Rice is the staple diet of the people in Sri Lanka and is the single most important crop occupying 34 % (870,000 hectares) of the total cultivated area. On average 560,000 hectares are cultivated during the main season(Maha) and 310,000 ha during the second season, Yala. About 1.8 million farmer families are engaged in paddy cultivation island-wide.
The recent performance in the paddy cultivation & harvest has been poor partly due to (a) adverse weather conditions (b) inconsistent government policies (c) lack of clear direction and focus on efficient implementation of government policies. After experiencing a 50 per cent plunge during the ‘Maha’ season in 2016/17, it is expected a further drop of 50% during the ‘Yala’ season due to the drought prevailed in the dry zone. The total expected paddy output in 2017 would be 2.4 Million Metric Tons, which is the lowest during the last ten years.
According to Census and Statistics Department, the overall ‘Agricultural activities’ have reported a negative growth rate of 3.3 percent in the third quarter of 2017, which is the lowest growth rate since 2010. As a result, the ‘Agriculture sector’ has reported negative growth rates over the last 7 quarters.
Total rice requirement for the year 2018 would be 2.4 million metric tons. In terms of paddy cultivation, it works out to a total paddy harvest of 3.6 million metric tons per year in order to meet the total requirement of rice consumption in Sri Lanka. During the latter part of 2017, the policy makers and the government cut import taxes on rice and the traders were allowed to import 800,000 more metric tons of rice in order to prevent possible rice shortages in the country. As per the ‘Rice Importers Association’, over 50 per cent of the rice available in the market by end of 2017 is imported.
There seems to be no ‘focused and strategic approach’ with clear policy directives to improve this vital sector. As a result, a ‘daily labour’ in the agriculture sector and the rain-fed paddy farmers together with their families were among the livelihood groups most affected. In addition, country has to spend unnecessarily much needed ‘foreign exchange’ on account of importing additional quantities of rice and wheat floor in order to meet the shortfall in consumption…..”
-Jayampathy Molligoda & Thusitha Bandara