Rice import ban without considering relevant data?
BY Buddhika Samaraweera
Claiming that the Ministry of Agriculture does not have any formal data regarding the loss of the paddy harvest in the last Maha cultivation season due to the shortage of fertilisers and the amount of rice that has been imported into the country so far, the United Rice Producers’ Association (URPA) stated that the importation of rice should be suspended only after obtaining such data.
Speaking to The Morning, URPA President Kusumitha M. Perera said: “If there are sufficient stocks of rice in the country, it is better to suspend rice imports. However, before that, the authorities should find out how much of the paddy harvest was lost in the Maha season and how much rice has been imported so far. If the amount of rice that could be produced from the amount of paddy lost in the Maha season has been imported by now, there is no issue in suspending imports.”
Claiming that the Government had no data when it allowed rice imports last year, he said that the Ministry, similarly, does not have the relevant data when it is preparing to suspend rice imports. He warned that making decisions without having the proper data at hand in this manner may cause an abnormal hike in rice prices in the coming months, as the large-scale rice mill owners sometimes go against the Government’s decisions.
“It is true that we need to think of the wellbeing of the farmers. Over that, however, people need to eat. We cannot make the people buy rice at around Rs. 300 per kg just because the farmers’ wellbeing should be ensured. Therefore, our opinion is that the Ministry should first study whether the rice requirement for the coming months can be met with the available rice stocks. The Ministry should take steps to conduct an islandwide survey on rice stocks. It can easily be done, as there are about five Government officers in one village,” added Perera.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet of Ministers has directed the appointment of a committee to look into the possibility of suspending rice imports until December 2022, following a proposal made by Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera. An official of the Ministry said that the said committee would consist of the Secretaries to the Agriculture and Trade Ministries, and a group of officials from the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury.
The Ministry of Agriculture stated on Monday (1) that it has planned to suspend rice imports until December 2022, as there is a risk of farmers not getting a sufficient price for paddy due to the excessive import of rice, and the availability of sufficient stocks of rice in the country. Noting that the harvesting of the Yala cultivation season has commenced now, an official of the Ministry said that due to the further importation of rice, certain rice mill owners may buy paddy from farmers at cheaper prices. He further said that the Ministry has suggested to the Government to use the amount of foreign exchange spent on the importation of rice, for the purchase of inputs for the agriculture sector such as weeders, seeders, sprayers, tractors, and solar-powered water motors.