The Jaffna farmer has been hit by the Special Commodity Levy (SCL) reduction on imported potatoes, an agro-business manager told The Sunday Leader.
Chaminda Manage, Agribusiness Manager, Tropical Seeds, said that his recent visit to sell seed potatoes to the Jaffna farmer was a failure because of the Government’s recent Rs. 20 reduction of the SCL from Rs. 30 to Rs. 10 a kilo.
The Jaffna farmer has therefore said that they are not interested in potato cultivation because they cannot compete with cheap potato imports from Pakistan and India, said Manage.
He said that currently potatoes are being retailed at between Rs. 110-115 a kg,
There are some 1,500-2,000 potato farmers in Jaffna, with the main area of cultivation being Chunnakam.
Manage said that prior to the 1983 disturbances Jaffna supplied 50% of Sri Lanka’s locally produced potatoes with Nuwara-Eliya and Welimada supplying the balance. But potato cultivation in Jaffna was disrupted during the war.
“Cultivation began in a small way after the war end for the first time last November (the cultivation season in Jaffna), with the crop having had been harvested in February,” he said. The crop cycle is three months. Jaffna has only one potato harvest for the year.
The Jaffna farmer earned a farm gate price of between Rs. 40-45 a kg. in February, which he claimed was not profitable. For potato cultivation to be viable he needs a farm gate price of between Rs. 65- 70 a kg., said Manage.
However the recent reduction in the SCL doesn’t help his cause.
Sri Lanka is 40% self-sufficient in potatoes (according to Agriculture Ministry’s Additional Secretary (Agricultural Technologies) Shantha Emtiyagoda) but that can be upped to 50%, Manage said.
Nuwara-Eliya-Welimada (Uva) areas have two harvesting seasons, the Maha and Yala seasons.
He said that the Maha harvesting season in Nuwara-Eliya is in April-May and in Uva: January-February. Meanwhile the Yala harvesting season in Nuwara-Eliya is October-November, and in Uva, August-September.
Ninety per cent of the production from the Nuwara-Eliya-Welimada area comes during Maha cultivation, said Manage. The Nuwara-Eliya-Welimada farmer however is not affected by the SCL reduction due to economies of scale, said Manage.
Jaffna which produces 15% of the local harvest finds it consumed in the vicinity, it does not reach Colombo, said Manage.
He further said that Jaffna is mainly an agro-based economy with the three main crops being potatoes, chillies and red onions. However all three crops at present cannot compete with imports of the same, said Manage.
Meanwhile the SCL for dried chillies is Rs. 20 on a kg., powdered chillies: Rs. 25; red onions: Rs. 25 and big onions: Rs. 10. The SCL on big onions was reduced from Rs. 25 to Rs. 10 recently.
However a Finance Ministry source said that the SCL reduction on potatoes was a temporary measure to bring down consumer prices and said that an aggrieved farmer may write his complaint to the Ministry’s Fiscal Policy Department.
As the harvest is in February, probably by then the original SCL might have had been reintroduced, the source further said.
Manage said that there is no SCL on green chillies as importing and selling it in the local market is a costly exercise as those will have to be imported in “reefer” (refrigerated) condition to prevent spoilage. Though Sri Lanka is not self sufficient in dried chillies, being only 24% self-sufficient of the same, it’s however self-sufficent in green chillies.
SCL is the only import tax levied on such specified commodities, which however are not subjected to any duty charges.
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