Food security is a priority for any nation, given the current concerns over climate change, land use and the decline in the agricultural labour force. It is thus important to ramp up food production efforts in an innovative manner in the face of a projected rise in population and limited availability of arable land.
It is in this context that we should applaud the National Food Production Drive that commenced yesterday under the guidance of President Maithripala Sirisena. The President, who hails from a primarily agricultural province, started the drive with the ‘National Wap Magul Ceremony’ held near the Thibbotuwawa Tank, Kekirawa.
Many programmes are expected to be launched across the country during the National Food Production Week from October 6 to 12, leading up to the World Food Day on October 16 which will be held under the theme “Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”. October 6th, the first day of Food Production Week campaign has been designated as Farmers’ Day and many programmes including the distribution of seed paddy to farmers took place to mark the day. October 7 (Students’ Day), October 08 (Livestock Day), October 9 (Entrepreneurs’ Day), October 10 (Fisheries Day), October 11 (Public Servants Day) and October 12 (Diyawara/Irrigation Day) are the other designated themes for the week.
The themes have been selected to reflect the urgent need to enhance food production, not only in terms of traditional farming but also in terms of ocean and freshwater fisheries and dairy/livestock. We need such a holistic approach to food production. After nearly 30 years, the fertile Northern and Eastern provinces are back in the picture as stable food production regions. The Northern farmers are especially reputed for their ingenious irrigation and agricultural methods which they continued even amidst the conflict and freed of those shackles, they are now in a far better position to contribute to the national food production drive.
The farming community should come first in any food production drive. The main problem that the authorities have to tackle is that the old generation of farmers is fading away while their descendants would rather prefer white collar jobs in the city. It is vital to keep the younger generation in farming, by giving them incentives to modernize and mechanize. The Government should grant further concessions for purchasing agricultural machinery.
This is the premise behind the “Govi Navoda” (Farmers’ Awakening) and the “Ran Aswenna” (Golden Harvest) loan schemes introduced by the Government yesterday which offers loans with interest subsidy to prospective farmers or farming entrepreneurs for productivity enhancement and commercialization. It is indeed vital to consider them as entrepreneurs, because the modern farmer is essentially a business person who ought to be savvy in technology, marketing and communication. Hence the importance of designating a separate Entrepreneurship Day during the food production week.
We have also seen a trend where agriculture graduates either migrate or select completely unrelated vocations which leads to a brain drain in the sector. The authorities should strive to retain their expertise for the agri sector. “Catch them young” may sound like a cliché, but the focus of the Students Day should be stimulating an interest in agriculture in young minds. If every student plants at least one edible plant in his or her compound, half the food battle would have been won. If they go on to select agriculture as a vocation, it will be a huge bonus.
The term food production generally conjures a picture of traditional farming, but livestock farming and fisheries are two major sectors that can contribute heavily to a nation’s food drive. Sri Lanka spends billions of dollars annually to import milk powder since it lacks the capacity for fresh milk production locally to satisfy the entire country’s demand. Steps are being taken to address this issue. More awareness should be created on the nutritional properties of eggs to popularise this food item and benefit the poultry industry. While the Government has indeed done a lot for the deep sea fisheries industry, more incentives should be given to reviving the freshwater fisheries industry which suffered heavily as a result of a virtual ban imposed by a previous administration. Freshwater fish or “Wew Maalu” in common parlance should be popularised countrywide as an alternative to some of the more expensive varieties of sea food. The focus on irrigation will be helpful to all these sectors, because water is the lifeline that sustains both crops and livestock.
The Government deserves praise for designating a Public Servants Day during the food week, for it will be futile to think of developing the agri sector without Governmental intervention. All public servants, not just agriculture extension and Grama Niladhari officers, should be involved in assisting the farming community. Red tape should be kept to a minimum in this vital sphere.
As lands available for agriculture keep dwindling globally, we will have to look for alternatives such as vertical agriculture and soil-less agriculture (hydroponics, projected to be worth US$ 12 billion by 2025). Innovation is the key to feeding the world.
Daily News, October 9, 2017