Rice shortage by end February; sky-high prices by Avurudu 

Buddhika Samaraweera

Small and medium-scale rice mill owners have warned of a possible rice shortage by the end of February 2022 and skyrocketing rice prices of around Rs. 300 per kilogramme (kg) in the coming Sinhala and Tamil Avurudu/New Year season in April.

Speaking at a media briefing held yesterday (6), United Rice Growers’ Association President Muditha Perera said that the price of a kg of nadu rice could go up to Rs. 300 by the coming Sinhala and Tamil New Year season. He also said that due to the current fertiliser crisis, a shortage of rice in the country could not be avoided by the end of next month.

“There will be a huge shortage of rice in the country by the end of next month. We have seen the Government saying that it would give a guaranteed price of Rs. 75 per kg of paddy to farmers, but we do not think that the Government will be able to buy paddy from farmers this year. At present, the private sector buys paddy from farmers at Rs. 95 per kg,” he said.

Perera further stated that the price of a kilo of paddy could increase to Rs. 120 in the coming days. Noting that the wholesale price of a kilo of nadu rice is between Rs. 165-170 at present, he predicted that it could go up to Rs. 300 by the upcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year season.

“There is a saying that a famine comes after an epidemic. However, the famine which is going to occur was invited by the Government and not a natural one. This Government has deliberately destroyed the country’s agriculture,” he charged.

Recently, United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian Ranil Wickremesinghe called on the Government to finalise the purchase of food and fuel on credit from India, which is currently under discussion as there will inevitably be a food shortage in the country by the coming Sinhala and Tamil New Year festive season. Making a statement to the media on 28 December 2021, he added that the harvest from crops in many areas for 2021 was only 60% of the harvest in 2020.

Meanwhile, following some controversial remarks regarding a possible food shortage in the country in the future, Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige was removed from the post on 22 December 2021 by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

State Minister of Former Education Reforms, Open Universities, and Distance Learning Promotion Susil Premajayantha was removed from his state ministerial portfolio on 4 January, two days after he said that the Government’s agricultural policies were a “failure”.

A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals including pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by President Rajapaksa last April and the same was granted approval, following which the relevant gazette notification was issued on 6 May 2021. However, the Government decided to revoke Extraordinary Gazette No. 2226/48 of 6 May 2021, which banned the importation of chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals, and to thereby allow the private sector to import the same, with effect from 24 November 2021.

However, throughout the past few months, farmers in several areas were seen charging that there is a serious shortage of fertiliser for their cultivations and a number of protests have also been organised by farmers’ organisations and various parties demanding that the Government provide a solution to the fertiliser shortage. Farmers in several areas are currently charging that their cultivations have been destroyed due to the lack of fertiliser.

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