By Shezna Shums
Prices of vegetables and some dry rations continue to remain high since early this year, when crop cultivations were damaged by the floods, resulting in shortages in the market.
The prices of fresh fruit and vegetables reached their peak in January and have continued to be on the high side.
The prices of vegetables, especially items such as carrots, green chillies, green beans and tomatoes among others, continue to remain high.
Several coconut estates were also destroyed, forcing the Government to import coconuts from India and Pakistan. Among other imports were chicken, eggs, big onions and red onions, when the country saw their prices surge. Currently moves are underway to import maize as there is a shortage in the country.
Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told Daily FT that the public should not expect the prices of vegetables to come down, noting that the high prices would remain.
“The cost of production, especially labour and even casual labour, has increased. A casual worker has to be paid Rs. 1,000 a day and owing to this, the cost of production for one coconut alone ranges from Rs. 30 to Rs. 35 now,” the Minister explained.
He revealed that the cost of production for a kilo of cinnamon was Rs. 1,000, while a kilo of goraka costs the farmer Rs. 300 and even the cost of a kilo of cardamom was very expensive.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the price of beetroot has come down and is now Rs. 40 a kilo; however carrots remain expensive after several nurseries were destroyed.
Minister Abeywardena added that at present 100,000 kilos of carrots are being brought down from Jaffna and that the prices should reduce.
Overall however for the farmers to benefit from their livelihoods, these high prices of vegetables will remain. Another fact affecting the high cost of vegetables is that traders would usually have a mark up of 100 per cent when selling their produce.
One of the factors affecting the final cost of vegetables is wastage and this cost being added to the products on sale, due to which the Government introduced the use of plastic crates to address this problem.
Another factor affecting vegetables was that cultivations in the wet zones were damaged following rains and floods. Nevertheless Minster Abeywardena said there should be no problems regarding vegetables during the upcoming Sinhala New Year.
Despite the Government’s measures to bring down the cost of eggs, they are priced at Rs. 18 in supermarkets, while an egg at a Government economic centre costs Rs. 12.
Government plans for paddy
Cabinet has decided to purchase this year’s paddy harvest at Rs. 30 per kg of samba and Rs. 28 nadu as the harvest will be ready in the Northern, North Western, North Central and Eastern Districts.
The Government is contemplating getting back the paddy stores that have been leased out in order to stock the paddy that will be purchased during the upcoming Maha season.
The Government is planning to purchase 200,000 MT when the Maha season begins within the next few weeks.
Cabinet last week granted approval to a proposal by Cooperatives and Internal Trade Minister Johnston Fernando for the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) to purchase the paddy at the rate of Rs. 30 per kilo of samba and Rs. 28 per kilo of nadu.
Paddy purchasing will be done in the Districts of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and the districts in the North and North Western Provinces with the assistance of the respective district Government officials.
Already 182,000 MT of paddy purchased in the 2009/ 2010 seasons are in Government stocks and these have been stored utilising the stores belonging to the Food Department and PMB.
Since there is no facility to store the paddy that is to be purchased this year, a suggestion has been made to re-vest the paddy stores leased out to private sector again.
Cabinet also approved several relief measures for the farmers affected by the recent floods during the Maha season. Among the decisions taken were waiving of loans taken by farmers up to September 2011.
Cabinet approval was granted to provide seed paddy free of charge up to a maximum of five bushels, seeds for other field crops up to an extent of 0.2 hectares and financial assistance at the rate of Rs. 4,000 per 0.4 hectare through the Ministry of Economic Development for re-cultivation purposes to farmers whose crops were damaged.
The funds for these relief measures are to come from the Rs. 33 billion which had been approved by Cabinet last month for relief and recovery programmes in the flood-affected districts, which also includes the provision of dry rations for a period of six months.