Farmers in Kilinochchi have warned that the upcoming harvest could be worse than during decades of armed conflict, according to a report in The Hindu, after the Sri Lankan government banned chemical fertilizers.
Muthu Sivamohan, a Tamil peasant leader from northern Kilinochchi, described the uncertainty over the ban on chemical fertilizers from this year’s paddy yield at “two more times of crisis.”
“The first is when Prime Minister Sirimavo [Bandaranaike] introduced import substitution in the 1970s, ”said the 63-year-old farmer. He vividly recalled the “severe food shortage” during the period, with long queues outside stores as people waited for hours to buy a loaf of bread. “There was hunger everywhere. We mostly survived thanks to the royal coconut and cassava.
“The civil war began a decade later and lasted for around 30 years as the armed forces fought the LTTE. The predominantly Tamil north and east have been suffocated by violence, an economic blockade and no access to national markets. “These were extremely difficult times. , but we weren’t hungry. We produced our own food and had enough to eat, ”Sivamohan said, contrasting the years of conflict with the current situation.
Their remarks come after the ban on chemical fertilizers was imposed by the Rajapaksa regime. Subsequent protests by farmers in the south and Tamil farmers in the northeast unhappy with the ban forced the government to rethink its position.
Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector employs almost 25% of the workforce and accounts for 8% of the GDP. Southern Sinhala farmers who voted for the Rajapaksa regime often protested against the burning effigies of the agriculture minister. Across the northeast, Tamil farmers have also led protests against the fertilizer ban but under intense surveillance by the Sri Lankan military apparatus. The northeast remains one of the most militarized regions on the planet. Land grabbing and attempts to grab Tamil land, often arable land, are systematically carried out by the three branches of the Sri Lankan army, resulting in the displacement of the Tamil people. The strong militarization of the Tamil areas created a culture of fear among the local population and stifled economic growth.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2018, the Sri Lankan army “occupies private land held and used by civilians, and state land intended for non-military purposes”. In the report, HRW says that the military occupation of land is one of the main factors contributing to the continued displacement: according to the government, in 2017, nearly 40,000 people remained internally displaced, a majority from Jaffna.
Despite twelve years since the end of the armed conflict and continued calls to demilitarize the northeast, military involvement in civil affairs is rife. Tamil lands in the northeast are constantly being expropriated for the needs of the state with an increase in incidents of Tamil residents facing intimidation and displacement. In addition, the normalization of military-owned businesses limits local economic development and leaves the Tamil population unable to support themselves.
With no apparent solution, farmers worry – about their next yield, as well as its impact on the country’s food security. “If our people go hungry next year, the government should not hold farmers accountable. If the citizens starve to death, it will be a disgrace for the country, ”Sivamohan said.
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