Consider advantages of plastic crates
The Government's decision to
transport fruits and vegetables in plastic crates ran into mischief in
several parts of the country.
Certain Opposition parties which failed to create unrest in the
country, literally went to town and played an active role in the
demonstrations in key areas. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's
timely intervention helped find an amicable solution to overcome an
artificial scarcity of vegetables and fruits during the festive season.
The implementation of the mandatory plastic crates rule has been put
off by a month, following the meeting between the President and traders
at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday. A grace period of one
month has been given to farmers and traders to comply with the new
regulations which would help check waste to a large extent.
The Government's decision to use plastic crates in the transport of
vegetables and fruits was taken about a year ago with the aim of cutting
down waste. This was done in consultation with the vendors and the
Government gave ample time to farmers and transporters to comply with
the new regulations.
The Government had stressed the importance of introducing new plastic
crates six years ago and even drawn up an easy payment scheme for
vendors to buy crates. Plastic crates were sold at concessionary prices
and those unable to purchase them outright were given the option of even
hiring them at a nominal rate.
The Trade Ministry also discussed a mechanism to transport plastic
crates back to their original destinations, in the event the
transporters wished to transport any other goods on their return
journey. The practical difficulties, if any, could be resolved through
negotiation, if the farmers are sincerely interested in increasing
Moreover, the new regulation will not affect people transporting
vegetables to their homes and in three-wheelers and land masters which
transport vegetables or fruits. Only large-scale fruit and vegetable
transporting vehicles will be subjected to the new rule.
The use of plastic crates was introduced by the Government with the
concurrence of vendors to protect consumers who invariably bear the
brunt of waste due to improper packaging and delivery. It is estimated
that up to 40 percent of the produce is wasted due to improper
Needless to say, it's the poor consumer who eventually foots the bill
of the waste as well, apart from the exorbitant prices added by
middlemen. The retail prices of the vegetables and fruits are determined
by adding the 40 percent waste. Even a kindergarten child knows that the
high percentage of the production that goes waste contributes in no
small measure to increase the market price of vegetables and fruits.
The current waste due to improper packaging and delivery is borne by
consumers. The Government's intention in introducing plastic crates for
transportation was chiefly to reduce the 40 percent waste and pass on
that advantage to farmers and consumers. If waste could be reduced to
its barest minimum, the farmers would get a better price for their
Simultaneously, consumers too could purchase fresh vegetables at
cheaper prices. Apart from the direct benefits to farmers and consumers
alike, the use of plastic crates to transport vegetables would result in
a saving of Rs 20 billion annually.
It is most unfortunate that the Opposition is unable to comprehend
this simple logic. It is crystal clear that petty political goals get
the better of them. In this scenario, the high drama unfolded at a time
when the Opposition ran out of slogans and incidents to make its
presence felt. Hence, the eruption was a golden opportunity for certain
The protest staged by a group of vendors at the Dambulla Dedicated
Economic Centre opposing the introduction of plastic crates was
orchestrated by certain groups with vested interests. It seems that some
people engaged in selling sacks to the vegetable trade also had a hand
in the protest campaign at the Meegoda Economic Centre.
Had all those who took part in last week's protests been genuine
farmers, there would have been a surplus of vegetables in the country
and Sri Lanka could have been ranked a leading exporter of fruits and
vegetables. Nevertheless, certain political elements mingled with the
crowds in their numbers and blew it out of proportion.
The use of plastic crates to transport vegetables was to be made
mandatory from January 1, 2011. It was, however, put on hold as the
Government thought it best to give ample time to vendors to adapt
themselves to the change.
The Opposition should be ashamed of itself in attempting to use
farmers as scapegoats to achieve its petty political goals. None could
deny that it was the UPFA Government, under President Rajapaksa, that
granted a massive fertiliser subsidy for farmers. More importantly, only
Sri Lanka has provided such a subsidy over a long period of time.
The subsidy, offered initially for paddy cultivation in 2005, has now
been extended to all crops. Though fertiliser prices have increased
sharply, the Government has not increased the minimum price of
fertiliser. The Government spends around Rs. 50,000 million annually to
provide the fertiliser subsidy.
President Rajapaksa, who cares for the farming community in the
villages, has always maintained an unequivocal stand on the fertiliser
subsidy and continued to grant it even when the Government had to spend
colossal sums of money in its battle against terrorism. This was purely
because the Government considers the fertiliser subsidy and other
assistance to agricultural activities an investment for the future.
Hence, the Opposition should understand that it could never use the
country's precious farming community to pressurise the Government.
Farmers, vendors and transporters, as a group, should give serious
thought before jumping to conclusions. They should weigh the pros and
cons and understand that the 40 percent waste could be overcome by using
plastic crates. There are bound to be issues and practical difficulties
initially, but it should be borne in mind that this decision would be
beneficial to one and all in the long run.
Checking waste would undoubtedly also help Sri Lanka to meet its
future challenges in food security. The Opposition should desist from
attempting to exploit this issue to gain undue political mileage.
Farmers and vendors would certainly change their mindset, if they are
enlightened on the added benefits on the use of plastic crates.