I am pleased to address you at this historical sacred land. Our country is inextricably linked with the agriculture. All the provinces have their identities associated with a history that has been basically nourished from the agricultural practices. I firmly believe that development of the country, either today or tomorrow, is inseparable from the agriculture. Hence, in the case of development of the country, it is compulsory to draw attention on improving methods to make agriculture more flourished.
When we talk about agriculture, the farmer or agricultural colonies of the country during last few decades, we tended to speak about agricultural loans, hardships of farmers faced and the remedies that could be taken to quell the problems of them. We were stuck to traditional agricultural methods for hundreds of years. But we were acquainted with the cutting-edge technology during last few decades. The farmers do not need to be muddy at the present age. They can use technology and machineries for farming. Every government wanted the farmers to work hand in hand with the new technology at the same time improving meaningful things of the traditional agriculture. They also wanted to uplift both agricultural sector and the farmer. Some measures were successful and others were not.
In the caliber of the Minister of Agriculture, I was able to implement “Api Wavamu- Rata Nagamu” program, which was an initiative where all the farmers and politicians irrespective of their political affiliations joined together for a common goal. It was war period in the country. During that time, the entire world was experiencing a food crisis and a food shortage. I was able to listen to the leading agricultural scientists when I attended the World Agricultural Summit 2006. They were elaborating that the planet earth will have to face severe food crisis due to the environmental and climatic changes. They alarmed that all the countries should tighten their belts to encounter the crisis. Soon after the arrival in Sri Lanka, I informed then President about the situation. I proposed to implement a program to increase the food security of the country. He advised me to make the program. Accordingly, I formulated the “Api Wavamu – Rata Hadamu” program.
We conducted 300 “Wap Magula” programs in the same season island-wide covering all the divisional secretaries. Such a program was held in the present context after the ancient kingdoms. We inaugurated the “Api Wavamu – Rata Hadamu” program at the Nikaweratiya paddy field on an auspicious time in a drizzling weather condition. The program became extremely successful. The country’s food production got increased and we didn’t undergo any food crisis. But in 2013 we had to encounter a prolong drought, again. Particularly, the people of Rajarata would remember the time when the provincial council election of North-central province was held. The main topic of the political rallies was the adversities faced by the farmers in the province.
On the instructions of the leaders of then government, we gave an array of promises for the general public during the campaign to obtaining more votes. A huge advertising campaign was conducted on relief packages that are going to be given to the drought hit people. The election was concluded. No relief was given to the victims of the drought. We are also witnessed another drought this year. The food production of the Anuradhapura district was slashed. It is reported that the food production has been cut by 40 % due to absence of rain. We had to import rice from abroad. 200,000 metric tons of rice has been imported so far. We also discussed last week to import another amount 200,000 metric tons of rice to Sri Lanka. Avurudu dawning is around the corner. The paddy production is not in the full swing. We should ensure no shortage of rice in the country during the Avurudu festivities. The price of rice should also be maintained at a controlled rate. Hence, we decided to import sufficient amount of rice to normalize the market.
In my knowledge, farmers receive good rate for their paddy production, at present. As production was slashed by 40%, they saw a higher demand for their production. As a result, the private mill owners visit the farmers to purchase paddy at a higher rate. I refer price rates of rice every week. I am serious on the situation of paddy stocks in the country; I don’t forget to obtain data every week. I need to know the rate which a farmer sell their paddy, the buying rate, the rate which Sathosa sells rice, the rate which paddy marketing board purchases, etc. I continue to receive all such reports on paddy. In the current context, I should say the government has given the biggest concession to victims of the drought in ever history.
We have deposited Rs. 7,000 million to bank accounts of the victimized farmers. We have also decided to provide seed paddy to them free of charge next season. We accorded pride of place to improve economy of farming communities in the journey of strengthening the agricultural economy of the country. Some people criticize that nothing has been done to the farmers though a son of a farmer has ascended to the presidency. A son of a farmer has also become the Minister of Agriculture. We have a clear-cut knowledge on agriculture. We have also pursued our education in Agriculture.
We should ponder how to build this nation based on agriculture while paying off the debt of the country. This has to be discussed extensively. I am aware that the Department of Agriculture, Mahaweli and other related institutions, the agricultural faculties of the universities and other agricultural organizations in the country have worked tirelessly in this regard. Some people tend to criticize when implementing pilot projects, conducting experiments, etc. In some cases, we will have to meet with disappointments. By nature, human beings are static and reluctant to be dynamic. It is a human nature.
