Water and fertilizer to woo farmers - State Minister of Agriculture Wasantha Aluwihare | Sunday Observer

Water and fertilizer to woo farmers - State Minister of Agriculture Wasantha Aluwihare

State Minister of Agriculture Wasantha Aluwihare says, so far no decision has been taken to re-import Glyphosate and it is still under discussion. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the State Minister said, the tea plantation sector has largely suffered due to the decision taken to suspend the import of Glyphosate. The Plantation Industries Minister and all estate superintendents have expressed the view that Glyphosate is essential for tea plantation.

Q: The shortage and high price of fertilizer affected the farmers so badly that they displayed their opposition clearly, during the LG elections. Could you explain?

A: An issue was raised on the prices of fertilizer. The Agriculture Ministry also had a responsibility to implement some program regarding the shortage of fertilizer, but the Ministry failed to do so. As a result, a series of issues cropped up. Of the country’s total population, 60 percent are farmers. Displeasure was expressed on the Government as the fertilizer subsidy was not given to farmers on time.

A proposal has already been submitted to the Cabinet to grant a fertilizer subsidy of Rs.500 to paddy farmers and Rs.1,500 for cultivators of other agricultural crops for a 50 kilogram fertilizer bag.

It was decided to submit a report at the next Cabinet meeting on how this mechanism should be implemented. The Agriculture Ministry Secretary and Commissioner General of Agrarian Services will jointly formulate this mechanism and submit it to the Cabinet.

Q: Fertilizer and water are two vital inputs for agriculture, but the authorities have failed to satisfy farmers’ needs in this regard. Your comments?

A: There had been an issue of supplying fertilizer and water to farmers. Decisions were taken to release water at certain times and the farmers asked to begin their cultivation so that 50 percent of water requirement would be met.

Farmers informed us of a series of problems, especially, in the Kandalama scheme, due to water not being released at the appropriate time. Although the Mahaweli Authority released water for two or three days it did not meet the needs of the farmer. Hence it is necessary that fertilizer and water should be provided to farmers on time. Proposals are not properly implemented at the lowest strata of the bureaucracy.

Q: Failure on the part of the Government to purchase the full paddy produce due to lack of storage facilities is an age old problem. Does the Government have any plans to rectify this?

A: The Budget too had proposed to improve storage facilities during this year. However, the old system of purchasing paddy at Divisional Secretariat level with the existing storage facilities continues. The budget proposal to provide new storage facilities will be implemented within the course of this year.

Q: Either the political authority or the bureaucracy has failed to provide solutions to paddy farmers’ burning problems. Where has it gone wrong?

A: I don’t accept this allegation. It is this Yahapalana Government which offered a guaranteed price for paddy farmers. That guaranteed price was given at the last harvesting season. District Secretaries have taken steps to purchase all the paddy stocks so that it has ensured the farmers a good price for their paddy.

Q: There should be a viable insurance scheme to compensate for Yala-Maha harvest failures. What is the present scheme, has it brought adequate relief to farmers?

A: The Agricultural Insurance Board has taken steps to insure all farmers for this year. All details pertaining to the farmers are made available at the Agrarian Services Centres in the respective areas. Under the program if any damage is caused to the harvest, farmers are benefitted by an insurance coverage up to Rs.40,000.

Q: What is the difficulty in restoring the fertilizer subsidy, and cutting down on wasteful Government expenses?

A: In this regard, a new proposal has already been submitted to the Cabinet and a full report will be furnished at the next Cabinet meeting so that the President and the Cabinet will take a final decision.

Q: Could the Moragahakanda combined with the Mahaweli project ensure a regular supply of water to the entire dry zone to make the country self sufficient in rice?

A: The Moragahakanda project has paved the way for 130,000 farmer families to cultivate 90,000 new hectares of lands.

It would supply water to farmers in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and the North Western Province. It would also provide drinking water to the Trincomalee district. This project has been planned to supply water to the North.

Q: Do other agricultural crops bring adequate revenue to the country?

A: Under the Government’s National Food Production drive, Kurakkan is being cultivated in Weragala, in the Matale district. We have made arrangements to purchase 10,000 kgs of seeds from farmers. Our desired target is 15,000 kgs. We have already reached the target of 10,000 kgs and would be able to reach the set target within the next few years.

Likewise, the National Food Production drive will be extended to other agricultural crops as well.

Q: What is the Agriculture Ministry’s stand on the proposed re-import of Glyphosate? Will it be confined to the tea plantation?

A: Glyphosate is largely required for tea plantations. As Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake told Parliament, earlier too Glyphosate had been imported to Sri Lanka for tea plantations. The tea plantation sector has incurred a huge loss due to the decision to suspend the import of Glyphosate. UNP Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thera in Parliament on March 21 expressed opposition to import Glyphosate. The Plantation Minister and all estate superintendents are of the view that Glyphosate is essential for tea plantations. The use of Glyphosate has been largely restricted to other crops. We encourage farmers to use other organic fertilizer. But so far, no decision has been taken to re-import Glyphosate and it is still under discussion.

Q: What is the Government doing to promote organic fertilizer and organic farming instead of chemical fertilizer?

A: There are 555 Agrarian Service centres countrywide. Agriculture Research Officers have been appointed for each centre to encourage farmers to use organic fertilizer. This program is now in progress.

Q: There is a lot of wastage in all crops in post harvest and transport stages. Do you have any plans to address this issue?

A: At present, post harvest loss is about 30 percent. To minimize losses, instructions have been given to provide plastic containers to farmers, and educate farmer organizations on this. The project has since been finalized and now we are discussing the estimated cost of the project for Treasury approval.

Q: What is the UNP’s view with regard to the proposed No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the Prime Minister? Will any UNP member support the motion?

A: I think no UNP MP will support this motion. Actually, the Prime Minister is in the midst of a series of development programs for the country. Except for a few SLFP Ministers in the Government, others will definitely defeat this NCM. The Joint Opposition is not in a position whatsoever to win this NCM and no UNP MP would support it irrespective of media speculations. The hands of the Premier would be further strengthened to serve the country in the next two years.

Q: What is the UNP doing to groom a new generation of leaders to take the party forward in the face of new political challenges?

A: At present, two committees have been appointed to recommend reforms for the party reorganization. One Committee is headed by State Minister Ruwan Wijewardene while the other is chaired by Minister Sajith Premadasa. The two Committee reports have already been handed over to the Prime Minister. The Premier expects to obtain the recommendations of these two committees and make necessary reforms within the party.