Govt. mulls banning fruit, vegetable imports

...move t0 cultivate 55,000 hectares of paddy


By Dasun Edirisinghe

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday said that there was no need for importing fruits and vegetables and the government would consider stopping it in the future. Fruit imports for foreigners would be exempted, he said.

Addressing the media at the Presidential Secretariat, he said he would discuss with the Finance Ministry, Consumer Affairs Authority and Trade Ministry on ending fruit imports as Sri Lanka had the potential to meet the local fruit and vegetable requirements.

He said the government expected to increase consumption of organic food at least by 25% under the ‘Vasa Visa Nethi Ratak’ (A Toxin Free Nation) programme within its first three years.

"It is not an easy task to change the mindset of farmers and persuade them to turn to organic agriculture by giving up using chemical fertiliser," Sirisena said, adding that it was also a challenge to implement such a programme while multinational companies which produced chemical fertilisers spent huge sums on advertising as well as on bribing officials.

He said he had been able to set up an organic fertiliser factory in Makandura when he was the Agriculture Minister in 2007 as the first such project.

The President said three private sector companies produced organic fertiliser at present for export and the government would have to ask them for open a separate section to cater to the local market.

The President said they would have to introduce a licensing scheme for outlets which sold rice, vegetables or fruits produced without chemical fertiliser to prevent cheating of consumers by vendors who cheated consumers.

Presidential Advisor and Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said under the Vasa Visa Nethi Ratak programme they would cultivate 55,000 hectares of paddy in the Mahaweli B Zone, Udawalawe Zone and Trincomalee District without chemical fertiliser during the next cultivation season.

He said 70,000 farmers in those cultivation zones would join the programme.

Rathana Thera assured a bumper harvest under organic fertiliser comparable to crops grown with chemical fertiliser.

He said they would task 800 officers to make 70,000 farmers aware of the new cultivation methods and provide them with continuous guidance and monitoring of their cultivations.

"We will provide them with organic fertiliser as well as prepare a methodology to buy their harvest," Rathana Thera said.

He claimed they had been able to ban the Glyphosate under the programme and already 99% of paddy farmers were not using that chemical.

"This is the paddy harvesting period and there is no reduction of the harvest as some predicted that the output would drop without using Glyphosate, the Thera said. 

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