Father of the green revolution
Before the subject is delved into, it would be pertinent to pay a tribute to Norman Ernest Borlaug, an American agronomist and a noble laureate, who is known as the father of the ‘Green Revolution’.
Norman Ernest Borlaug pioneered in the research and development of high yielding crops, cereals and research on irrigation methods and has been able to save starving of millions of people around the world.
Borlaug displayed his intellectual acumen only during the 19th century. We Sri Lankans have a rich history of irrigation engineering, which goes back to three millennia. Our ancient achievements in irrigation engineering are unparalleled. Then how is it that we are now struggling with our rural economy? What really ails our agrarian economy?
Post-1977 saw a rapid increase in agricultural infrastructure development projects implemented under the Mahaweli development program. The then UNP Government in power had lofty ideals of transforming Sri Lanka into another Asian wonder or miracle. Nothing seems to have happened and the same old song of high cost of living and malnutrition is still being sung.
There were exalting desires to make Sri Lanka another Singapore. Singapore does not have an agrarian economy; its microeconomic trends are far from what Sri Lanka could hope for. Singapore is an international trading hub and boasts a very skilled and educated work force. There is zero tolerance for nationalism or any ultra nationalistic trends.
Its higher educational institutions have never been shut during its history. Its method of inducting students to universities was not based on ‘Z score’ and it would be futile to compare Singapore as a benchmark for success.
The real benchmark for success is in achieving economic fundamentals. If Sri Lanka cannot achieve economic fundamentals, we have failed as a nation to stand on our own. What then are economic fundamentals?
The first is to look inwards and develop our own industries. Implement a Sri Lanka Industry Participation Policy for foreign companies (www.ft.lk on 04/04/2012). Cultivate a sense of admiration for local products and improve them and bring them in line with acceptable standards. Make use of our water resources. Bring in investments, local or FDIs, in the agricultural sector. Increase our export potential.
Israel does not have water resources but exports agricultural products. Seek assistance from countries like Israel for agricultural development. Enhance access to rural credit through innovative services, thus empowering the farmer.
Water is the lifeblood of our economy. Divert the Mahaweli to the Northern Province and the people of Northern Province would show us how real development could be achieved through water resources. They are starved of water. If the south is not interested in agriculture, then water should be directed to the north, where they would work miracles out of water.
Let the green revolution begin from the north. Let red onions from the north fall into the frying pans of kitchens worldwide. Let the peals of the red onions from the north smile on the face of the Italian pizzas worldwide. When it happens, it would be the success of a green revolution in Sri Lanka.
The green revolution does not retrograde the industrial development efforts but should be pursued as a measure to be self sufficient in food requirements of the country and for export markets.
The ‘Great Leap Forward’ of the Chinese Community party was to transform China from an agrarian economy into a fully-fledged industrial economy. The priorities of Sri Lanka should necessarily differ from that of China. The green revolution envisaged in this article is to exploit our water resources and to revolutionise the agrarian economy.
Any lessons we can draw from Indian Planning Commission?
We can draw ample lessons from India. We don’t have to travel to America or Europe to study real economic planning with credentials in practical aspects of economic development.
The Economist report of February 2012 says: “In 1985, the year Mikhail Gorbachev took over as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, India published its seventh economic plan. Its preface said planning was a ‘precious gift’ from Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, who had been an admirer of Soviet economics. Inevitably, the goals of the document, which included ending poverty by 2000, were missed by a country mile as India slipped towards a crisis that prompted it to open up its economy in 1991.Yet some things about the report have the capacity to surprise today.
“The preface’s author, Manmohan Singh, went on to lead the 1991 reforms and is now Prime Minister. The body behind it, the Planning Commission, is still alive and will soon launch its 12th plan for the five years beginning in April. It is the most powerful organ in India that would not be invented if it did not already exist. It is run by a bureaucratic rock star and, weirdly, is a bastion of liberal views in a government that has fallen out of love with reform.”
Gorbachev had to confront the worst economic hardships in the Soviet Union and during his tenure the Soviet Union disintegrated because of the failed policies adopted by the successive governments.
India by this time had been inching towards self sustainability and made significant efforts to revive the economy. Is there anything we can learn from Indian planning exercises? Or should we change plans and policies as and when a new government is formed to meets its own whims and fancies? It is perhaps time the Constitution was amended to create a bipartisan National Planning Commission towards creating a new renaissance in Sri Lanka.
Agrarian reforms in Sri Lanka
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka Report 2011 shows that agriculture, manufacturing and services represent 11%, 17% and 59% of our GDP respectively, whereas in India, agriculture represents 16% of its GDP and employs around 50% of the total workforce. India achieved self sufficiency in wheat owing to India’s own green revolution. It brought about other benefits as well.
Of course each country’s economy has its own macro and micro economic trends which are unique to its own economic policies. The World Bank has identified that 80 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas and rural poor account for 95% of the country’s poor. The report also says that agriculture share in GDP had declined continuously.
The contribution from the agriculture sector to employment has decreased from 36.8 per cent in 1995 to 30.5 per cent in 2005. The report identifies the challenges as being weaknesses in strategy and policies, heavy public sector regulatory interventions in commodity and input/factor markets, weak delivery of services in rural areas and the destructive impact of civil conflict and tsunami.
In order to obtain World Bank support, the report sets priority areas as improving agricultural growth performance, strengthening water and irrigation resources management, and creating an enabling environment for rural non-farm growth.
Access to rural credit is very crucial for a country like Sri Lanka. A legislative framework for rural credit needs to be looked at; either existing laws have to be reformed or new legislation should be introduced to enhance rural credit. This would enable traditional commercial banks, which have been licensed to operate in commercial banking, to tap the rural credit market. Adequate safeguards and oversight requirements too should be in place to protect the interests of the farmers for risk mitigation.
The real green revolution would take place only when the Government intervenes in policy adoption and implementation. Out-of-the-box thinking would be required to create ripples in an otherwise stagnant agrarian economy.
China and India would extend full support towards a new renaissance in Sri Lanka as both countries have experienced massive economic development programs along the path set by great thinkers of the calibre of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mao Zedong.
(The writer is a freelance journalist and a political lobbying and government affairs consultant.)