Green agri policy will not be reversed - Mahindananda Aluthgamage | Sunday Observer

Green agri policy will not be reversed - Mahindananda Aluthgamage

28 November, 2021

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said that the Government’s policy towards green agriculture remains unchanged and it will only give subsidies to promote organic farming. However, a decision has been taken to permit private sector companies to import and sell chemical fertiliser.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the Government will not intervene or give any subsidies to import chemical fertiliser. The Government’s decision to implement the green agriculture policy will not be reversed at any cost.

The Minister said at present a massive campaign is going on to promote chemical fertiliser and some political parties have been funded to change the mindset of farmers towards the use of chemical fertiliser. “Therefore, we have made a massive investment to change public perception against this campaign launched by certain sections with ulterior motives.”

Q: You said at the Cabinet press briefing that approval will be granted to the private sector to import chemical fertiliser. Could you explain?

A: We imposed a ban on importing chemical fertiliser through a gazette notification. That Gazette has been withdrawn now. Anybody can import chemical fertiliser now. However, the Government will not intervene or give subsidies to import chemical fertiliser. The Government policy is only to promote green agriculture and subsidies will only be given for organic farming.

Q: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a recent meeting reiterated that the decision to implement a green agriculture policy with organic fertiliser will not be reversed at any cost. Your views?

A: President Rajapaksa submitted a proposal seeking the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers to introduce green agriculture to Sri Lanka. According to that, the import of chemical fertiliser, weedicides and pesticides was banned and a Gazette notification was issued.

There is no reversal whatsoever of the Government’s green agriculture policy. The Government’s policy towards green agriculture remains unchanged. The Government will only give subsidies to promote organic farming. However, we have decided to permit private sector companies to import and sell chemical fertiliser. Therefore, chemical fertiliser will be available in the market.

Q: Is there a fertiliser shortage for the Maha season as highlighted by a certain section of the media?

A: At present we are distributing fertiliser to farmers for the Maha season. There is no shortage of fertiliser for the Maha season and the Government will provide fertiliser to the farmers. Another nano-nitrogen shipment will arrive in Sri Lanka within the next couple of days. We have already distributed potassium chloride and liquid nano nitrogen to farmers.

Q: However, farmers still continue their protests despite the assurance given by the Government to provide fertiliser to them. Would you like to comment?

A: Actually, if we ask farmers, they will say that organic farming is good. Even Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will admit that. However, at the same time they demand that urea fertiliser be given to farmers. What is this double standard? Actually nobody is opposed to organic farming.

However, a massive campaign is going on to promote chemical fertiliser. Some political parties have been funded to change the mindset of farmers towards the use of chemical fertiliser.

Therefore, we have made a massive investment to change the public perception against this campaign launched by certain sections with ulterior motives. This is the true side of the story.

Most of those in the Agriculture Department and Agrarian Service Department didn’t extend their support to promote organic fertiliser. Actually, they didn’t take this task into their hands.

Also, due to the Covid-19 pandemic we could not properly educate the farmer on the use of organic fertiliser.

Q: Consumers complain about the rapid increase in vegetable prices. Your views?

A: When a comparison is made of the prices of vegetables, the prices were the same during the November and December last year as well. However, vegetable prices have slightly increased due to heavy rains in Nuwara Eliya and other vegetable growing areas.

As a result, vegetable production has come down and vegetables have not yet been harveste. In November last year, a kilogram of carrot was sold at Rs. 300. However, the vegetable prices had come down slightly on Wednesday, November 24. The increase in the prices of vegetables towards the end of the year is a common phenomenon.

There is no connection whatsoever between the price hike in vegetables and fertiliser. We distributed fertiliser to farmers in Nuwara Eliya and other districts last month and this month as well. The fertiliser issue is not the reason for the increase in the prices of vegetables.

Q: How do you view the comment by the Opposition that the country is heading towards a food crisis?

A: The Opposition somehow attempts to grab power. They are not bothered with whatever adverse things happen to the country or the Government. They attempt to create various psychoses among people to realise their narrow political objectives.

Of the 800,000 hectares of land cultivated by farmers, we would like to ask the Opposition Leader whether he is aware of how many paddy and vegetable lands have not been cultivated in the country. We have all the statistics. Based on that, we state with responsibility that there won’t be any scarcity of foods in the country.

Q: Some say the farmers have faced severe hardships due to the sudden change in the Government’s policy on fertiliser use. Do you think Budget 2022 has provided adequate relief measures to farmers?

A: Our fertiliser subsidy remains unchanged. Money has also been allocated to encourage farmers to take up organic farming. Tax concessions given for the agriculture sector will also be continued.

Similarly, a series of other relief measures have also been given to farmers to continue agriculture activities. It is not an easy task and farmers have to make some effort to engage in organic farming.

