Maize harvest for this year has been very poor. As a result, the poultry producers in Sri Lanka are experiencing a hard time. However, at an international conference held early this month, Minister deleted Dissanayake assured that the maize cultivation was flourishing.
Last February the Anuradhapura District was declared a massive maize cultivation zone, and more than 100,000 acres were allocated for this purpose. Sri Lanka's annual maize requirement is 400,000 mt. In February it was reported that farmer organizations had asked Minister Dissanayake to save them from agents by setting-up large maize and soya factories in the district as there were no sufficient storage facilities to sustain the growing harvest.
A well-known poultry producer has contradicted the report.
"Essentially the harvest yield for maize is 350,000 to 400,000 mt every year. However, we figured out that the yield for this year was only 140,000 to 150,000 mt. That is a remarkably large margin for a shortage."
Corn, a by product of maize, is used for many products. Essentially it is used as poultry feed for major poultry industries. Poultry farms need an incessant supply of chicken feed which will sustain the chain of supply from the producer to the marketeer and ultimately the consumer.
The problem can be resolved by importing maize to recover the shortage which the country is facing today. The main industries affected will be the animal feed companies and poultry manufacturers. The available alternatives to corn will compromise the quality of the feed, a poultry farmer told Ceylon Today.
What is preventing this alternative from taking root? According to reports, a particular producer in Anuradhapura, known for his large-scale trading had purchased most of the maize harvested in this year's season. He is known to be monopolizing the market, in a bid to jack-up the price. The maize monopoly is also said to be encouraged by the Minister of Agriculture, who is well-known to maize traders. Minister Dissanayake, therefore, had allegedly refrained from importing maize to protect the interest of maize manufacturer K.T.S Perera.
Speaking to several poultry producers of repute, Ceylon Today learnt that they wished to remain anonymous. However, one manufacturer said, "It is clear that there is a maize mafia. Several producers have been blackmailed. We do not want to take that risk."
Unfortunately, the next harvest of maize will be in February and March in 2016. Nine months of poor supply of poultry feed will naturally put an end to the poultry industry.
The massive shortage of maize also highlighted another issue. For instance, Heshan owns a fast-food restaurant in the Marine Drive. The restaurant which draws more than 500 customers in the morning hours alone has a menu which features chicken-based dishes in almost every cuisine featured.
"We buy several kilogrammes of chicken for a week. I got to know about the maize shortage. It wasn't a big deal for us as long as there was chicken in the market. But the problem we face now is the imminent shortage of chicken. We do not know when that would be, but the people who supply chicken for us keep complaining about the lack of sufficient feed. It will also have a different kind of impact. Chicken is the only meat apart from fish, which the majority Sinhalese and Tamils would eat as opposed to beef or mutton. We use eggs for several of our dishes. If you speak to patisseries and bakeries they also will have the same problem. The customer will actually suffer.
According to several poultry manufacturers, the delay in providing sufficient feed for the fowl will compromise the quality of the fowl, and also create a massive shortage of poultry related produce such as eggs. On the other hand, the government also has a price ceiling for chicken. Therefore, the poultry manufacturer will suffer a colossal loss.
Denying all allegations levelled against him, K.T.S. Perera said, "I have no connections with the Minister of Agriculture. But I knew his father, who helped me a lot. deleted Dissanayake does not do me any extra favours. The problem was actually caused by multinational corporations."
He further said, "The companies do not think of local farmers. They have been importing corn duty-free. They have been stifling the growth of local farmers. When the government figured this out they decided to improve the local produce by strengthening the farmer. The former government under the direction of the former Minister of Economic Development made the corn industry self-sufficient. However, there weren't enough facilities to store the corn harvest. This proved advantageous for the animal feed industries, which bought the corn for a very low price.
The then Secretary to the Treasury P.B Jayasundara realized that the animal feed industries were taking an unwarranted advantage of the season. Therefore, he arranged for more storage facilities. So, if the industries were not willing to purchase the corn for the price we set, we have the alternative of storing the maize harvest. However, they knew that they can import from India for an even lower price. There were many who were monopolizing. They have been making the same complaint for the past 15 years. They are not willing to buy it for a fixed price.
There are so many reasons why we can't sell it at a minimal price. We have to take care of transport and storage expenses. If the multinational companies are so concerned, then they should help the farmer with the maize cultivation. The government is using us to make the industry widespread, because the multinational companies are not doing their part to support the industry. It is they who need the maize, not us. They used to import maize, so that they can get a huge commission and fix the prices. This will affect local farmers. Therefore, the government is not allowing them to import. It has got nothing to do with me."
K.T.S. Perera's claim was met with utter disbelief by poultry manufacturers who said the problem is not about strengthening the local farmers, but the shortage of the harvest. The produce by the local farmers is currently being held to ransom by intermediaries such as Perera, they said, adding that there should be a fair pricing mechanism.
Contrary to Perera's statement, last year during the tenure of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, maize was imported, and the tax for imports was also reduced. The government at that time took this decision due to the lack of supply of expected local corn stocks as animal feed in the market. According to the Ministry of Agriculture at that time, all taxes imposed on the imports of corn and its substitute sorghum have been withdrawn and a special commodity tax of 10 per cent for a kilogramme had also been granted.
The poultry manufacturers have also brought it to the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's attention, who has reportedly given the green-light to import corn. This aspect is handled by the Ministry of Agriculture. However, the procedure required to import corn has not yet been adhered to.
It is at this juncture, the alleged relationship between Perera has come into play. The Minister was allegedly delaying the importing of corn to protect his father's associate. Ceylon Today tried to contact the Minister to shed light on the matter, butr to no avail.
An owner of a large-scale poultry industry told Ceylon Today," "The crux of the matter is that one person is blackmailing the entire country. The question is of productivity. The number of chickens will also gradually diminish, so will the number of chicken-related produce such as eggs. The producer cannot pass on the additional cost to the consumer. In essence, there will be a shortage of poultry in the country. This is in fact the work of the Mafia.
Ceylontoday, 2015-06-22 02:00:00