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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, August 28, 2006

Revamping Rural Sri Lanka

Daily Mirror: 28/08/2006" By By Oscar E V Fernando

The rural sector can make or break a government: at present the rural vote base has preserved the sharp division between the two major parties, but this pattern may change if there is no radical shift of the rural economy in their favor.

Politicians make good use of them during election times; perhaps it is to their short lived advantage to keep the villages in the same—yes master status; but the rural sector is getting wiser and there are those interested in stirring up the melting pot.

Is justice meted out to these peoples, and how far is society interested in their development? The low roofed mud huts that were prevalent several decades back yet remain so. Is this the aristocratic desire to perpetuate the pre-colonial Rajakariya system that was replaced by the colonial mercantile system?

The rural youth, witnessing this simmering struggle and the ever increasing suicide rate, is fast breaking the umbilical chord from the old to a better but yet unknown system; the politicians had better make good note of the emerging situation.

Many rural folk live in conditions of extreme poverty and uncertain future; reportedly rural folk in the world are estimated at 900 million, representing 75 % of the worlds poor; they certainly need intervention by the respective individual countries and affluent international organizations; the latter incidentally are made taboo to our rural folk, knowing the important part they play in the development of the rural economy: this seems a concerted plan.

Development is what the World Bank is all about, in spite of their fumbling procedures up to now: The Millennium Goal is one such attempt, although perhaps done with the selfish motive of arresting terrorism that irks the affluent world; but altruistic motives cannot be discounted altogether!

Most in the urban world are blessed with various securities, especially food security, in comparison to the rural sector; how many of the rural folk have food security, being uncertain of the very next meal contrary to the common belief that they can pluck a coconut and dig out a yam for a meal? It is correct they are blessed with natural resources, but ironically their inbred lethargy and stupor, perhaps after the colonial breakaway from the ‘granary of the east’ period, have prevented them from venturing into profitable cultivation, unless a radical revamping of the rural sector takes place—Gam Udawa (re-awakening of the village out of its stupor) was a far sighted step in the right direction.

Malnutrition is catching on among our rural children with a vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment: a short stay in some of our villages will bring out this stark fact. This situation can get worse with a callously decided war that may propel us to a fast failing state that will bring about more malnutrition and its abhorrent cycle of poverty and unemployment.

In our rural sector many families are stranded with the women of the household trying to eke out an existence overseas, and the man taking to drinks. Many are the victims of smuggled migrations—all because of poverty and unemployment. The rural base consists of cultivators, laborers small holders, craftsmen and their families who are as human as urban dwellers and who look forward to a good life, the absence of which can lead to frustrated revolts in due course.

Modern technology enjoyed by the urban sector must reach the rural sector fast to relieve their sufferings, resulting in a trek to urban areas: The crack will come when the urban world cannot accommodate them any further. This is an aspect of good governance, that in this country seems to have been forgotten in the melee for power struggles at the top for several decades past—but soon the bell will toll and the politicians with the complaisant society will be taken unawares by those on the sidelines waiting for this to happen!

The affluent world at large must realize the fact that nature or the universal intelligence should have intended that the goods of the earth are for all peoples and all nations—if they want to continue enjoying the affluence without breeding terrorism.

There are many reasons contributing to disparity between the urban and the rural, and these are;

Absence of land tenure for those who till the land thus causing deprivation, exploitation by middle men, lack of access to markets and other social exclusions, unlike in the urban areas where there is protection of the workers through unions and other welfare measures. Also, rural people who depend on the land face adverse climatic and natural factors together with their inability to cope with scarcities and loss of harvest, for which rural agricultural insurance was commenced but never got going with the political bureaucracy.

There must be well planned out land reforms, unlike the political and haphazard land reforms that Sri Lanka experienced in the past, where the end result was cannibalization of the small plots owned by the small- holders who lacked the resources, funds, know- how and equipment to sustain the plantations: this contributed to the detriment of the country’s national product and still continues to do so.

Land reform should be considered a more complex project than a mere political exercise; it is not a simple re-division and redistribution of land: shouldn’t it be accompanied with well planned rural development programs and investments in infrastructure such as roads, communications and water resources and other social services that go with it, such as;Rising of income levels, improvement of working conditions, security in employment, personal incentives to work, promoting enterprise especially family agricultural enterprise, access to credit, education in the use of modern technologies and business methods, all of which were lacking in the previous land reforms exercise undertaken by the bureaucrats?

It is time to give a radical and revolutionary facelift to the rural sector to meet the new aspirations of its youth who together with land tenure, must be trained to till the land with sophisticated equipment—even go to the extent of revamping and uplifting the life styles of the new look farmers with cinema halls and other youthful enterprises that the youth drift to the urban in search of, in keeping with global trends—India is a fine example of such happenings—and all this must be done whilst attempting to preserve the rural touch.

Batches of rural youth so far drilled into believing that the private sector is anathema to the working class must be sent to certain parts of China to see the rural sector working within parameters of the private sector: parts of China have become a roaring success of private farmlands over their communistic collective farms.

The very concept of land tenure is a private sector exercise and necessarily needs private sector inputs of technologies, economies etc: it must not be left to our politicized bureaucrats; a modus operandi must be worked, as in China for commercial enterprises to venture out, with the land tenure being held by the cultivator—such as commercially viable storing and marketing facilities including exports, such that seasonal excesses of produce will not perish or be sold at uneconomical prices, causing suicides.

This writer speaks of a private sector basis of revamping the rural sector that may be given attention by the Board of Investment (BOI) which together with the stock exchange are very much encouraged by the present government: however the outcome depends on another part of the governments manifesto that discourages de-nationalization and private enterprise: much therefore depends on the cart of the economy that today is pulled by the donkey/bull duo, one animal going the way of the BOI and the other animal going in another direction!

In such a situation governments may be made or broken by the rural sector often blinded by politicians of various hues, but obviously the cart of the economy will be stagnant as it has been for the past decade—with a slight break in between: the President with his stable power must decide as to which two animals should pull the cart of the economy—at least now!

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