Jaffna agrarian services said neglected by Colombo

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 24 September 2003, 08:43 GMT]
A farmer whose fields lie inside the Sri Lanka army’s high security zones in Jaffna loses up to 500,000 rupees (5250 USD) annually in terms of income and land depreciation, according to Mr. Balasubramaniam Ponnaiah, an agrarian services official in the northern peninsula. He said that Colombo didn’t allocate any funds at all for agricultural development in Jaffna since 1995. The Sri Lankan military has garrisoned about 27 percent of Jaffna’s arable lands.

“The Sri Lankan government sends only the salaries for those who work in the agrarian services department in Jaffna”, Mr. Ponnaiah said.

Jaffna was the main producer of chillies, onions and other dry zone vegetables in the seventies and early eighties.

The peninsula’s agricultural production has declined due to neglected infrastructure, marketing problems, dearth of capital and inputs, high cost of fuel, ban on fertilisers, pesticides and the displacement of farming population.

“Today only about 8500 hectares are cultivated with rice in Jaffna. Fertile fields here can yield about 2.5 metric tons of rice per hectare. Earlier we produced about 70000 metric tons from about 30000 hectares”, Mr. Ponnaiah said.

“However, I must say that the cultivation of bananas and onions has gone up since the A9 highway was opened last year after the cease fire agreement”, he added.

But farmers incur great losses due to damages caused by primitive methods of packaging and transporting such produce to markets in the southern parts of the island.

“If we cannot make the crossing at Omanthai before it is closed for the day due to a mishap on the way or delay in loading, we may end up with unmarketably overripe bananas. We have to pass on the cost of such risks to the farmer”, says Mr. Arumugam Gunarajah, a commodities broker in the Jaffna town market.

Jaffna’s most fertile ‘red soil’ region is largely enclosed by the SLA’s vast Palaly –Kankesanthurai base now.

More than 2000 farming families remain deprived of their fields in this region known as the Waligamam Division of Jaffna, according to Mr. Ponnaiah.

About 1950 farming families in the Thenmaradchi Division of the peninsula lost their livelihoods when their fields and plantations were garrisoned by SLA since 2000.

Jaffna’s total landmass is 102520 hectares. Of this 23275 is agricultural land.

“Jaffna’s agricultural sector was utterly neglected by the Sri Lankan government for twenty years. Colombo did the same to our fisheries industry. The peninsula’s agrarian infrastructure was allowed fall into total ruin. Fisheries and agriculture form the economic backbone of this society. The Sinhala rulers saw war as a good excuse to break it”, said Mr. M. K Sivajilingam, MP for Jaffna.


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