Civil Society Response to the Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP)

Movement For Land And Agricultural Reform





A discussion to obtain public opinion on the overarching agricultural policy frame work presented by by the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Rural Affairs, Irrigation and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development and Youth Affairs held in Colombo on 26th September 2019. The event was organized by Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform and Agronomists, academicism, scientists, farmers and environmentalists participated.

Experts suggested that these policies were designed to harm Sri Lanka's food sovereignty and food security and that agents of multinational corporations would be required to import and eat low-cost foods in other countries. Further they state that, as a result of these policies, the country that supplied rice to the Asia will continue to be destroyed. Therefore, people should protest and demand the authorities to stop these destructive policies. Civil Society Response to the Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) After carefully studying the proposed draft of the Sri Lanka Overarching Agriculture Policy (OAP) presented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Economic Affairs, Irrigation, and Fisheries, And Aquatic Resources Development and the Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development and Youth Affairs, we as academics, civil society organizations and farmers organizations decided to object its content and refuse the draft in its entirety. According to our point of view, the report completely fails to understand and account the crisis of agriculture in Sri Lanka as a product of the existing policy framework.

We strongly believe that ideas such as agri-business and food security are outdated and incapable of addressing the present crisis. We should replace these ideas with objectives such as food sovereignty and regenerative agriculture. A futuristic national agriculture policy should be equipped to eradicate hunger, develop climate and pest resilient food systems and establish an effective national governance mechanism which empowers the small farmer (especially women farmers).

Hence, we would urge you to withdraw the current draft and start a comprehensive consultative process engaging farmers, farmer organizations, civil society organizations and academics in Sri Lanka. We want to discuss our position and share our thoughts in detail, and most appreciate it if you could provide us with a meeting.

We would like to outline our position about the OAP briefly.

01. Violation of Policy Formulation Procedures:

We believe that an Overarching Report, particularly one that concentrates agriculture, the mainstay of our population as a source of food and livelihood, should pursue a more inclusive and democratic process. According to our observations, OAP violates a core principle of formulating policy through public consultations. We want to urge more transparency and inclusivity in formulating a national agricultural plan by exploring the actual challenges and needs of the farmers and the people of Sri Lanka.

02. Disconnected from Actual Needs of Agriculturalists:

a. Ten thematic areas highlighted in the report appear to be unrepresentative of the needs of agriculturalists; farmers and fishers, and people of Sri Lanka. Instead, they fall in line with the international agreements and requirements of multilateral organizations like the WTO and World Bank. We feel that such concentrations have contributed to a fundamental contradiction between the stated vision (3.1) and the rationale of the OAP (2.1). The thrust towards agri-business, monoculture and pauperization of farmers through evictions, land grabbing and privatization of seeds, water and land is detrimental to the prosperity of a developing country like Sri Lanka. In addition, the report has several limitations in relations to facts and literature reviewed. We find contextualization of Sri Lanka climate change, agricultural input to GDP, food security and land ideologically biased and impeding futuristic action to mitigate consequences of climate change.

b. An Overarching Policy on Agriculture ought to address the core issues of the crisis in Sri Lankan agriculture manifested by problems like dependency on food imports, poor health and nutrition of farmers (i.e. chronic kidney disease and malnutrition), over-indebtedness and broken social structure (i.e. drug abuses and suicides) in the rural areas, landlessness, human-animal conflict and improper institutional support. However, the proposed OAP completely disregards the present crisis and suggests market-oriented solutions which will further aggravate the crisis.

03. Endangers Food Sovereignty:

We believe that transcending the idea of accessibility to food as indicated by the concept of food security is crucial to address the needs of farmers and people. Food sovereignty has replaced the concept of food security. Food sovereignty insinuates a comprehensive need to empower producers of food as well as the consumers to determine their own agricultural and food policies independent of MNCs and multilateral finance institutions. It harnesses the farmers with greater control over corporations in the global food chain and enables them to cater food production to the needs of human health and nutrient, rehabilitating degraded land and water and reduce environmental and health risks. The proposed policy falls short in this regard as it limits its focus to increasing exports and profit.

