Mahinda Chinthana ensures brighter future for agriculture
Director of Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.