Srilankan government has earmarked 800,000 acres of farm and grazing land for corporations: MONLAR

The government had not introduced mechanisms to ensure a stable and adequate food supply although almost a year has passed since Sri Lanka became affected by Covid-19, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), Chinthaka Rajapakshe told The Island yesterday, commenting on soaring food prices.

Rajapakshe said that if the government had worked according to a strategy, it could have increased the production of food and come up with better distribution networks last year.

“The government has shown its incompetence by not straightening up the distribution network and introducing price control mechanisms. One year is more than enough to produce 90% of the food the country needs. We also have the resources, experience and knowledge to achieve this goal. The only thing lacking is proper government planning.”

The government continued to hand over some forest land and the lands used by small farmers to large agro businesses, Rajapakshe said, adding that the government had earmarked 800,000 acres of land to be given to corporations; those lands mainly consisted of forests, chenas and pastures.

“The President is facilitating this process through his Gama Samaga Pilisandara programme, which is an attempt to mislead the people by giving them false promises and some relief. Gotabaya tells people it is all right to cultivate forest land under the Forest Conservation Department and instructs officials not to punish people who send their cattle into forests. People walk away feeling good but a few months later big corporations would take over those lands.”

The MONLAR Moderator said that they had conducted a survey on the lands given to corporations by the incumbent government last year. Most of the lands are those used by cattle herders and chena cultivators.

“These big companies cultivate crops like corn and their produce does not help ensure the country’s food security. Moreover, the government cannot exert any influence over these big businesses. For example, it issued several gazettes last year stipulating prices on some varieties of rice but big millers did not heed them. We simply don’t have the power to influence the market. The government has tried to replace public servants with retired Army officers in a bid to convince the people that it has got tough with big businessmen.

The MONLAR Moderator added that early last year the government had encouraged home gardening during lockdowns. However since the government had no plan or policy to make it sustainable, the home gardening project fell through.

This article first appeared in the news website The Island and has been edited for the heading. Cover image is only for representative purposes.