Unjustifiable imports

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s Government is oft quoted praising its agriculture and self-sufficiency, but a report suggests that attempts are underway to import vegetables from Iran, possibly to counter high prices at home. Iranian and Sri Lankan officials on Monday have agreed to boost export of agricultural products from Iran’s Southern Hormozgan Province, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. The report also noted that Sri Lankan Ambassador to Tehran Mohammad Feisal Razin and Deputy Hormozgan Governor General Latif Sadeqi had agreed to export the excess produce in the Province to Sri Lanka at a meeting in the Southern city of Bandar Abbas. The Deputy Hormozgan Governor has said that the province has excess production of onion, pepper, tomato and aubergine, which can be exported to Sri Lanka. Recalling the excellent relations Sri Lanka and Iran enjoy currently, the Sri Lankan envoy has expressed hope to expand the trade ties between the two countries and said the Hormozgan can be a successful start for such relations. Noting that the culture and climate of Hormozgan and Sri Lanka are very close, the Sri Lankan envoy has said that the Iranian province can serve as an appropriate venue for the expansion of ties by the traders and businessmen of the two countries. Earlier this month during a visit by Iran’s Scientific Attaché to the Indian peninsula Ali Azam Khosravi to Colombo, the two countries agreed to strengthen academic ties and expand scientific and economic relations between the two countries. Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani and President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to further strengthen the economic and political relations between the two countries when they met in New York last month on the sidelines of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, but the public in Sri Lanka saw this in relation to traditional sectors such as oil and tourism. The possibility that such basics as aubergines, which Sri Lanka already produces in abundance, need to be imported raises questions over the Government’s own agriculture policies. Rolling back the fertiliser subsidy has farmers already worried with consumers bracing themselves for higher prices. How can such policies be justified in the light of basic vegetables being imported to Sri Lanka? Protectionist policies have riddled agriculture for decades with ever-weaker State handouts holding up a faltering sector. Rice farmers in particular are dependent on State buyouts, which have become burdens to the taxpayer and provide bare survival to the growers. Efforts to create export-oriented produce such as organic vegetables and fruits has largely been left in the hands of the private sector with the Government agriculture arm smug over its fertiliser subsidy. Caught at the bottom are consumers who not only have to pay high prices but also receive low quality goods, usually inundated in unhealthy chemicals to boot. With the festive season just around the corner, most will be waiting in quiet dread for an artificial boost of costs. While attempts to bring down the cost of living through imports can be lauded, it is at best a stop gap measure, and the Government owes it to the people to formulate sustainable policies. A government that cannot feed its own people is usually sent packing.