04. Anti-Paddy Policy:

The report maintains that the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is capable of producing "all its rice requirements in a good season" (p.13). As the report points out, learning from best practices of countries like India, and China as well as adopting better seeds and water management policies could enhance paddy production. Sri Lanka's rank in the Global Hunger Index and Global Food Security Index that the report refers to further underscores the significance of addressing domestic food needs as a primary objective. However, the overall strategy assumes an anti-paddy standpoint. Instead of recognizing the close nexus between paddy cultivation, local food needs and livelihoods of small farmers, the OAP emphasizes on exports and consolidating land in the form of big farms. Despite being classified as a middle-income country, a majority of the Sri Lankan population consists of low-income households. Unlike those in the high-income brackets, poor people mostly consume a diet of carbohydrate. Absence of a policy that accommodates the needs of the poor and low-income households is another major shortcoming of this report.

05. Pro Agri-Business:

Agriculture policy on land, particularly paddy agriculture as outlined in the report (p. 30, p. 33-34), is directly connected to the long-term objectives of the World Bank to alienate land to big businesses. These indicate attempts to grab land from poor farmers and dispossess them by compelling them to become contract labor of big farms. In our knowledge, scarcity of land drives further fragmentation and practices like monoculture, excessive use of fertilizer and pesticide degrade soil quality and render land infertile. To address the issue of land fragmentation, the government should alienate more land to farmers and landless people (under properly monitored agreements to ensure their use towards food sovereignty). Attempts to industrialize agriculture through fertilizer, pesticide and monoculture are the principal causes of soil degradation. Therefore, agriculture policy should seek means to encourage ecological agriculture in place of commercialization and increasing profit.

06. Anti-Small Farmer:

a. The report states that small farmers constitute the bulk of land holdings and cultivated land. As a result, one would assume that the national agricultural policy would want to enhance the collective strengths and rights of small farmers. However, policy thrusts overlook them by adopting an international agreement centric and crop-centric approach. Such an approach renders the small farmers to be exploited by agri-business. In contrast, the small holder-centric agricultural policy is distinct as it focuses on the distribution of resources, enfranchising them in terms of land, seeds and water and locate them in the supply and value chain in a way that would provide them control over MNCs and financial institutions. Farmer-centric model will ask qualitatively different questions on the type of institutions that are responsible for generating new knowledge and its dissemination to promote the existing production and market models in agriculture. The widely known report presented by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) in 2009 highlights small farmer based agro-ecological and organic models in place of industrial agriculture as the way to go forward. Farmers need not be individualized and compared with agri-business to develop them within an institutional framework of farmer organizations, co-ops, and farmer companies.

b. We would also like to urge your attention towards the recently ratified, UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas, which was approved by 119 countries, including Sri Lanka. This declaration has emphasized the importance of ensuring the rights of small-scale food producers and improving their living standards in strengthen food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity. As highlighted earlier, this proposed overarching agriculture policy has completely failed in identifying the role of small-scale food producers in Sri Lankan agriculture and in contradictory tries to promote large scale industrial agriculture model which has accepted all over the world as a failed model in addressing current crises.

07. Lack of Attention to Woman Farmers:

Women farmers play a major role in agriculture, be it subsistent or commercial. Their role in agriculture is crucial not only in local economic development, ensuring food sovereignty in local communities but also in national economic development. But historically our policy regimes have failed in identifying women as an equal partner in Sri Lankan agriculture sector hence they have been discriminated in most aspects of agriculture policy making. Discriminatory land laws (eg: land development ordinance), difficulties in accessing agriculture subsidies and insurance schemes, lack of market access and viable technological options have made women more vulnerable in the agriculture sector. Sadly, the proposed OAP has failed in identifying women in agriculture as an equal partner, hence failed in addressing the specific issues they are facing.

