Tilling the land – By Oscar E V Fernando
Land usage in our country changed with the several changes in regimes. It appears to be so from ancient Lanka, over periods of invasions to the present day-both the land and its people suffered!
From the remembered past, it may be said, that the Rajakariya system prevailed most of the time-during which period we may have earned the epithet-granary of the east.
Then onwards during invasions by foreigners, land was managed by the mercantile system of companies especially in cases of tea rubber and coconut, with private ownership: this system prevailed till independence-at which time our country was termed prosperous-until it changed with the Land Reforms Commission and the lands managed by the state with consequent heavy losses: there were intermittent changes of management with changes in regimes. This situation prevailed up to now-with sparse attention given to tilling of land for food crops like paddy which was our glorious past during the ancient Kings-so much so that ensuing generations of tillers were averse taking to tilling the land due this poor attention and also due to vagaries of management and weather that had to be contended with.
Moreover, tilling of land was a traditional preserve of a few-having an aura of mystical beliefs surrounding it: this social aspect may not have met with the rigid demands of the vibrant mercantile sector-which at that time would have preferred to fish in peace without muddying the waters!
Due to this negligence the rural youth drifted away from tilling the land and added to this was the belief that the pasture is greener on the other side of the fence-from rural to city.
It can be said that the youth were enamored with the luster they imagined of the city dwelling-resulting in their having to live in makeshift chum merry spaces in the city and this was repugnant to the psyche of rural youth used to open living with sunshine rain and flowing rivers.
Due to the tug-o-war in politics, various regimes have scuttled agricultural development in rural parts of the country-very much to the detriment of economic development.
The powers that be may well take the cue and revamp expeditiously the rural set up to which the youth have now inevitably trekked due to the present crisis.
Revamp the rural with that same luster to which they were attracted to the city and minimize the vagaries they have to face in tilling land such as;
-introduce mechanized agricultural eqipment
-constructing cold storage plants to face vagaries of weather
-cutting off the middle man to maintain a fair price for products
-introduce IT-WIFI shops and banks for swift communication and banking
-construct halls for entertainment-musicals-dance floors, oriental and otherwise-gymnasiums and swimming pools alongside rivers
-open institutions to accommodate universities both foreign and local and for learning of English compulsorily for IT and foreign communication and not for Just social prestige
-hold important seminars etc with easy access to rural youth
These, are just a few among several other attractions to retain rural youth, presently in a crisis ridden transitional stage in their rural homes: this will also attract the city youth for jobs in such a rural set up-a quick recipe for the unemployment problem faced by the frustrated youth turning ‘boat people’ and leaving the country for greener pastures!
It will only be then that the rural youth will stop complaining -kolambata kiri-apata kakiri and decide to stay put in the countryside like duck taking to water and thereby assist in the country’s development and advancement.
With the present global crisis can we expect foreign countries that faced locked downs, to flood direct investments to our country which also will have to struggle out of a lockdown? It is possible and probable in a long run. But what of the near future where we may have to face a shortage of food clothing and shelter-the bare essentials-taking for example potatoes, onions and perhaps rice very soon?
Will it not be more prudent to pause and invest in small and medium scaled enterprises for tilling of land as stated above-and expedite this as far as is practically possible with the capital and other resources locally available together with foreign aid, grants and loans that are already down the pipe line-grabbing without quibbling on it before this too dwindles and dwindle fast?
This is not to suggest that all these will come out from the ‘Pandora’s Box’ but to commence setting the site towards it, so as to stir the youth now in a quandary.
Nothing seems impossible for the Sri Lankans who compacted a thirty-year plan for Mahaweli to a five-year period; another example being the recent building of a prefabricated hospice in 72 hours by our motivated forces.
All this has to be done with a minimum disturbance of the hornets’ nest and thrusting down on old problems now steeped and frozen with emotion that had kept our peoples in sway over centuries past-to the detriment of the economy-thus doing away with the age old political tug-o-war!
Or are we to continue with this sway and spell over another 72 years!?
This crisis may have closed some doors-but we must seek new doors now opened out due to this inevitable jolt!
The tri forces seem to be a quick fix for the suggested rural land reforms provided they also assist in maintaining our precious democracy-though with a little bit of totalitarianism-very much needed in our country!
Oscar E V Fernando
18th May 2020