Socialist Sri Lanka Seeks to Create Private Sector to Prevent Famine

n this picture taken on April 23, 2022, a farmer works in a paddy field in Tissamaharama, Hambantota district. - Farmers were once big supporters of the Rajapaksas, but a bungled fertiliser ban withered their crops along with their backing for Sri Lanka's previously powerful and popular political clan. - …
ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s socialist government announced plans on Monday to create a private agriculture sector to help alleviate famine amid a national financial crisis that has caused food shortages since March, Sri Lanka’s News First website reported.

“[Sri Lankan] President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed officials to immediately launch a comprehensive public-private partnership program on food security,” News First reported on May 30.

Sri Lanka’s federal government “owns a large percentage of uncultivated lands, and it was decided to identify those lands and hand them over to young cultivators,” Rajapaksa’s office acknowledged on Monday.

Sri Lanka’s president announced the new plans during a meeting in Colombo on May 30 in which he discussed cultivation strategies for Sri Lanka’s upcoming “Yala Season” (i.e. a plowing season lasting May through August) and “the lessening of possible food shortages in the future,” according to the local Daily Mirror newspaper.

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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sings the national anthem during a commemoration in Colombo. (Sri Lankan Presidential Media Division/AFP)

Sri Lanka’s Presidential Chief of Staff Anura Dissanayake and various agency heads from Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Agriculture attended the meeting alongside Rajapaksa on Monday. Rajapaksa instructed agricultural ministers at the summit to “expedite the release” of Kandakadu Farm, currently owned by Sri Lanka’s National Livestock Development Board, to private farmers as part of the public-private land exchange. The president expressed intentions for Kandakadu Farm’s land to be used in the “cultivation of maize, soybean, and other crops.”

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A woman carrying food bags walks pasts people standing in queue outside a state-run supermarket to buy essential food items in Colombo on September 3, 2021 as Sri Lanka began imposing price controls on essential food from September 3 after using a state of emergency to seize allegedly hoarded stocks of sugar and rice. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP)

Sri Lankan Member of Parliament Mahinda Amaraweera seemed to betray the severity of his nation’s current food shortages Monday when he urged his fellow government ministers to plant food crops on available land at the state-owned office properties they currently occupy.

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Sri Lanka reversed an import ban on fertilizer after farmer protests, forecasts of severe food shortages, and worries about the island’s crucial tea exports. (AFP)

“Cultivating crops at home gardens and lands where government offices are located should be encouraged. Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that all public servants from Ministers, Members of Parliament and other political leaders should contribute to this and set a precedent,” the Daily Mirror reported.

Rajapaksa grimly suggested on Monday that his fellow Sri Lankans would soon be expected to consume unspecified “alternative” food options as part of Colombo’s efforts to stave off famine conditions on the troubled island nation.

“Plans have been made to reduce post-harvest wastage, save food, store food, preserve and increase the value of agro products, introduce and popularize alternative food [sic],” the Daily Mirror quoted Gotobaya as saying.

Sri Lanka is currently battling its worst financial crisis since independence after running out of foreign currency reserves the island relies on to purchase vital imported goods. Some observers have traced the nation’s economic woes to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which they say cut off Sri Lanka from foreign currency sources such as tourism and remittances. The economic crisis caused severe food, fuel, and medicine shortages beginning in early March.

President Gotobaya Rajapaksa banned all chemical fertilizers in Sri Lanka in April 2021 in an effort to transform the nation into the world’s first fully organic farming hub. The policy was an objective failure, as it precipitated a major drop in the annual yields of Sri Lanka’s normally lucrative rice paddy and tea fields. Colombo repealed the ban in November 2021, but the policy’s negative impact has continued to reverberate throughout Sri Lanka’s struggling agriculture industry.

“I feel that the failure to provide chemical fertilizer to farmers was a mistake, we have taken steps to provide that again,” Rajapaksa acknowledged during a national address in April.

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