08. Compromises Rights to Seeds and Plants:

As a small farmer agrarian economy, policymaking on seeds and plant protection ought to pay attention towards enfranchising and strengthening the hands of farmers. Conversely, the current document aspires to commodify seeds and concentrate the ownership of seeds in the hands of MNCs and agri-businesses who will control production and distribution of food. We want to point out that seeds and plants constitute the cornerstone of food sovereignty and domestic food needs which should not be compromised. At the moment Sri Lanka does not have sufficient institutional and regulatory framework to address issues like bio-piracy, infiltration of sub-standard food into the domestic market as well as trans-boundary bio-threats that could devastate local agriculture.

09. Fails to Orient Agriculture Policy in the Context of Climate Change:

a. Climate change is one area where the report fails miserably. Despite being a high climate risk country and global emphasis on departing from commercialized agriculture to reduce emissions, soil and water degradation and control food price inflation, the present document dictates a market-oriented policy of industrializing agriculture. Such a policy focus indicates a lack of awareness as to how a small developing country like Sri Lanka could get involved in addressing climate change – in adaptation and mitigation. A policy documented with climate change at heart ought to consider the type of agricultural model appropriate for climate adaptation or mitigation, giving due attention on major sub-sectors or farming systems. In line with these objectives, more attention should be paid to minimize environmental impact of conventional farming.

b. The report does not elaborate what it implies by ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (p. 24). We fear that ‘climate-smart agriculture’ is an attempt to introduce GMOs, Geo-Engineering, Synthetic Biology and AI in Agriculture.

10. Alternative Policy:

Overarching Policy on Agriculture should concentrate on agro-ecology. It should be based on watersheds, ecologically sound and holistic development approach geared towards food sovereignty, small producers and regenerative agriculture. Institutional and regulatory structures should be strengthened to focus on organic farming, regenerating soil, water and biodiversity. A holistic agriculture policy structured along these lines would distribute socio-cultural, political and economic benefits among everyone without concentrating them in the hands of a few.

Individuals

01. Prof. Palitha Weerakkody
02. Prof. P.I.Yapa
03. Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage
04. Dr. Shammika Liyanage
05. Dr. Lionel Weerakoon
06. Dr. Damayanthi Perera
07. Dr. C.M Wejerathna
08. Mr. Buddhi Jayasooriya
09. Ms. Vishaka Thilakarathna
10. Ms. Amali Wedagedara
11. Mr. J.M Soorasena
12. Mr. Sylvester Jayakody
13. Mr. Ekeswara Kottegoda
14. Mr. Sandun Thudugala
15. Mr. Vidura Munasinhe
16. Mr. Sampath Samarakoon
17. Mr. Suranjaya Amarasinha
18. Mr. Dharmasiri Lankapeli
19. Mr. Linus Jayathilake
20. Mr. Sampath Puspakumara


Organization

01. Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), Rajagiriya
02. Lanka Farmer Forum (LFF), Hanguranketha
03. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), Negombo
04. United Federation of Labour (UFL), Colombo 02
05. Lanka Organic Agriculture Movement (LOAM), Nugegoda
06. Uva Wellassa Women Organization (UWWO), Wellawaya
07. Weligepola Women Development Federation (WWDF), Balangoda
08. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Badulla
09. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Vavuniya
10. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Batticolo
11. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Kandy
12. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Rathnapura
13. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Kurunegala
14. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Anuradapura
15. Peoples Planning Forum (PPF), Galle
16. Future in Our Hand (FIOH), Badulla
17. Agriculture and Environmental Professionals Cooperative (AgEnCoop), Kandy
18. SAVISTRI Women's Movement, Battaramulla
19. Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Colombo 02
20. The Ceylon Mercantile Industrial and General Workers Union (CMU), Kollupity
21. Law and Society Trust (LST), Borella
22. People's Alliance for Right to Land (PARL), Borella
23.Farmers Straggle Centre (FSC), Kegolle

Foot Note:1 Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (2009) “Agriculture at Crossroads: Global Report”, Available at http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8590/Agriculture_at_a_Crossroads_Global_Report.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

Foot Note:2 Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (2009) “Agriculture at Crossroads: Global Report”, Available at http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8590/Agriculture_at_a_Crossroads_Global_Report.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y