, refer to Northern Breeze posting on 28 February 2016. Lot of effort is needed by the state at provincial level to organize the agricultural section to improve productivity, than providing subsidiaries for unplanned production.
The latest misuse of human resources is the retention of large military personnel under the pretext of securing the sovereignty of the country. With the end of war in 2009, excess armed personnel should have been demobilized and trained them for other tasks, keeping minimum necessary to secure the country in peace time. Instead today, the oversized armed forces are underutilized and misused by the state. For many years women workers have been allowed particularly to work in the Middle East countries as house maids. The disruption to family life as the result of this venture was never quantified, but many women workers were badly treated in these countries with many ending their life. A large section of the productive sector of the population has left the country due to the civil war the cost of which was never evaluated, causing a large brain drain as highlighted in Northern Breeze on 19 February 2016.
In rural areas imported milk powder is available in local shops finds consumers, while fresh milk produced in excess has no consumer. The co-operative collecting centers in rural areas are unable to store all the milk brought to the center, resulting in waste of surplus. Similar problem was faced last year during harvest by paddy producers when there was insufficient place to store the paddy. This and many other problems are faced by the farmers due to lack of proper planning by the state for agriculture. There is also an activity that goes unchecked is the production of tobacco that is using very fertile land, where with proper planning alternate crop could be introduced with a subsidy if needed for a period of transition without loss to the farmer.
To add to all these ills the country has become a consumer society that is heavily dependent on imports. Local produce are not popularized by the state and marketing is done for the imported goods by the importers so much there is no promotion to market local produce. Today, of the average monthly earning estimated at around Rs. 18,000/- per family a high percentage goes to meet the cost of feeding the family.
During the feudal times rice was the staple diet, but today wheat flour products like ‘roti’ bread, buns and other associated bakery products are widely used. Tea is slowly getting pushed out by imported coffee, for there are many five star hotels in the country that are unable to serve a good cup of tea, instead serve good coffee. Many pulses, potatoes, milk, sugar, salt and many other food items are imported. These trends will continue, unless state takes appropriate actions to plan agriculture production in the country.
The state must introduce a planned agriculture for the whole country with all the post-harvest handling facilities to reduce waste in such a way, to encourage large scale farming of paddy, pulses, potatoes, vegetables and fruits as appropriate in every province to obtain surplus production to enable exporting the same. At the same time increase the production of other foods items such as milk, salt and sugar substitutes beyond subsistence level. Any subsidy given to such planned agriculture production will be beneficial to the country in many ways and reduce the import cost of food items.