Leading rice miller stops paddy purchasing citing losses, PMB still out of picture

- island.lk

By Sanath Nanayakkare

Leading rice miller, Lankeshwara Mithrapala says he has suspended purchasing paddy because it is not proper to purchase paddy from farmers at prices lower than Rs. 120 per kilo, and if he did purchase at that price, he would have to absorb a loss of Rs. 23 from each kilo of rice.

This is happening at a time the government has declared a certified price for paddy at Rs. 120 and the state-run Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) is keeping itself completely out of its main task of purchasing paddy from farmers to ensure a competitive and fair price to them.

When asked if there was some connivance between government officials and private millers to enable the purchasing of paddy at the lowest prices imaginable, Mithrapala said,” We don’t want anyone’s help to run our rice mills. But we can’t buy paddy at Rs. 120 per kilo and let the end-consumer buy a kilo of rice at Rs. 220-230 because of the loss we have to absorb in the process. There are various other brands, Nipuna, Araliya, Lak Sahal etc. If they could buy paddy at Rs. 120, they would because this is a competitive business. But they can’t buy at that price either because that would cause a substantial loss,” he said.

“If the government starts purchasing paddy, the farmers will be relieved,” he said.

Responding to queries, he said: “I bought paddy at Rs. 118-119 about 3-4 days ago. We can’t ask for paddy from farmers at prices lower than that. So, I decided to stop purchasing paddy and produce rice from existing stocks and release them to the market. It is better to stop buying paddy if Rs. 120 can’t be paid for a kilo of paddy. So, the government must intervene,” he said.

When asked if his business was running at a loss, he said,” I have enough money to operate my businesses. But I don’t have funds to collect and keep paddy stocks. What I am saying is that I will purchase paddy at Rs. 120 and will give rice at Rs. 220 per kilo. But to do that the government must declare a six-month moratorium on bank loans. If we have money to buy paddy stocks we would do so without seeking bank facilities because working with our own capital would bring us higher returns. But what do we do if we don’t have money?”

Elaborating on his costing issue he said: “When you buy paddy at Rs. 120 a kilo, there are other costs to take into calculation to run the business sustainably. It takes 1.6 kilos of paddy to produce a kilo of rice. This means the paddy cost itself would be Rs. 192. So when you buy at Rs.120, it actually costs Rs. 192 for paddy alone. For each kilo of rice; Rs. 7 for packaging, Rs. 7 for transport, Rs. 3.50 for electricity, Rs. 8.50 for employee salaries and food, Rs. 10-12 for bank interest.

Then there are the EPF and ETF payments and wear and tear costs of machinery. All these need to be calculated and recovered. These costs amount to about Rs 46 per kilo of rice. Effectively, therefore, the total cost of a kilo of rice is Rs. 238. But we sell to retailers at Rs. 215 and they sell at Rs. 220.

“So, this means that we are releasing our stocks to the market at a loss. That’s why we are saying that we can’t buy paddy at Rs. 120,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group of farmers in Polonnaruwa said: “We are compelled to sell our paddy to private sector traders because the government is just sitting around leaving the big rice millers to buy paddy. When the government does not come forward to break the monopoly of the private traders, we have no option but to sell our harvest to them at lower prices. When we sell them paddy at Rs. 100 a kilo, the income from one acre of paddy is only about Rs. 200,000 ,which is not enough to cover our inputs and labour cost. Big rice millers are making the most of this situation.”

The warehouses of PMB still remain closed and farmers have not been informed whether it would enter the market to purchase their paddy.A source familiar with state sector banking told The Island that PMB had outstanding loans of over Rs. 2 billion payable to the state banks.

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