Govt. bid to set up rice buffer stock fails

An ambitious bid by the government to establish a 140,000-metric-ton rice buffer stock to stabilise the market has failed. The Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) has been in charge of the project launched by the Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services Ministry on a presidential directive over two months ago.

Well informed sources told The Island that the PMB had managed to collect approximately 23,000 metric tons of rice with the bulk of purchases being made in the Polonnaruwa District. Responding to our queries, an official said that they were disappointed with farmers’ response to the government’s call.

Sources said that Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services Minister Maithripala Sirisena’s warning that the continuation of the fertiliser subsidy would depend on farmers’ willingness to sell a portion of their produce to the PMB had failed to produce the desired impact.

Sources said that the ministry had stipulated that the government should be given the opportunity to purchase 500 kilos of paddy for each two and half hectares of cultivated land. Sources said that the ministry would have to review the fertiliser subsidy as the farmers had let down the government.

Minister Sirisena recently told The Island that heavily subsidised fertiliser would be sold only to those who could produce a receipt for the sale of 500 kilos of paddy to the PMB.

The National Fertiliser Secretariat earlier estimated that the government would spend Rs.25 billion this year for the import of 585,000 metric tons of fertiliser.

Minister Sirisena said that the government intended to buy as much as 140,000 metric tons of paddy by end of April, 2009. He said the government wouldn’t have demanded a relatively small part of the produce, had farmers willingly contributed to a paddy buffer stock maintained by the government.

He said that the decision to link the subsidised fertiliser scheme to PMB’s paddy purchasing plan had been prompted by last year’s failure to establish a buffer stock of paddy as announced by the Cabinet.

The PMB offered Rs. 30 for a kilo of Samba and Rs. 28 for Nadu.

Agriculture Secretary J. Ranjith Wijetilleke told The Island that Rs. 4,060 million had been allocated for this purpose.

Dr. R. M. K. Ratnayake, former Trade and Commerce Secretary told The Island that the government would face a tough competition from the private sector. He said the private sector would be appealing to the farmers purely due to the price factor.

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