Worst drought in four decades; affects nearly 1 million people
Despite the start of monsoon rain and arrival of rice imports, fears of rice shortages prevail in Sri Lanka.
As a result of drought during the past five months, Water reservoirs are low. Some are down to one fifth of their capacity.
Farmers have only planted a third of the usual 800,000 hectares of paddy for rice in the big ‘Maha’ season. The lowest in 30 years.
Hector Kobbekaduwa of the Agrarian Research and Training Institute said Sri Lanka needs 2.3 million MT of rice a year. The current projections estimate 1.44 Million of rice production.
Hambantota farmers blame drought and govt for rice shortage
Hambantota is one of the badly affected rice growing areas in Sri Lanka. Finally, the rains started to revive the paddy field after several months of dry hot weather.
But for farmers damage has been already done in the big season.
“In our Mayurapura area in Mahawali zone all tanks dried up and our entire work (agriculture) come to a halt because of the lack of water,” Lionel Weeravansa , farmer said. “In Mayurapura zone this time we are only able to do paddy in between 50 to 60 acres because of drought. Otherwise we do 2000 to 3000 acres.”
Farmers say the weather and a corrupt supply system creates undue hardships.
“Last year the rain was not good , this year it is many times worse. Because of the drought We have too many debts to pay” says Wimalasena Gamage.
“We grow the paddy , after harvesting we give it to black market Mudalalis (businessmen) and receive the money. If government fixes a price of rice per kilo for 45 rupees, we have to bear lots of expenditure in between and with the commission to Mudalalis some time we end up selling for 28 rupees per kilo,” said farmer
Wimalasiri Gamage. <What’s this about fixed sale price?>
World Food Programme estimated over 900,000 people face acute food insecurity status.
Minister of Trade and Commerce Risard Bathiudeen said in a statement that the government has imported 86,000 tons of rice as a precaution to avert shortages.
“ By importing we can’t control cost of living. Singapore is the best example. They depend on 100% imports. Can you afford to live in that country?” says S. Madhan, 31, a rice trader in Pettah.
Furthermore, rice traders say unavailability of integrated data is one of the reasons for the uncertainty in the market.
“In India farmers and traders know the price of agricultural items such as onions though that is a huge country. But in Sri Lanka we don’t have the data.” says S. Madhan, 31, a rice trader in Pettah. He worked as a trader for nearly ten years in Mannarkudi in Tamil Nadu, India.
The Monsoon rain is expected to continue. But it is unclear whether it is enough to do paddy cultivation for the upcoming Yala season.
“ Last Maha season, the production was low because of the drought which we experienced during the last several months in 2016. And on the other hand 2017, Yala season also still not too sure about how the production going to be.So that is the reason why there are talk about looming food shortage.” syas Lalith Chandrapala, Director General of Meteorology.