Three meals of Rice a Day- A Magic Wand of the Common Candidate: Never in a Million Years!
Posted on December 26th, 2014
By Garvin Karunaratne
Hiru News carries a statement from the Common Candidate that he “will create an economy where all could have three means a day”.
The Common Candidate seems to have forgotten that it was the UNP under President Jayawardena that scrapped the Rice Ration Scheme, which provided rice to all or with the poor being given free or at a very cheap rate. His running mate Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe the leader of the UNP still follows the policies of President Jayawardena and the very fact that President Jayawardena axed the Rice Ration Scheme indicates that this can never be achieved.
Let us see what happened when the UNP gave up the Rice Ration Scheme in 1979 and instead introduced a Food Stamp Scheme. Let me quote the consequences of abolishing the Rice Ration Scheme from the authoritative United Nations Human Development Report of 1990:
“ In Sri Lanka some of the poorest people lack access to their main staple diet-rice, despite a Food Stamp Programme intended to help them…. Inflation doubled the prices of food between 1979 and 1982 and halved the purchasing power of the food stamps since their face value remained unchanged. After march 1980 no new applications were accepted for the Scheme. This disqualified all new borns and families that subsequently suffered income losses,.. The per capita calories consumption of the lowest decile fell from 1`335 calories to 1185 and those of the second lowest decile from 1663 calories to 1558 calories.”
This is also confirmed in a Study by Edirisinghe where he shows that in the first three years of implementation the per capita calorie consumption declined by 8% from an already low 1490 calories in 1978/79 to 1368 calories in 1981/82. The calorie level adopted by the Indian Planning Commission is around 2100 to 2250
Malnutrition was caused by the cancelation of the Rice Ration Scheme.
. “ Increased malnutrition has been recorded in the findings of the 1980/82 Nutritional Status Survey conducted by the US Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia. This Survey established that there was a 64 % increase in wasting in the rural sector over the 1975/76 Survey.. Wasting refers to the weight for height study. The height for age study indicates whether growth has been stunted. These are the two indicators for malnutrition. Sahn says that ‘the prevalence of concurrent wasting and stunting is also higher in 1980/82 than in the 1975/76 Survey. A Sen has reported that in the case of Sri lanka the removal of the rice subsidies has led to an increase in child mortality. What really happened is explained by Sahn:
‘ Calories intake is markedly higher in 1969/70 than in any other Survey year.. More interesting is the steady decline from one Survey period to the next in calorie intake among lower income households. Especially from the bottom three deciles of the population. This decline especially between 1978/79 and 1981/82 Central Bank Surveys occurred while the intake among the higher expenditure groups was generally rising.’
Thus on the whole the evidence is to the effect that poverty has increased in the immediate years after 1977.”
(From Karunaratne: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka)
The promise of the Common Candidate to provide rice to all poor has to be read with the fact that President Jayawardena abandoned an did away with the infrastructure we once had. That included a paddy purchasing scheme from genuine producers and the total establishment including the large rice mills of the Department of Agrarian Services with its massive storage. This was left to rot, sold out to some for a song and decayed. Once on my rambling visits I went to my 1958 home, the vast Rice Mill at Ambalantota, my home for one full year. There we milled 4000 bushels every day of the year working three shifts employing over a hundred. That Rice Mill a state of the art mechanism was thrown to the dogs and I gazed for a full ten minutes in veneration at the waste of the equipment which we safeguarded day and night. We had storage. In China Bay we held eight large hangers and when I covered Trincomalee I visited that unit every week sometimes twice a week seeing to it that the paddy was stored well. All that is gone with the winds under President Jayawardena. Now that this vast infrastructure is gone for good it can never be established again. It requires a massive expenditure all due to the shortsighted UNP rule of President Jayawardena.
So whatever the Common Candidate utters they will only be words- it will be like the famous march to Pamankada.
- Edirisinghe, The Food Stamp Scheme in Sri Lanka: Cost Benefits and Options for Modifications, Research Report 50,
Garvin Karunaratne: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka… Godages, 2006
David E. Sahn, Changes in the Living Standards of the poor in Sri Lanka during a period of macroeconomic reforms, World Development, Vol 15. No 6, June 1987
A Sen, Poverty and Famine, Clarendon Press, quoted in Roger C Riddelt, Foreign Aid Reconsidered, John Hopkins University Press, 1987
United Nations Human Development Report of 1990:
Garvin Karunaratne formerly of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service,
Ph.D. Michigan State University