Transforming the agri sector: Vital to set up a national steering committee - Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum | Sunday Observer

Transforming the agri sector: Vital to set up a national steering committee - Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum

17 May, 2020

The Sri Lanka Agripreneurs’ Forum has proposed a series of measures to “help the agricultural sector get back on its feet.”

Excerpts of the letter, containing the proposals, that was sent to the authorities:The agriculture sector employs over three million people, directly and indirectly, throughout Sri Lanka, who are highly vulnerable to economic shocks. As such, we propose the following immediate measures and some urgent action in agriculture and implementing a medium/long term program to help the sector get back on its feet: 

1. The immediate setting up of a National Steering Committee for agriculture, comprising Government officials and private sector representatives, where minimum of 60% representation is from the Private Sector, spanned across diverse areas in agriculture (including livestock and fisheries), such as; growers, farmer organizations, agri value-addition enterprises, agri professionals & academics, agri scientists, local and global marketers of agri produce, providers of agri inputs, and local agri investors. 

2. Implement “National Agri Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System”, which will function as a holistic system for the entire Sri Lankan Agricultural fraternity which will address the following, and shall directly come under the purview of the National Steering Committee for Agriculture; a. National demand forecasting and crop/yield planning b. Ensure minimum guaranteed price for the farmer c. Be a conduit between the producers, local wholesale buyers, and exporters d. Facilitate pre-bookings and online trade facilitation (this will not omit the wholesalers) e. Integrate agricultural-value-chain f. Integrate and introduce performance and contribution based Farmer Pension Scheme g. Channel existing loan schemes, grants, and subsidies (including fertiliser) through the system to attract and influence farmers and embrace the change/system

 3. Upgrade storage facilities preferably near the economic centres, and convert them into cool rooms using available resources and utilise idling resources. Engage Private sector cool room/cold chain operators to provide solutions for operating on lease/PPP terms to be the nucleus of a cold chain to overcome the wide fluctuations of supplies and prices.

 4. Permit importing the best quality seeds available in the global market would be a pre-requisite to reduce cost of production and increase yield. Efficient procedures for testing such new seed and plant varieties must be immediately adopted with all seed importers and commercial farmers being permitted to test new seeds and plant varieties at their own farms under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. Local seed, plant propagation and tissue culture laboratories must be supported for long term sustainability and food security. 

5. Establish a system of Guaranteed Minimum Price based on cost of production for agricultural produce which will ensure a satisfactory return for the risk and investment made by the farmer. Government establishments, large wholesalers and supermarkets must be compelled to make forward-contracts to buy the production of local farmers. 

6. Implement higher tariffs as appropriate on imported food items, only for which are locally produced, to maintain food security and protect the domestic production and value-chain. 

7. Grant subsidised agricultural loans up to a maximum of 10 million at an interest rate of 6% with a grace period of 1 year that could be obtained through any licensed commercial banks in Sri Lanka, and repayable over a maximum of 6 years.

 8. Facilitate the setting up of an Agro Innovation Centre, in Colombo or the Gampaha District targeting the development of value-added food products and processed foods for the local and export market. This facility to be managed together as a collaborative initiative of the Government, Business Chambers, Universities and the Private Sector.

 9. Establish cluster level sorting grading and packing centres at district level. Link such centres with district level economic centres and connect with a multimodal transport system, which will minimize transportation cost, handling cost and post-harvest losses.

10. Allocate one compartment on trains to reduce transportation cost. This initiative is to be carried out via a PPP model, where the private sector will set up the cold room in the compartment and manage the operation.

This collaboration shall operate on a profit share model between Sri Lanka Railways and the Private entity.

11. Conduct an image building campaign for the agricultural sector  to evoke interest among the youth in particular to engage in agricultural activities.