Farmers need to make some sacrifice to make this endeavour a success. Earlier, farmers engaged in full-time agriculture. Today, they engage in agriculture as a part-time business. Therefore, farmers need to engage in full-time agriculture.

Q: How do you view Budget 2022 presented by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa?

A: In its 24 months in office, this Government had to face the Covid-19 pandemic for nearly 20 months. The entire world too faces an economic recession. Amid the economic hardships faced by the Government, we can say this Budget consists of so many positive aspects to provide maximum possible relief measures.

At present all income sources of the country have come down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The country was closed for more than half of this year. Under these circumstances, there is no possibility to provide more relief through the Budget. This is a problem faced by every country. This is the highest ever price hike of goods reported throughout the world after a lapse of 10 years.

Q: Some say the Budget has failed to address the high cost of living and scarcity of food, fuel and gas. Would you like to outline your views?

A: The Government should be in a position to give concessions. The Government is also very keen to give concessions to the people as much as it can. But, the Government should have funds for that. However, the Government has not curtailed any concession or relief given to the people.

Q: Do you think the proposed measures taken to reduce state expenses in the Budget will have a meaningful impact on reducing the Budget deficit?

A: Definitely, we will have to go for a cut in Government expenditure. Otherwise, how can we balance the Budget? Of the country’s total fuel consumption, 70 percent is used by private vehicle owners. How many private vehicles carry only a single passenger daily? It is obvious even in a crisis situation like this, the people don’t act frugally.

Q: What are the strategies taken to address the foreign currency crisis?

A: We have to admit that there is a dollar crisis in the country. We have to adopt some strategies to address this situation. The Finance Ministry has implemented a program in this regard.

Q: Certain sections have raised concern on the allocation of huge sums of money for road infrastructure projects amid the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing economic crisis.

A: The majority of these projects are carried out with foreign loans. The country’s infrastructure facilities should be developed even though we have to face the Covid-19 pandemic.

Q: Fr. Cyril Gamini told the media recently that there is a political conspiracy behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Your views?

A: If Fr. Cyril Gamini knows something about the Easter Sunday terror attacks, it should be looked into. The CID is there to investigate such things. We need to provide whatever evidence we have about this terror attack. Instead of interrogation, information is obtained from Fr. Gamini. Actually, we are seeking his help towards the ongoing investigations. We have not initiated any legal action against him.

Q: What is the progress with regard to drafting a new Constitution?

A: The Government is making preliminary arrangements regarding that. The views of all sections including political parties represented in Parliament will be obtained for this purpose. There is a need for a new Constitution to suit present day needs. However, the Constitution will be formulated in consultation with all segments of society.

Q: The main Opposition SJB alleges the Government deliberately postponed the Provincial Council Elections.

A: The elections cannot be held simply because the Opposition demands it. Before we go for PC elections, the laws need to be formulated. The criteria should be formulated specifying whether the PC elections should be held based on a preferential voting system or electoral basis. We will go for elections at the appropriate time.

Q: Dissenting views are expressed by the coalition parties of the Government regarding the agreement between the Government and US-based New Fortress Energy on the Yugadanavi power plant issue. Is there any conflict of ideas among the coalition partners regarding the issue?

A: These constituent parties of the Government are under the impression that the LNG monopoly is to be given to the US Company. However, the President categorically said that the agreement has not yet been signed and they have only sent the draft of the agreement. If any amendments are to be made that can be made through discussions.

The final decision in this regard has not yet been taken. However, there is no crisis whatsoever within the Government. If there is any crisis, how can we get 153 votes in favour of the Budget at the Second Reading?

Q: State Minister Piyankara Jayaratne at a recent public gathering made some controversial remarks to the media stating that he is being sidelined and ill-treated by the Government. Your views?

A: Perhaps there are some trivial issues within the Government and I don’t deny that. Some Government MPs may have disappointments. I think these issues can be sorted out within the Government through discussions.

Q: It seems the Opposition doesn’t cooperate with the Government even in a natural disaster such as the Covid-19 pandemic. How do you view the conduct of the Opposition?

A: At present there is no conduct on the part of the Opposition. It seems there is no Opposition Leader. We thought Sajith was better than Ranil. But Sajith is worse than Ranil. Even some SJB members say this. It is regrettable to note that there is no vibrant Opposition in the country. There is a sky-high gap when comparing the Opposition which we were in for five years and the present Opposition.

The Opposition should know this is a Government which has secured a two-thirds majority in Parliament. An election will have to be held after three years. At this juncture, the Opposition should cooperate with the Government to overcome this pandemic. That is how a responsible Opposition should behave and earn public acceptability. However, this is a very absurd Opposition. This Opposition which deliberately postponed elections during their tenure in office is now asking us to conduct elections. Elections will be conducted by the Government at the appropriate time but we don’t plan to hold elections as and when the Opposition demands it.