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Millions Spent To Promote Agriculture But Food Imports Continue

Jul 23, 2011 6:55:18 PM - thesundayleader.lk

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The documents shown here are part of an answer tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Agriculture

The government has so far spent over Rs. 1.6 billion on the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme aimed at uplifting the agriculture sector and building a self-sufficient country. Nevertheless, the government continues to import food items to meet the local demand.

The Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme was launched in 2008 for a period of three years that was to end this year. However, the Agriculture Ministry has received Cabinet approval to continue with the programme till 2013 spending almost half a million rupees every year.

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena when questioned by The Sunday Leader as to why food items were being imported to the country if it has been made self-sufficient in food through the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme, said the programme was aimed only at paddy cultivation. He claimed that the programme has achieved its goals.

However, the Minister was evasive when asked as to why the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme needed to be continued if the set goals had been achieved.

The government when launching the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme stated that it was aimed at increasing the local food production, reducing food imports, training farmers to use carbonic fertilizer, producing essential food varieties by introducing essential food items and cultivation technologies to farmers and promoting home gardens.

Be that as it may, areas such as the renovation of irrigation systems and promotion of home gardens have been covered by several projects launched by other ministries as well.

Therefore the government is to continue with the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme while promoting the Divi Neguma programme programme under the Economic Development Ministry that also aims at promoting home gardening.

In 2010, when the country faced presidential and general elections, the government had spent an additional Rs. 35 million on the programme.

Although the government has decided to continue with the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme, it is yet to decide on covering other agricultural crops.

Raising the issue of the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme in parliament last week, JVP parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that although the development of food production in the country was the prime objective of the programme, the import volumes of food items such as chillies, kurakkan and big onions had seen an increase during the period.

Abeywardena told parliament that the focus was on paddy cultivation and that the country was now self sufficient in rice as a result of the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme.

He told The Sunday Leader that the government had expanded the progarmme to the North and East during the past two years and has managed to cultivate many barren lands.

He added that small irrigation systems in the area have also been rehabilitated under the programme. Abeywardena pointed out that the government had managed to encourage farmers and therefore reduced the price of rice and vegetables.

“A kilo of rice has come down to Rs. 40 and prices of small vegetables have also declined,” he said. However, the Minister said the government would have to take steps to maintain prices in order to ensure the welfare of the farmers.

“If the prices decline any further, it would not be favorable to the farmers. The government has to consider this issue,” he said. Meanwhile, JVP parliamentarian Ajith Kumara raised an oral question last week in parliament on the monies spent on the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme.

The government tabled the breakdown of the expenditure on the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme. Interestingly, the government had spent millions of rupees on the propaganda work for the Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu programme.

Since 2008, a sum of Rs. 32 million had been spent on propaganda work. The government had spent Rs. 8 million of the Rs. 415 million allocated for the project in 2008 for the propaganda campaign.

In 2009, Rs. 8.5 million had been spent for propaganda out of the total Rs. 300 million.

The following year, in 2010, Rs. 7.7 million had been spent on propaganda work while Rs. 10 million has been allocated for this purpose in 2011.