We need to be strategic to manage the reluctances when making changes. Agriculture is not a muddy job anymore in present situation, where technology has replaced many things. We have to ponder what are the questions we have to face in the economic front? Though we will be hit by the drought, its effect will be temporal. Everything will be returned to normal at the start of rainy season. Hence, we should not be worried about the drought excessively. But our preparedness is essential. We should think about how to work in collaboration with the new technology and step into the new world. We need to think about how to get rid of debt burden. This goal cannot be achieved overnight. The government had come up with a plan to address the issue and need the support of the public for it.
One of major issues we have encountered is lack of foreign reserves. The slash of export income has resulted such a situation. We remain at the zero in the international market. It is not a problem that was created in this year. During last 10-15 years we were near to zero level of the international market. If we want to strengthen the export income, as an agricultural country, we should empower the farming communities and well-educated youth generation who are linked with the agricultural sector. The educated children of the farming communities will be able to lead well-off life joining the export trade.
Banks offer a range of loan schemes. Even private organizations grant loans. There are many organizations that guide the youth to fulfill their targets. We have created a background to ensure better economy for the new generation. I request the educated youth to engage in agriculture with latest technology. We need to get acquainted with the cutting-edge technology and should be able to check market status using a smartphone and protect the dignity of agricultural entrepreneur as same as old farmers did. This government has devised a plan in this regard. The youth who are unable to finance for agricultural works, a program has been put in place to provide loans for them. Hence, we urge the youth be part of this program and utilize it.
Retaining with the traditional methods would not serve for redeeming the debt burden. We need to strengthen the economy of farmers. We need to keep pace with the novel technology. We need to identify market strategies. The mega scale importers continue to update their knowledge on the situation of the market of the outstations using the mobile phone and the internet. They are well aware about the functioning of the market. They also know about the consumers. Hence, the educated youth should also follow the steps of latest technology to win the world.
The people cannot achieve their targets in an hour or a day. You know how the man was evolved. If we consider the present context, the children belonging to the poor families have been able secure better positions in the society having a good education. Some businessmen who initiated their businesses selling commodities like king coconut, beetle leaves, etc. are now holding big businesses. Some politicians who started from bottom have climbed the ladder of politics and even some government officers who have started their career as peons were able to reach new vistas. But, no real success was achieved overnight. They have come across on their paths patiently and gradually.
I again urge the new generation to join the agriculture sector equipping with latest technology to end up debt burden, poverty and economic hardships. All the institutions are ready to embark the initiative. I affirm that this is the way to strengthen the economy of both of our country and the farmers. Measures have been taken to grant technological equipment to the tune of 150 million rupees to you today. The equipment will be distributed among the farmer organizations. They wouldn’t be given to individuals. The farmers who use the equipment should utilize them for the improvement of the agricultural production and the country.
We encountered many challenges when implementing the fertilizer subsidy program in every season. Some quarters criticized our move to deposit relevant funds for the fertilizer subsidy to the bank accounts of the farmers. Now, no one throws brickbats at the measure. The farmers themselves are empowered to purchase the fertilizer when they receive the money. We also encouraged the farmers to turn for the organic fertilizer. We are seeing the toxin free food production national program is bearing fruits. The new government introduced a voucher system for school uniforms. That initiative also received a grim criticism. I know that there were many discrepancies and corruption since the inception of program of providing school uniforms to the students free of charge. I don’t say everyone was engaged in the corrupt activities. Under the new voucher system, no corruption is reported. But we received harsh comments at the beginning of this program. Some elements will criticize us at the fertilizer program as well. But, it is mandatory to carry out such programs for the betterment of the country. I am thankful to all the farmers who are attending here. We gathered here to perform the “Aluth Sahal Mangalya”, and obtain blessing of the triple gems of Buddhism to spearhead to forthcoming agricultural seasons. I highly appreciate the commitment you have showcased so far in this connection. I promise you the government will always stand by you to archive these goals. I extend my sincere gratitude to the Minister of Agriculture and all other officials who facilitated these events. Let’s be committed as a government to mark the forward march in development of the country in the face any sort of challenge.