05/05/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Food crisis: people want Colombo to adopt new policies

Melani Manel Perera
Farmers’ and consumers’ organisations meet to denounce Sri Lanka’s worrisome situation. The island nation is being affected more than other countries’ by the rise in food prices. Alternative economic policies are proposed to encourage small producers rather than private monopolies.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Once known as the “bread basket of the East,” Sri Lanka is suffering more than others the effects of rising food prices. Colombo could however avoid the spectre of hunger by abandoning the export-driven neo-liberal model of development, this according to the People’s Organisations Collective in Sri Lanka, which met end of April bringing together a variety of citizens’ and farmers’ groups like the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), which have analysed the country’s situation and put forth proposals for the consideration of the country’s leaders.

In the final statement the Collective points the finger at the government which for the past 30 years has favoured an export-oriented economic development model in order to reduce poverty. However, this model has been a failure and change is needed. MONLAR’s Sarath Fernando, who was the moderator of the meeting, talked to AsiaNews about the event.

“We have seen prices in Sri Lanka rise at least twice as much as the world average (at least 50 per cent for cereals and sugar according to the United Nations). The earnings of almost half of the population are below the poverty line (2.1 million families living on less than 50 cents US a day) and their nutritional conditions are alarming.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has included Sri Lanka among the 14 countries where rising prices have created a “food emergency”.

According to MOLNAR, President Mahidna Rajapakse has taken steps to strengthen domestic food production by supporting small-scale farmers and introducing some control over rice prices, but these measures have not been sufficient and the gap between haves and have-nots grows wider.

‘Modern farming’ is seen as the main culprit. Government economic policies have “favoured the rise of private monopolies which control the industry without taking into account the interests of consumers and small-scale rural producers.”

The alternative is to cut incentives to large-scale private and foreign investments and encourage instead small farmers, promoting environmentally sustainable farming methods that prevent soil erosion and loss of biodiversity.

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