Academia and agri professionals to help food production drive | Sunday Observer

Academia and agri professionals to help food production drive

University Academia, professional associations/groups in agriculture including the private sector and the Sri Lanka Institute of Agriculture have teamed up to take prudent decisions to support economic revival and the food production drive of the country, said Senior Professor in Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Buddhi Marambe.

However, he said that it is not clear whether  the proposals submitted by the academia and professional groups, in the field of agriculture, have been given due consideration by the government.

“We have seen in the media that these  recommendations have been well articulated, prepared by groups with sound technical knowledge and experience at ground level implementation, and warrants urgent attention,” the don said.

In national level crisis management, the decisions made will change with continuously emerging scenarios. Agriculture is not an exception. We have seen the Government changing its original stance, for example on fixing maximum retail prices for food products.

In 2018, Sri Lanka has spent Rs billion 422.5 to import food and beverages (11.8% of the total imports). Being a country with the capacity and high potential to produce the requirement of our main food crops, and all efforts of the Department of Agriculture, we still produce only about 69% of maize, 10% of big onion, 58% of cowpea, 84% of groundnut, 49% of black gram and 80% of red onion as of 2018.

“However, we can be happy with the rice sector. With a 3.2 million-ton bumper paddy harvest in the 2019/2020 Maha season recently, mostly before the lockdown, and the anticipated harvest of 2.03 million tons from 2020 Yala season with the new production and productivity drive, making rice available in the country for approximately another 16 months,” Prof. Marambe said, adding that while much promise and progress has been shown in rice production, there is ample opportunity to progress in many of the other food crops, while considering the economies of scale, the professor said.

However, he noted that evidence-based decision making has not taken place again. For example, an enhanced demand for agricultural inputs was obvious with the countrywide home garden development program and increased cultivation extent in the Yala season.

“We now hear complaints of unavailability of fertiliser even to be purchased at market prices. The Cabinet decision taken on April 30 would help, but with a significant delay. Ground realities should have been understood better,” he said.

“Temporary restrictions imposed on food imports until July 15 and introduction of a guaranteed rice for 16 priority crops identified and agricultural insurance subsidized inputs allowing farmers to continue to cultivate irrespective of the islandwide curfew no doubt have encouraged the farming community to support this massive food production and productivity enhancement drive.

“However, we need to ensure that the momentum gained is not lost half-way. Several efforts were made by the Government to support the consumers by fixing maximum retail price for essential food items and allowing customers in the queue to purchase items irrespective of the time of imposition of curfew. However, the imposition of maximum retail price had to be withdrawn owing to the rapid devaluation of the Sri Lankan Rupee.

The appointment of a task force for economic revival and poverty alleviations is crucial to ensure food security in the country.