Farmers are now breathing harder to start sowing and ploughing for Yala season in the light of a 40 per cent reduction in Maha season harvest. Farmers are quitting due to the terrible crisis caused by the severe scarcity in diesel and the government’s failure to provide chemical fertiliser.
On the other hand, the Mahaweli Authority and the Agriculture Department are up in arms over giving chemical fertiliser and diesel to farmers for Yala.
Farmers complain that despite the fact that water has been available for cultivation for 21 days, approximately 30 per cent of paddy fields have been cleared and around 30,000 acres of paddy lands are at risk owing to a lack of fuel.
Farmers need roughly 600,000 litres of fuel for cultivating paddy and around 60 litres of diesel to plough and prepare a hectare of soil for sowing.
Chairman of the Farmers’ Rights Protection Organisation, B. Gamini Kulatunga, indicated that the Walawa area, which is home to roughly 35,000 farming families, is divided into six sections; three on the left of the river and three on the right bank.
The three left bank divisions are
Kiri-ibbanwewa, Sooriyawewa, and Mayurapura. The three right bank divisions are Chandriwakawewa, Murawasihena, and Angunakolapelessa.
Nearly 300,000 people are fed by these 35,000 farmer households. However, due to the Government’s poor management and discrimination, they have been relegated to the diesel queues rather than the field.
Because of the great level of mechanisation in farming, the tractor has become one of the most important farming tools. Tractor owners often charge Rs 25,000 per acre. However, tractor owners insist that fuel be provided. A farmer bemoaned, “If the farmers give diesel, the tractor owners say they would sow,”
However, in a significant development, the Mahaweli Authority has written to fuel station owners to prioritise diesel for farmers. The majority of farmers have received this letter. However, the fuel stations seem unconcerned by this request.
Approximately 35,000 acres of paddy lands in the Walawa region may become barren if this continues.
Mahaweli Authority’s request
When queried about the letter, Mahaweli Authority Director General (Agriculture) R. M. Nevil Rajapaksha said that farmers wouldn’t be able to harvest crops this Yala Season unless a solution for delivering diesel for tractors could be found before 31 May.
People are suffering, he continued, and the authorities are aware that the letter is being rejected by fuel stations. He claimed that they have no choice but to wait until 31 May and that if a solution is not found by then, there will be no harvest from the Yala season. Harvesting by the Mahaweli Authority has also been halted. According to him, there are 100,000 hectares of paddy to plough, but only 5,000 hectares have been ploughed and sowed.
“The situation is even worse in rural areas like Dehiaththakandiya and Hambantota. Farmers are alarmed by the situation. If they are unable to find a solution, there will be no Yala harvest, which means no rice. The situation is dangerous, putting the farmer and every other ordinary person in a predicament,” he claimed.
Furthermore, Rajapaksha said there will undoubtedly be a crop block, causing the entire farming system to fail and farmers to suffer.
Meanwhile, Divisional Chairman of Angunakolapelessa P.G. Priyantha Naroshan noted that his division has approximately 9,000 acres of paddy fields.
“However, about ten per cent of the work has already started. The scarcity of diesel is the principal cause of the reduced work. When we asked for organic manure for paddy fields last season, we requested 50 per cent chemical fertiliser. Then it was said that if paddy fields were fertilised with organic manure, the yield would be lowered and compensation would be provided. We farmers do not expect anyone to compensate us. Bring the fertiliser and agrochemicals to the market and the farmer will pay. Set a lower price for certain items. We will then return to our fields. We will provide everybody with three meals per day,” he said.
When Chairman Mayurapura Division Sudesh Gamage asked how to cultivate for the Yala season, officials were stumped. At the outset of the Yala season, Gamage claimed, there were negotiations with the authorities.
He acknowledged receiving a letter from the Mahaweli Authority and stated that it was the only answer they had received from the Government.
He also claimed that tractor owners demand Rs 25,000 per acre. “We have to queue to get diesel from them. In this condition, the farmer is unable to work on his field freely. The Prime Minister claims that he is creating a country where people can eat three meals a day. We have a legitimate concern about how the Prime Minister will proceed when the farmers are left with no options. There is doubt whether the Premier is possibly trying to sell areas of the country to import rice. Because if farmers are not provided with the necessities, that is the only way to offer three meals,” he noted.
