Army soldiers to help out Sri Lankan farmers

    AgricultureArmy soldiers to help out Sri Lankan farmers
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    Army soldiers to help out Sri Lankan farmers

    Sri Lanka will deploy a soldier to every paddy and vegetable farm in the island during the next cultivation season.

    Sri Lank’s officiating chief of defence staff, General Shavendra Silva has been quoted by media as saying that soldiers will be deployed to support farmers across the island nation.

    A soldier will be deployed to every farm with the commencement of the Yala agriculture season in May, the general said. Yala and Maha are the two faming seasons in Sri Lanka, approximately corresponding to the Kharif and Rabi seasons in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.

    This is not necessarily the first time that the Sri Lankan military has been involved in civilian duties in Sri Lanka. In the recent past, Sri Lanka’s military was also helping farmers gather their harvest during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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    In part, the move can be traced to Sri Lanka’s large military force raised to fight the war in the country’s North.

    Fertiliser ban

    An unprepared Sri Lanka agriculture sector was hit by a crisis in the Maha cropping season (between September and March) when the government imposed a hastily thought and unplanned move to ban on agri-chemicals, including fertilisers and pesticides. The overnight move was president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s idea, prompted by an influential legislator-monk, Athureliya Rathana.

    The results were felt immediately as vegetable harvests were hit. The move also coincided with the worst marine disaster in the country’s history when a cargo ship sank of the island nation’s coast, polluting the sea and people were scared of buying catch from the sea. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic hit tourist arrivals and as a net result of all of these, a foreign exchange crisis ensued, crippling the country’s economy.

    The results of the ban on the use of chemicals in agriculture have also meant that farmers are now reporting reduced paddy harvests. The yield is reduced anywhere between a third and a half and the government has announced 50 per cent premium on paddy procurement, to assuage the unhappy farm sector.

    Following the ban, chemical fertilisers like urea was only available in the black market and at an exorbitant price.

    The government has lifted the ban, under pressure from paddy farmers, who insisted they needed chemical fertilisers. But farmers are upset because the government’s green policy has put an end to subsidy for chemical fertilisers.

    The deployment of soldiers at farms to help farmers is meant to please them. But, it is not clear what the government’s plans are for its landless labourers.

    Landless poor out?

    According to the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), 82 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population resides in rural areas, and agriculture remains the backbone of its economy. Four out of every five people living under the poverty line depend on the rural sector while almost half of the country’s rural poor are small-scale farmers.

    Agriculture employs 28 per cent of the country’s labour force, and small-scale farmers produce most of the agricultural output.

    This section of the population is under enormous financial stress.


    Image: Hippopx picture, licensed to use under Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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