Consumers find rice hard to find
- Whither keeri samba, samba, local basmati?
- Even supermarkets sans stocks of such varietals
- Trade Ministry denies shortage, blames millers
- Farmers’ union portends rice shortage
BY Buddhika Samaraweera
There have been reports of consumers complaining that there is a shortage of rice in all parts of the country for the past few days, despite the Government having imposed emergency regulations on the supply of essential food items.
Consumers had posted on social media platforms, particularly on Facebook, that there was a shortage of keeri samba and samba rice even in supermarkets, in some areas, and that only red nadu and white kekulu rice were available in sufficient quantities. There were also reports that imported basmati rice was available in shops, but that local basmati rice was not available.
However, when contacted by The Morning to inquire about reports that there is a shortage of rice in the market, Trade Ministry Secretary Bhadranie Jayawardhana said that there is rice in the market. Nevertheless, she said that with the commencement of paddy purchases by the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB), rice mill owners have been buying paddy from farmers at higher prices and that this has caused a problematic situation.
“At present, there is enough paddy and rice in the country, but as the PMB began purchasing paddy from farmers, the mill owners have been purchasing paddy at higher prices, which increases the cost to them in terms of rice production and then they sell rice at a higher price. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) is conducting raids,” she said.
Jayawardhana also said that there had been requests for an increase in the price of paddy and rice, but that there was no possibility of raising the price according to the formula introduced by the Agrarian Research and Training Institute and the PMB.
“The CAA has made it clear that there is no need to increase the price of rice and that there are enough stocks,” she said, adding: “Currently there is rice in shops, but some are selling them at higher prices secretly.”
She also said that if the Government decides, all necessary arrangements have been made to import a consignment of rice as a security stock. A few hours after her comments, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to permit the Trade Ministry to import 100,000 metric tonnes (MT) of rice at its weekly cabinet meeting last (27) evening.
However, when inquired about the matter, All Ceylon Farmers’ Federation Convenor Namal Karunaratne charged that the Government is fully responsible for the current situation.
“Once the country is reopened, there will inevitably be a severe shortage of rice. The Government has no plans to manage the rice issue. Both the farmers and the mill owners are now angry with the Government for such activities,” he said.
He also said that there was no possibility of a real shortage of paddy or rice in the country, and emphasised that what can be seen today is an artificial shortage of paddy and rice caused by the Government’s acts.
“When considering the amount of paddy harvested last year and the first season of this year, there is no possibility of a paddy or rice shortage. All these issues arose as a result of the Government imposing control prices and having hidden deals with large-scale rice mill owners. What the Government should really do is to operate government-owned mills and have its own rice reserve so that it can be released at a time like this. The Government should also support the small and medium-scale mill owners and regulate large-scale mill owners,” he added.
Meanwhile, many people were seen waiting in long queues outside shops islandwide due to a rumour about a possible price increase of essential goods. They also claimed that a shortage of essential items was seen in the market and added that most of the shops do not have enough stocks for sale.
The Sri Lanka Rice Millers’ Association (SLRMA) recently alleged that rice stocks in the country would be sufficient for only five more months. “There is sufficient rice for five months. As far as we know, the Government has only five million kilogrammes of rice in their possession. This is not enough for a single day,” SLRMA Secretary Mudith Perera stated at a media briefing recently.
Co-operative Services, Marketing Development, and Consumer Protection State Ministry Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra and the CAA were unavailable for comment.