By Shezna Shums
The grace period given to farmers, wholesalers, distributors and traders who have to purchase plastic crates for transporting fresh fruits and vegetables ended this week though implementation of the new rule remains lax.
The Treasury has released Rs. 103 million to the Ministry of Cooperatives and Internal Trade to acquire these plastic boxes, while more money will be released in the future.
This money was given to uphold President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proposal of providing 400,000 plastic crates to the people involved in the local fruit and vegetable industry.
Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena meanwhile said that the gazette notification relating to the use of plastic crates would remain in force; but the requirement will not be strictly enforced.
The Minister recalled that during his recent trip to the Nuwara Eliya District, the fruit and vegetable farmers had told him that the boxes to be use for this purpose should be made with a lid to avoid pilferage. They had said that the mouths of the gunny bags used earlier for the transport of the produce could be sewn preventing pilferage and that if the boxes that are now being introduced did not have lids the items could be stolen during transportation and storage.
Following this meeting, the Minister said that the local factory supplying the plastic boxes had to make a new mould for the lids to be in place and that therefore it would take about three months to meet the country’s total demand for plastic boxes.
“We will not enforce this gazette notification to the letter, as only about 50 per cent of the demand has been met,” noted the Minister.
However the requirement of using plastic or hard boxes to prevent wastage will remain effective as it is important for the progress of the local fruit and vegetable industry.
The Minister added that around 196,000 boxes had already been issued and more were needed to meet the local demand.
“There is a demand for about 500,000 boxes in the country,” highlighted Minister Abeywardena. “The situation is not that the Treasury has not given us money. A part of the boxes needed have already been distributed. But the amount provided was not enough to meet the cost of the total number of boxes needed.”
The Minister also added that the Ministry of Agriculture had wanted to implement this requirement with a six-month grace period given to the farmers, distributors, wholesalers and traders to acquire the boxes. However the Ministry of Cooperatives and Internal Trade had implemented it with little time given to the people to acquire the boxes.
The move to introduce plastic boxes by all persons involved in the local fruit and vegetable industry came into effect on 1 February in terms of a special gazette notification.
However, due to the short notice and the inability of the farmers, distributors and traders to acquire the plastic boxes or some other type of hard boxes, a grace period up to 1 March was given to strictly enforce the requirement stipulated in the gazette notification.
The Consumer Affairs Authority will ensure that farmers, traders, distributors etc. adhere to the new requirement. The CAA has already announced that persons not adhering to this requirement will either be fined or sued in a court of law.
Given that a large number of plastic boxes are needed, the President had also ordered that the Government should buy 400,000 plastic boxes and distribute them to those who need them.
Following this decision the Treasury had issued a statement saying that Rs. 300 million would be released to assist the farmers, distributors and traders in acquiring these boxes. This decision had also been approved by the Cabinet.
The Government decision to prevent farmers, distributors, wholesalers and traders from storing, transporting and displaying locally grown fruits and vegetables in gunny bags was taken to prevent large quantities of fruits and vegetables going waste.
According to the Cooperative and Internal Trade Ministry, about 25-40 per cent of locally grown fruits and vegetables go waste owing to the use of poor storing and transporting methods. This in turn increases the retail price paid for them by the customer.
The decision to introduce plastic boxes was not immediately welcomed by the people in the fruit and vegetable industry as their views had not been sought prior to the imposition of this new requirement.
Treasury gives Rs. 103 m; Says over 150,000 crates provided to farmers
The Treasury has granted a large amount of money exceeding Rs. 103 million for the programme implemented by the government to introduce plastic containers to farmers, traders and wholesalers with the objective of providing clean and quality fresh vegetable to the market.
This move was initiated with a view to preventing the excessive wastage taking place while transporting vegetable and fruits in gunny bags and fertiliser sacks.
Over 150,000 containers have already been provided to the farmers, collectors of vegetables and traders, and further arrangements have been made to provide adequate plastic containers in due course.
The programme of providing plastic containers for vegetable transportation is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of co-operatives and Internal Trade, and the General Treasury has taken action to allocate more funds for this purpose.