Asking an “egg” cellent question

Thursday, 7 October 2010 23:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WHAT comes first, the chicken or the egg? If one were to ask the Cabinet of Ministers, they would probably reply, “Taxes come first.” In an interesting twist of events, a decision has been taken to allow limitless egg imports during the upcoming months of November and December to enable the people to have an egg-filled festive season.

Amusement aside, the Government does have a point. Poultry product prices are known to hit the stratosphere during the months of November, December and April – precisely the same months when the people are in a mood to spend more and enjoy themselves. The latest decision by the Cabinet allows for tax free imports during this time and while this is laudable to a certain extent, the habit of finding loincloth solutions to the cost of living problem remains worrisome.

Sri Lanka and its people are famous for shortcuts, so it is no surprise that the Government is focusing more on short term relief to pacify people, rather than actually ensuring that the industry is given the opportunity to grow and sustain itself at a realistic level. Many are the laments that have been raised by the industry regarding the non-availability of maize to feed poultry so that adequate stocks can be released to the market during peak buying seasons so that sporadic imports – some of low quality – do not steal much needed profits from farmers.

The pleas seem to have been made to no avail and the Government has created room for foreign products to flood the market. In theory this could at least provide short-felt relief for the consumers, but what is more the case is that even the imports would be controlled so an artificial shortage is created, with prices staying closer to the clouds and eggs keeping far from plates. The same situation happens for rice, fish, potatoes, onions and a plethora of other essential items, so much so that customers have become used to stocking up in advance or bearing astronomical prices to enjoy.

Thousands of people earn a livelihood from poultry farming and their needs must be met. A few months ago when chicken prices increased, the Government put in place a standard amount that could not be exceeded, but this was followed only for skinless chicken, sold mostly in supermarkets, and the common man was left to suffer. A plan to import chicken was vehemently opposed by the industry, understandably on the premise that it would kill their business and the consumer was left to wonder why the chicken crossed the road.

All puns aside, while it is positive that the Government is taking early measures to control the cost of living, come the festive season they must also understand that economic development at a pragmatic level means strengthening local industries and gaining food security. Admittedly this process is not limited to eggs, but the incubation period is fast running out and the time has come for the Government to take strong steps to control the prices of essential items before the same spread of increased costs are splashed across media – a fact that happens as regularly as the season.