Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Ajantha de Silva refuted allegations largely fuelled by the Opposition that there will be an acute shortage of food in the country by April due to the chemical fertiliser ban by the Government.
Citing official statistics, he said the major rice mill owners had paddy stocks to last for one year, and vegetable farmers will have access to chemical fertiliser since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa approved chemical fertiliser for certain identified crops following expert advice.
He said, “The country needed 200,000 tons of rice per month. Therefore, the annual demand for rice is 2.4 million tons. We meet this requirement by cultivating 500,000 hectares in Yala and 800,000 hectares in the Maha season”.
Due to rainfall and other nature related factors, in the Wet Zone, the rice yield is between 3-4 tons per hectare but in the granary districts in the Dry Zone such as Ampara, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Mannar districts it goes up to six tons per hectare. The national average yield for paddy, hence, is about 4.37 tons per hectare.
“We cultivated the full 500,000 hectares during the last Yala season and we did not have any issue with fertiliser, rainfall or any other external factor, thus the farmers collected the usual harvest,” Dr. De Silva said adding, “Therefore, the last Yala season produced rice to feed the entire population for six months. We got the Yala harvest from February to March”.
He also noted that 795,000 hectares are being cultivated at present for the Maha season and added that the usual harvest may not be received this season, due to the fertiliser issue.
However, he said, it is not going to be drastically low as predicted by certain people. The 25 District Agriculture Directors, Deputy Commissioners of Agrarian Development and other officials were summoned to Colombo recently to review the situation with the Maha season.
He said, “There has not been a scientific calculation of the anticipated yield but according to the data produced by the district officials, we expect the loss to be below 25 percent”.
“That means we will get 2.9 -3 tons of paddy per hectare, enough rice to feed the population for six months,” the Director General of Agriculture Department said. Besides, the rice mill owners use six- month-old paddy, not the latest yield, so the stocks of rice are in their warehouses.
He said the President approved the use of chemical fertiliser for vegetable cultivations, hence the vegetable farmers will not have any issues in the future.
“We don’t predict an acute shortage as claimed by groups with vested interests. The food items imported to the country will be in short supply due to the current dollar crisis faced by the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There will not be a shortage of crops cultivated within the country, I can vouch for that,” Dr. De Silva added.