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Kilinochchi farmers warn harvest could be worse today than during armed conflict

Farmers in Kilinochchi have warned that the upcoming harvest may be worse than during the decades of armed conflict, according to a report in The Hindu, after the Sri Lankan government banned chemical fertilisers.

Muthu Sivamohan, a Tamil farmer leader in northern Kilinochchi described the uncertainty due to the chemical fertiliser ban of this year's paddy yield to "two other periods of crisis".

"The first was when Prime Minister Sirimavo [Bandaranaike] introduced import substitution in the 1970s,” said the 63-year-old farmer. He vividly recalled the “severe food shortage” during the period, with long queues outside shops as people waited for hours to buy a loaf of bread. “There was hunger all around. We survived on king coconut and manioc mostly.”

"The civil war began a decade later and lasted about 30 years as the armed forces fought the LTTE. The Tamil-majority north and east were stifled with violence, an economic blockade, and no access to national markets. “Those were extremely difficult times, but we did not go hungry. We grew our own food and had enough to eat,” Mr. Sivamohan said, contrasting the years of strife with the current situation."

Their remarks come after the ban of chemical fertilisers was pushed through by the Rajapaksa regime. Subsequent protests from farmers across the South and Tamil farmers across the Northeast unhappy about the ban forced the government to re-think their position.

Sri Lanka's agriculture sector engages nearly 25% of the labour force accounts for 8% of the GDP. Sinhala farmers from the south who had voted for the Rajapaksa regime were protesting often burning effigies of the Agricultural Minister. Across the North-East, Tamil farmers also led protests against the fertiliser ban but under the intense surveillance of the Sri Lankan military apparatus. The northeast continues to remain one of the most militarised regions on the planet. Land grabs and attempted land grabs of Tamil land, often arable land are consistently carried out by all three branches of the Sri Lankan military, which lead to the displacement of Tamil people. The heavy militarisation of Tamil areas has created a culture of fear amongst the local populace and stifled economic growth.

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 2018, the Sri Lankan military ‘occupy private land that is owned and was used by civilians, and state land intended for non-military purposes'. In the report, HRW state that military occupation of land is among the primary contributors to continuing displacement: according to the government, as of 2017, nearly 40,000 people remained internally displaced in the country, a majority from Jaffna’.

Despite twelve years having passed since the end of the armed conflict and continuous calls to demilitarise the North-east, military involvement in civilian affairs is rife. Tamil land in the North-East is constantly expropriated for the needs of the state with an increase in incidents of Tamil residents facing intimidation and displacement. Additionally, the normalisation of military-owned businesses limit local economic development and leave the Tamil population unable to sustain themselves independently.

Read more at The Hindu

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