Batticaloa farmers face bleak prospects
[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 February 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Farmers in the Batticaloa District - especially those from areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - are facing financial ruin with middlemen purchasing their harvest at very low prices, reports the TamilNet correspondent in Batticaloa.
A 66 kg bag of paddy which was purchased for 1000 rupees during the last season , today fetches only 550 rupees.
This situation has arisen because the Paddy Marketing Board, a government institution which buys paddy at a guaranteed minimum price, closed down its operations in Batticaloa since 1990.
Farmers are compelled to sell to unscrupulous middleman even at these very low prices because there aren't any private storage facilities available to the cultivators to keep their paddy until prices are good.
Farmers in Vavunatheevu , six km north west of Batticaloa, which is controlled by the LTTE, are in a bigger dilemma because they have to pay either 150 rupees or give a bottle of Blue Label Arrack to soldiers at the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) checkpoint which stands at the entrance to the Valaiyiravu bridge for securing permission to take their produce across, said sources.
The paddy wholesale market is in the Batticaloa and Kattankudy towns which are to the east of the lagoon and are under SLA control.
The wholesale trade in paddy in the Batticaloa district is largely controlled by the Muslims.
The ex- Tamil militant paramilitary groups working with the army also engage in paddy trade during the harvests, mostly with stock they collect through extortion at the entry points to the SLA controlled towns of Batticaloa from the rice rich western hinterlands of the district which are under the control of the Liberation Tigers.
Batticaloa's western hinterland, known as Paduvankarai, produced 12 percent of Sri Lanka's paddy in more peaceful times.