Thursday, October 8, 2009

An intriguing take on eating habits in rural Sri Lanka

Each time I look at the food that the rural person in Minneriya eats, I wonder what it is that has led them to such a diet. While one knows that price is an issue, I notice the level of imported food that is consumed there, and begs belief. Thankfully the rice consumed is local, but always white and devoid of nutrients. Even though I grow red rice, the family that live on the land only eat white rice, and Nadu (parboiled long grain rice) is the dish of choice, usually for all three meals. The current retail price is Rs65 a kg of Nadu.

They then may have a fried onion dish, where the Red Onions are imported from India, the retail price of which at present is Rs 100kg (lately we have got consignments of red onions from Jaffna, but the wholesale mafia have not allowed prices to come down) Another favored dish is Dhal, which is imported from Australia and carries a price tag of Rs 225 a kg which I am not certain includes a government tax (I know as I have a retail shop for which I buy this in bulk) Another is a potato curry where the imported potato from Pakistan is about Rs20 less than the Up Country potato of Sri Lanka. The current price of this imported potato is Rs70 and this includes tax too. Tinned fish in SL is referred to as Salmon and is also consumed even though the current price is over Rs200 as it includes a significant government tax. We are also a major consumer of Big Onions that currently are locally produced these last two months only, as the harvests have just come in, and are just once a year, and cannot be stored as well as the Indian varieties. The price is low at present at about Rs60 a kg, where as normally once the local season is over will rise a further Rs20 for the Indian ones that have a tax of about Rs30 a kg.

I just bought a 50kg bag of Sugar for my retail shop, and it cost me Rs 88 a kg. This is from Brazil, the world’s largest Sugar producer, and as the Indian crop has failed the Sugar prices are on their way up with little stopping the sweet tooth of the locals, who still drink their plain tea with oodles of sugar. I retail the sugar at Rs95 a kg and I believe even this carries a tax. SL only produces 10% of its Sugar requirement and I am told we are one of the highest per capita consumers of sugar in the world. (Remember kasippu/moonshine and arrack production requires a phenomenal amount of sugar too)

As a dairy farmer, I still find it hard to convince the buyers of imported powdered milk from New Zealand, that my milk is healthier and more nutritious. A 400gram pack now retails around Rs225 and carries with it another hefty tax of about Rs80 a pack. I would appreciate any comments from one who knows the breakdown of the yield from all the taxes from each of the food-stuffs I have mentioned above.

Last but not least, is the wheat flour, which is made from imported wheat by two producers, with Prima being by far the largest from their factory in Trincomalee. I purchase it wholesale at Rs70 a kg and retail at Rs80 a kg and I am told that carries a high tax too. The bread I sell in the shop, which is delivered fresh to me twice a day is at Rs40 a loaf.

Therefore, I am convinced that our rural dweller, eats imported food, on which he pays high indirect taxes, which is a higher proportion of income than a wealthy urbanite’s.


Jack Point said...

The government has import duties and taxes on most food items including dhal, onions, rice etc.

I always think of the food items you list as being traditional or local, forgetting for a moment that most of these items are imported.

santhoshi said...

Ditto to jack points comments.
We say our sri lankan meal is rice and paripu which is mostly imported.

right on about the import duties too!

Rajaratarala said...

import duties in this case have two objectives, one is to protect the local industry, and the second is to raise needed revenue for the state. As I have tried to explain there is little protection of local industry, as we will never be able to produce our sugar requirement, and unless we have a more efficient method of cattle farming, produce all our milk requirement. Onions can only be produced during a short season, and dhal not at all. Even most of the green gram is imported from Australia and today the price of Garlic is Rs250 a kg as it comes from China, as the Indian garlic is not in season.

It is a shame that the govt. raises 100 times more taxes on food than on cars even at the 300% duty rate as few people bring in fully duty paid vehicles.

cj said...

You know till you pointed this out in your post I too considered most of these items as local. Thank you for enlightening me on this. You are right about the government using food as a means of earning money. It is shameful. I read somewhere recently that the prices we pay for our food are the high prices some countries were paying during the food crisis. But guess essential items are one of the few things which demand cannot shrink even if prices are high. This way the morons in the government ensure that they are in "BMWs" for the next few years.

Anonymous said...

I think the solution is that Sri Lankans need to forget about this farming fantasy! We should only try and grow a few crops where we can achieve economies of scale.

Your personal case study should have lead you to this conclusion a long time ago.

Since we can not do it efficiently, we should channel all farming resources into another industry that is more economically viable.

Maybe these farmer jokers can build some roads for us, or clean up our filthy towns.

Give the land back to the elephants.

Anonymous said...

I think that Annon above is an idiot who is really fond of his own voice. Sounds like one of those multiple blogs people [each blog for each personality.]

Till you pointed them out I did not know about the amount of imported food that we consume.

Two things stood out for me meost.

(a) Do they not eat any leaves ? Pala at all ?

(b) Do they not small eat fish ?(well malu )

Part of the problem I think is also the schools as the students are not taught about nutrition at all.

I used to share their view on buying powdered milk :) Mainly as the hygienic practices of some of the dairy farmers in our area have been known to be, shall we say "could be improved" It is the few bad ones that make it really difficult for the good ones.

George said...

In view of the sterile diet, no wonder there is so much malnutrition in SL. The official rate is about 30% for children, but, looking at the emaciated kids I see in village areas, the percentage must be more.

Another habit I've noticed among villagers is that, even when they keep a few chickens, they would rather sell the eggs at the pola instead of giving them to their children. The same goes for milk; it's sold instead of being consumed at home.

Rajaratarala said...

I just read an article saying the SL suger consumption is 550,000 tonnes of which only 38,000 tonnes is locally produced. You do the math on the per capita consumption of the 20Millionliving in SL

mottapala said...

It would be usefull if you give a suggestion about the alternatives Sri lankans can eat. As a kid this is what I ate. My wife is downstairs cooking dinner. Guess what she is cooking. Rice, Dhal, pol sambol and chicken.All imported. Bought from Asda or Tesco and probably cheaper than in Sri lanka.

George said...

About the high consumption of sugar. A significant amount goes to the production of moonshine, kasippu. That's what happens in my village which is north of Negombo.

Kirigalpoththa said...

You mean 28 kilos of sugar per person per year! That is very sweet ;)

Anonymous said...

any idea about the per capita alcohol consumption per year?

Jack Point said...

The Distilleries company used to claim, in the mid 1990's that the per capita consumption of pure spirits in Sl was the highest in the world.

Dig into teh annual reports and see if there is a mention anywhere

Rajaratarala said...

I just saw in today's Daily News(13/10/09) that SL Salt Requirement is 150,000 Tonnes of which 30% is imported from India. A sad indictment indeed if one is needed of the level to which the granery of the east has fallen!

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