(This article was originally published in DailyFT on 12th December 2013)
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Tuesday identified Budget 2014 as the “best thing that has ever happened to local farmers” under the Mahinda Chinthana political manifesto, which “undertook the difficult task to uplift agriculture and to generate much needed income,” summing-up the 15th allotted day of the Appropriation Bill 2014 – Committee Stage Debate on Tuesday. Among several amendments made, the Minister suggested that “the same allowance proposed for Government Agents and senior staff to be paid to all agriculture field officers”.
Turning down the allegations from the opposition, Minister Abeywardena said: “You have submitted unreliable statistics. These are not relevant to Sri Lanka. But I agree to the point that we need to consider reducing the use of foreign seeds and reproduce the requirement of the country here. There were many local varieties suitable for Sri Lanka. The only solution was to bring in the Seed Act. There can be amendments to it. Bill can be found on our website to which we are open to accept suggestions and amendments. “It was the UNP that created the possibility to import and sell any product. Unless this Bill gets enacted, we don’t have legal framework to protect the local varieties and genes. The Bill doesn’t prevent a farmer selling seeds on a personal basis. But if a farmer wasn’t to continue in commercial basis, it is mandatory to obtain certification from the Agriculture Department,” he said.
Denying the opposition charges of fertiliser shortages in the country, the Minister stated that adequate stocks are maintained. “We have not reduced the fertiliser subsidy. Quality has not been compromised. We issue 225kg of urea per hectare, 62.5 kg of TSP per hectare, and 62.5 kg of MOP per hectare. However, we know that the increased use of fertiliser leads to renal diseases in the agricultural areas. So, it is advisable to use only the necessary and recommended amount in farming.
“The farmers’ pension scheme was defunct for many reasons. But the President, who had a better understanding about the issues which prevailed, took the burden under his arm. What we offered is fair for the farmers. We have a peoples’ government. For the first time in Sri Lankan history we had an excess of rice in 2011. We admire Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake for starting projects in the rural enabling the people to farm. Then the population was 9 million and today it has gone over 20 million,” the Minister added.