Sri Lanka mulls food security bill

Remarkable increase in rice production in island nation: M.S. Swaminathan

The draft Indian Food Security Bill could provide valuable inputs to a similar Sri Lankan initiative, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said.

The Indian Bill is designed to ensure that every citizen has a legal right to food.

Mr. Rajapaksa made the remark at a meeting with Indian agricultural scientist and Member of Parliament M.S. Swaminathan here.

Professor Swaminathan, who has visited Sri Lanka several times since the 1970s to share his expertise in agriculture, observed that rice production in the island nation had shown a remarkable increase in recent years, largely due to supply of fertilizers to farmers at subsidised prices.

This year, Sri Lanka would export rice, he was informed at the meeting held at Temple Trees, official residence of the President.

Steps to sustain and expand the rice “revolution” were discussed at the meeting.

The additional measures suggested included providing nutrient-based subsidy to promote balanced fertilization, introducing Mobile Soil Health Monitoring Vans that can issue Soil Health Passbooks to farmers and appropriate high-yielding hybrid rice strains, coupled with sustainable rice intensification agronomic procedures. Steps will have to be taken to increase the yield per unit of land and water on an environmentally sustainable basis, it was felt.

Improving productivity with respect to other crops, enhancing the catch for fishermen using modern technology and introducing mitigation measures in the context of climate change also came up for discussion.

Climate change

Anticipatory action was required to meet the challenge of rising sea level. The December 26, 2004 tsunami was a wake-up call, it was noted.

The meeting recognised that climate refugees will move from coastal to inland areas.

Professor Swaminathan suggested that Sri Lanka’s Sea Level Rise Management Strategy might include the following components: updating the coastal vulnerability map prepared about 10 years ago, raising mangrove and non-mangrove bioshields, introducing and cultivating salinity tolerant rice varieties and establishing a genetic garden of halphytes (seawater-tolerant plants) to promote agri-aqua farms along the coast.

It was decided to establish a Translational Research Centre at Jaffna to convert the scientific findings into field-level applications. Such a centre will help to bridge the gap between scientific know-how and field level do-how.

Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Foreign Secretary K. Amunugama and Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha attended the meeting.

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