01/15/2018, 09.15
SRI LANKA

Colombo, reform the agricultural sector 'to save land and farmers'

by Melani Manel Perera

Chinthaka Rajapakse is the moderator of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform. A review of agricultural policies of the last three years. Among the advances, the ban on herbicides. Among the critical aspects, the requisition of land and the approval of laws for the exclusive benefit of global financial institutions.       

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Reforming the agricultural sector to save the land and farmers of Sri Lanka. This is the request of Chinthaka Rajapakse, moderator of Monlar (Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform). In the country, he says, "the agricultural and plantation sector is in deep crisis. The government must think seriously and really act to change economic and agricultural policies, which cannot be [addressed] in a disjoint way".

Monlar also represents 2 thousand families of Tamil Indians who work in the plantations. It is associated with the People Planning Forum (Ppf), an organization that brings together another 6 thousand families of small farmers, of whom 4500 are Sinhala and 1500 Tamil. The environmentalist takes stock of President Maithripala Sirisena's three years of government and thanks him "for the positive changes made to improve the situation of the Sri Lankan small farmers. At the same time, however, very little has been done for agriculture".

He explains, "80% of the rural population is made up of small farmers, whose lives depend on their land. In 2015 we asked the president to improve the conditions of these people. Their survival is based on the regenerative capacity of nature and on access to natural resources".

He says over the past three years there has been progress in three areas. “The first is certainly Sirisena's decision to abolish harmful agrochemicals such as glyphosate, a type of herbicide that is the main cause of kidney cancer cases in cultivated areas. We really appreciate this decision, which cannot have been easy given the pressures of the agro-mafias. The second is the decision to shift subsidies from fertilizers to organic farming: this motivated farmers to opt for traditional farming practices. Even if the subsidies were badly managed, the push towards sustainable agriculture is still positive". The third, he adds, "is the launch of a national food program called 'Toxic Free Nation,' to promote crops free from chemicals".

Despite progress, several critical points remain: "The neo-liberal economic model chosen by the government, which with the free market approach is ruining all good policies. Or large-scale intensive agriculture as proposed by the World Bank which claims that small-scale farming is no longer profitable. This is just a myth created by the global industry giants, who need to trade their products like fertilizers." Then the government "is requisitioning the lands all over the country to give them to international investors. The authorities have created a Land Bank that allows investors an easy life. It is supported by the World Bank that wants to liberalize the territory. Farmers have no alternative but to sell their land due to the decline in productivity due to bleeding agricultural practices".

All these policies, which are supported by international financial bodies such as "the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, will lead to the complete destruction of the agricultural sector and its employees". The only way to escape ruin, "is to support nature and farmers, apply international treaties on respect and protection of the environment and allow farmers to benefit from their land".

"We have been fighting for many years - he concludes - for the right to land of farming communities: Tamils ​​of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka as plantation workers have contributed a lot to the development of Sri Lankan exports, but to date they are treated as slaves without rights, including land-based rights, so we ask the government to provide them with 20 parcels of land for permanent dwellings and two acres for crops and to turn plant ownership into villages with sustainable land management. The hilly lands, which are the heart of the country's water resources, should be used to regenerate the forest cover".

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