In response, Additional Director General of Agriculture (Development) Department of Agriculture Peradeniya, H.M.J. Ilankoon Menike said that they had no idea how to help the farmers who are unable to use diesel or chemical fertilisers.
She added that the distribution of any document demanding that farmers be given priority for fuel will only be decided at Divisional Secretariat meetings. “They are in charge of coming up with a viable method for providing enough diesel to the farmers”.
When asked about chemical fertiliser, she said they are about to receive 65 metric tonnes of chemical fertiliser via the Indian Credit Line, which is yet to arrive.
She also didn’t know when it will arrive because the Ministry of Agriculture had not yet updated them.
Politicians oblivious to issue
Meanwhile, Pemalal Kumarasinghe, Kiriibbanwewa Divisional Chairman, remarked that politicians are still unable to comprehend why people are starving.
“It is impossible not to eat and drink, regardless of the facilities. After 1977, no politician could comprehend the importance of the farmer. Now is the time for current politicians to recognise this. The ruse that the farmer is being compensated, fertilised, and provided relief is a waste of time. It deceives the entire population. We recommend that the new Prime Minister provide help to the farmer. Within six months, we will have made the country self-sufficient in rice, vegetables and fruits,” he said.
Water was delivered for farming on 25 April for the Yala season, according to officials from the Udawalawe Reservoir, and there is now enough water.
Officials recommended farmers to use rainwater. It was determined to cultivate 25,000 acres of paddy and 25,000 acres of other crops such as bananas and vegetables for the Yala season.
“We, the authorities, are always ready to assist the farmer. Unfortunately, no Member of Parliament has raised the issue of the farming community’s position during Yala season this year. Farmers should be given priority for fuel and chemical fertilisers during this year’s Yala season. Otherwise, there will we a huge shortage of rice and paddy in the country in the future as the farmer moves away from paddy cultivation. As a solution to this, the present Prime Minister should focus on solving the problems of the farmers,” they said.
In response to the chemical fertiliser shortage, the Dimbulagala Buddha Sraavaka Sangha Sabha said that the most pressing issue facing farmers now is a lack of fuel and chemical fertiliser. Farmers in the Mahaweli zones want to produce paddy this year, but they are concerned about the absence of infrastructure, they say.
The Secretary of the Dimbulagala Buddha Sralavaka Sangha Sabha Ven. Dimbulagala Rahulalankara Thera arrived at the conclusion that the Prime Minister should be given more time to administer the country, with the goal of ending the protests and growing the country, as well as finding solutions to all of the farmers’ current problems.
“Due to a scarcity of fuel, 60,000 acres of paddy in the Mahaweli B zone have gone barren. Prioritising fuel for the farming community should motivate farmers to cultivate paddy during the Yala season. We urge that incumbent Prime Minister expedite the delivery of critical fertiliser and other commodities.
Over 5,000 farmers have been displaced in another agricultural village in Thambalagamuwa Divisional Secretariat due to a lack of fuel.
Due to the frequent complaints from farmers, Thambalagamuwa Divisional Secretary Gauri Sripathi said that all responsible parties had been informed in writing about the fuel shortage.
She added that the main reason for this is that there is only one diesel shed in the Thambalagamuwa area, where farming is the main occupation.
A local farmer reported that they lost everything last season due to a lack of fertiliser. This Yala season, he claimed, there will be no diesel. “My backyard is 600 acres of paddy fields. 15 acres have been cleaned as of today. The remaining paddy fields have not been drained due to a lack of fuel. The scenario is similar in other paddy fields,” he said.
Mollipathana Chairman Subair, another farmer, claimed he has 677 acres in his yard, of which only 50 acres have been cleared so far. He said that despite weeding some portions of the land, they will have to re-weed.
“In Mollipathana 95 region, there is only one fuel station. A fuel tank delivers around 6,660 litres of fuel, followed by another fuel tank arriving in the area after a week. Diesel is only provided for essential service or needs according to the administration but isn’t agriculture a necessary service? Isn’t rice a must-have food? All of these are pranks. We sincerely beg that the Government send at least two diesel bowsers to the area every week, without any sugar-coated answers,” he said.
The paddy production has reduced by 40 per cent to over 50 per cent in the past Maha season due to the application of organic manure. If urea is not provided this time, the yield will undoubtedly decrease and farmers will abandon their fields.
By Thameenah Razeek