Feb 22, Colombo: The National Economic Council (NEC) appointed by the President Maithripala Sirisena to take decisions on strengthening national economy has focused its attention on introducing a new policy for providing the fertilizer subsidy in order to minimize the problems farmers are facing.
The fertilizer subsidy policy was discussed when the NEC met for the first time after elections today under the patronage of the President at the Presidential Secretariat.
The Unity government's decision in 2015 to provide a monetary allowance to the farmers instead of fertilizer is seen as one of the major reasons for the defeat of the government parties at the recent local government polls.
The government under increasing financial pressure due to low income and increasing external debt introduced the current policy of providing a cash allowance in 2015 with the aim of reducing the usage of chemical fertilizer and to encourage organic farming.
Accordingly, the government converted the subsidy to a cash allowance of Rs. 25,000 per year for 1 hectare for paddy farmers from 2016 Yala season.
During the meeting today, the NEC focused on two main problems in the fertilizer subsidy program. The Council decided to revise the current policy of providing the financial assistance for the farmers to purchase fertilizer and to ensure that there will be no fertilizer shortage.
At the discussion the National Economic Council and the Ministry of Agriculture were directed to prepare and submit an appropriate program to meet the fertilizer needs of the farmer while ensuring that the agricultural land is not polluted.
The importance of maintaining fertilizer reserves in the government to prevent fertilizer shortages was highlighted at the meeting and instructions were given to identify a suitable method for this purpose.
Various suggestions were made on the ban on glyphosate, and the National Economic Council decided to overcome some of the difficulties that had arisen by modifying the existing laws on glyphosate and introducing a new policy to alleviate some of the hardships farmers, especially, the tea growers face due to the ban.
Accordingly, it was proposed to allow the use of glyphosate in tea and rubber cultivation areas and it was suggested to study this matter further and formulate a new policy.
President Maithripala Sirisena in 2015 banned the imports of glyphosate as some studies have linked the use of the agrochemical to the Chronic Kidney Disease affecting the Sri Lankan farmers. However, as a result the tea industry has experienced devastating crop losses in excess of an estimated Rs. 15 billion in 2016 due to the overgrowing weeds.
Meanwhile, the Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the government has decided from the next cultivating season to credit the entire amount of fertilizer subsidy to the accounts of the farmers cultivating paddy, maize, soya, chilliest, big onions and potatoes before the season starts.
The government has also decided to pay the Rs. 1000 premium for the Rs. 40,000 per acre crop insurance for those crops, the Minister said. Accordingly, measures will be taken to provide the insurance completely free from this season.
The decision was taken when the NEC appointed committee comprising Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake, and Special Operations Minister Sarath Amunugama met today at the Finance Ministry.