Friday, March 5, 2010
The indecent electorate and the (ir)rationale of the farmer
"The farmer opens the door of his henhouse to let the fox in knowing the destruction the fox will cause to him and his family, but does it anyway"\
One of my principal bugbears over the past 5 years as a paddy farmer in Polonnaruwa listening to the lament of my neighboring farmers, has been this fact that two of the Agricultural Ministers in Sri Lanka are directly or indirectly owners of the largest rice mills. This means that all their personal interests are in complete contrast to that of a rice farmer, the predominant farmer crop in the Polonnaruwa district which both represent in Parliament and claim to befriend.
It is in the miller’s interest to obtain paddy from farmers at the lowest price, so that they can process and market at the highest price they can get for their finished product. This will maximize the profits they will make. What they do with the profits is completely up to them, whether it is to run the election campaign and pay vast sums of money in campaigning or if they want to immerse themselves in luxurious living not having take a penny from the government coffers.
I have no idea if they take any of the perks available for their office like vehicles, fuel, security and free everything from phones to homes. I can’t imagine that they have decided to forego them and pay out of their own pockets.
Just this week I had a farmer in a state saying that at the current price, that is paddy at Rs22 a kg he would be losing money on his crop. Only 4 weeks ago, when I had to buy some rice, I was told the price prevailing was Rs41 a kg. This is 86% higher than the farmer is currently getting. That is a staggering difference.
Imagine if you had to sell your produce at that lower price, when you could have doubled your income if you were able to hold till prices rise to those levels.
Farmers have debts to pay upon harvest and therefore the majority of farmers sell their paddy at the harvesting site itself to traders who come and buy at the field upon threshing. Additionally farmers do not have storage facilities at their homes, and they have to transport the paddy from the field to the home. The government guaranteed price of Rs28 is only obtainable if the paddy is dry and to a certain minimum moisture level, and free of dust. The paddy has to be taken to the government stores and delivered there and the farmer has to go through the red tape and wrath of the government servants who make them feel that they are doing them a favor by purchasing the paddy. Many farmers therefore prefer to sell at the field, preferring to get the cash there at a lower price than incur the added costs of drying, storing and transporting the paddy to government stores for delivery.
So why then does the farmer overwhelmingly continue to vote for these foxes, who are clearly bent on destroying him and leaving him enslaved?
Our rural voter is despite the years of democracy stuck in a feudal time warp, where the local lords are now those with the trappings of wealth, not birth. So however the wealth is made does not appear to matter even if the wealth is made from their own sweat and toil, in the same way the serfs toiled for the Russian nobility in pre-revolutionary days, with no hope of rising from their shackles.
Is it that the voter believes that some of this wealth will rub off on him? The occasional tamasha funded by this wealthy godfather is worth having him as his representative in Parliament, and it is the fault of the President to stick this fox into the chicken coop rather than give him a den where he has to fight other foxes, where he may not be able to strangle the chickens.
If the imagination really does run wild, the chicken coop is the preferred place of abode, as an indecent amount of money is spread around amongst the rulers as part of the deal, all at the expense of the hapless chickens. This is a clear example of a lack of transparency and governance in Sri Lanka no matter how anyone tries to find an excuse to justify this behavior. Let the foxes tend only their den please.
The latest sting in the tail was that even the traders who imported rice during the period when the government abolished the duty, have to re-export this rice, as suddenly the rice price has fallen, due to the unwarranted imports, and the new harvest coming in. The govt. also in their wisdom is also selling imported rice below cost further exacerbating an already dire situation. This has further depressed prices at the farm gate, infuriating the farmers, but who will still despite their distress caste their preferences to the aforementioned.
I have limited storage too, and will be forced to sell paddy at low prices taking a loss at these prices. I have helped some farmers tide themselves over this period, by holding their paddy. They have used some of my movable property such as tractor wheels, to pawn to pay for the cost of harvesting so they can hold onto stocks till sanity prevails, after all their personal property is similarly pawned.
In my current business model, I try to keep my paddy and mill on an as needed basis to directly sell to my customers. In fact over the past 4+ years, I have sold my rice at the same price despite the fluctuations in the market more as a thank you to my loyal customers for sticking by me.
I wish to live to see the day when an active paddy farmer is elected to Parliament.