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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. 

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boost spice production to improve rural economy

The Island: 29/12/2007" by S. B. Karalliyadda

The talk in the town and village today is the sky racketing cost of living and how the ordinary citizen can face this situation. No one talks about the prices of minor export crops that are freely available and easily grown in the villages. These crops played a vital role in our agrarian economy long before the introduction of plantations such as coffee tea cocoa etc. by the Britishers. The changes brought about by the introduction of a plantation economy had adverse effects to our religion-cultural and social value systems. The Waste Land Tax No. 19 of 1840, the Land Tax Act No. 5 of 1866 and the Grain Tax which was abolished by Governor Arther Havelock in 1892 were some of the Acts that changed the village agrarian economy. The prices of all minor export crops such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves coffee etc; that are grown easily and less labour intensive also fetch high prices to boost the income of the average village farmer. Not only these export crops but also other agricultural produce such as tea, rubber and coconuts fetch the highest recorded price in the recent times. It should be remembered that over sixty percent of our population are rural and live in the villages. Eighty percent of them are poor and thirty percent live in abject poverty. Per capita income in the Western Province and Colombo District is higher than in any other Province or District in the Island. This may be due to the availability of infrastructure specially a good road network. If one can reminiscence the Districts that these crops grow it can be seen that except for the North and East in most other Districts spices are grown. The land has been blocked out and used for construction purposes. In the Districts of Matale, Kandy, Kegalla etc; where rubber cocoa and pepper are grown in abundance the production of these crops have become minimal thus affecting the income levels of the rural masses. Apart from reduction of the land area available for minor export crops, the available extent is infertile due to soil erosion, fragmentation, haphazard contour drains and other bad land management practices which has led to the degrading of the soil. There were Extension Workers from various Departments who liaise with the villager closely and advised him on laying contour drains, soil erosion, good practices to enhance their coops production etc; but unfortunately such extension services are not seen today. This should receive the special attention of the ‘Gama Neguma’ programme under Mahinda Chintanaya. What a government could do to improve the village economy is to create avenues to earn more income through agrarian and agricultural practices and get better prices for their village agriculture and export products. Taking industries to the villages and industrialisation of villages will have a deep impact on their cultural ethos and rid the value systems that bond the villager together. As Mahatma Gandhi said if the village perishes the whole county will perish as more than sixty percent of our country is rural. The net results of these lapses is that our contribution to the global market needs is less than 4%. It is observed that our cinnamon production which was 12336 MT in 2004 reduced to 11391 in 2006. Similarly 2478 MT of cloves exported in 2004, dropped to 2376 MT. Pepper recorded an increase of 7856 MT in 2006 from the level of 4851 MT in 2004 (Daily News 27.11.2007) It is reported that all cloves are exported to India. The SAFTA agreement allows a free entry of our products to India as against a 35% tariff from other exporting countries. India is the biggest buyer of our spices, but we cannot meet the demands of the Indian market and therefore they look to the markets of Indonesia and Madagascar to meet their demand. If we can increase our production we can enter the India market which means a better deal to our rural villager. Pepper is grown wild in our soil. It needs little or no attention. Unlike the ancient times where the produce was plucked from tree tops today the pepper wine could be grown in bushes making it easy for harvesting and minimising post harvest waste. The world trade in pepper is estimated to be MT around 200,000 to 250,000 mt and we can meet at least 8% of this. White pepper is a by- product which has a demand in tourist trade. The Department of Export Agriculture should embark on a field programme to grow spices in villages. Coffee which grows easily contributes to the rural economy. But the production that was 4371.1 MT in 1994 has come down to 105.7 MT in 2006. This may be because the average villager did not get a good price per kilo for his produce some time back. There is a record increase in the production of nutmeg from 646.3 MT in 1994 to 1515.0 MT in 2006 according to statics maintained by the Export Agriculture Department. Not only these export crops and other agriculture produce such as rubber tea and coconut fetch the highest recorded price in the reason times. Sri Lanka had been a country that attracted the Portuguese and Dutch for spice trading even before these European powers. History shows that our Sinhala Kings traded in spice with Arabian countries. Buwaneka Buhu 1 (1272-1284) who ruled from Dambadeniya had his Trade Representative in Egypt. His son Buwanekabahu 11 (1293-1302) who ruled from Kurunegala sent his Trade Team to negotiate spice trading with the King of Egypt and history records that this delegation met the King in Cairo in 1283. Such was our spice trade from the ancient days. It is up to the authorities in power to revive the cultivation of spices as in ancient time to give a boost to the slumber rural economy. (The writer is former Member of Parliament Kandy District)

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