Farmers agitate over ‘inadequate’ Nadu price 

  • Govt offers Rs. 55 a kg, farmers demand Rs. 65 a kg 
  • Claim rice millers not buying after control price 

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Following the Cabinet of Ministers’ approval being granted to purchase a kilo (kg) of ‘Nadu’ paddy at a price of Rs. 55, several farmers organisations have stated that the said price is not adequate and that they hope to organise protests against the matter in the future. 

At media briefings held yesterday, farmers belonging to several farmers organisations claimed that the new price introduced by the Government was not sufficient, given the current economic trends. They said that the Government should take steps to provide at least Rs. 65 per kilo of Nadu. 

Earlier in the day, Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage told reporters that the Cabinet had approved the purchase of a kilo of Nadu paddy through the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) at Rs. 55, taking into account the requests made by farmers to give them a reasonable price for their products. 

“A kilo of Nadu which was being purchased at Rs. 50 can now be sold at Rs. 55 and farmers in any area will be able to sell Nadu paddy at the new price through the PMD regional stores,” he added. 

The farmers further charged that with the Government setting control prices for rice, rice mill owners have now stopped buying paddy from farmers. 

“In this situation, we should get at least Rs. 65 for a kilo of Nadu, Rs. 75 for a kilo of Samba and Rs. 90 for a kilo of Keeri Samba. We urge President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not to take decisions like this and we will soon take to the streets to protest against this,” they added. 

In the recent past, the Government has taken steps to impose fixed prices for rice on several occasions. However, the prices of rice have increased significantly and rice mill owners had also stopped supplying rice to the market, claiming that they have to run at a loss when purchasing paddy from the farmers at those fixed prices. 

In this backdrop, President Rajapaksa, on 30 August 2021, declared emergency regulations on the provision of essential foods. The stated aim was to prevent market irregularities that could cause inconveniences to consumers owing to the concealing of stocks of essential food items including paddy, rice, and sugar, and by in turn charging exorbitant prices for them. Subsequently, Maj. Gen. M.S.P. Nivunhella was appointed as the Commissioner General (CG) of Essential Services. 

Afterwards, the emergency regulations prepared for the supply of essential food items was passed in Parliament on 6 September with a majority of 81 votes, where 132 voted in favour and 51 voted against. Also, during the debate on that day, the Opposition claimed that the Essential Services Commissioner General does not have the authority to instruct officials such as District Secretaries. However, the President’s Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara later pointed out that the Commissioner General has the complete authority to give instructions to the District Secretaries, Divisional Secretaries and other relevant officials in terms of Section Five of the Public Security Ordinance. 

The Commissioner General of Essential Services recently seized nearly 1,000 metric tonnes (MTs) of rice stored in large scale rice mills in the Polonnaruwa area, and Maj. Gen. Nivunhella also warned that he would not hesitate to take stern action if large-scale rice traders continue to challenge the Government. 

A group including Nivunhella and officials of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) visited the rice mills in the Polonnaruwa area on 8 September and took steps to seize rice stocks after which they were released to Lanka Sathosa outlets islandwide. 

Accordingly, around 400,000 kilos of rice from the Araliya Rice Mills owned by Dudley Sirisena, the brother of former President and incumbent Government Parliamentarian Maithripala Sirisena, 100,000 kilos from the Nipuna Rice Mills owned by the Canals and Common Infrastructure Development in Settlements in Mahaweli Zones State Minister, Siripala Gamlath, 175,000 kilos from the New Rathna Rice Mills and 75,000 kilos of rice from the Lathpandura Rice Mills were seized by the Government. 

According to sources, the total amount of rice seized by the Government from such large scale rice mills in the Polonnaruwa area was around 1,000 MTs. However, as per the data from the Ministry of Agriculture as of March this year, the daily requirement of rice in the country is around 6,411 MTs.

Meanwhile, Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardana has recently stated that the rice mill owners have agreed to continue to supply stocks of rice to Lanka Sathosa outlets from 13 September, following the aforesaid raids carried out in recent days in large scale rice mills in the Polonnaruwa area. 

When queried as to whether the rice mill owners would be supplying rice to the market at the same price at which they would supply them to Sathosa, Dr. Gunawardana said: “Rice should be supplied to the market at the same prices as when rice is supplied to the Sathosa outlets. Today, Kekulu rice is being sold in the market for less than the fixed price imposed by the Government.” 

He further stated that if the President or the Cabinet states that the prices of rice in the market are high, it is possible to import a stock of rice as a security stock within a period of two weeks. 

“A Cabinet paper to this effect has also been submitted,” he added.

When questioned as to how much a kilo of ‘Ponni’ rice would be in the event of such an import, he noted that it can be sold at around Rs. 95.