For those who have ceaselessly worked over the years to maintain the integrity of the country in its broadest sense, seeing the old, the young and the children waving the national flag gave hope for Peace, Unity and Stability in our nation. The train to Jaffna had brought with it a long awaited mutation and answered a deep seated yearning of all the “common” people from North, South, East and West. It is now for the leaders not to fail them.
Hardly, forty eight hours passed after the train service was inaugurated when the farmers of the Northern Province, a set of practical men and women saw a new vista which had eluded them for years. The Train was a new life line. The Northern Farmer and fishermen is a tribe of diligent men. The Train if used properly will give them a boost, which no hand out of the Government or an NGO can achieve. It is regaining their self respect by trading the fruits of their labour with markets that need them. It was so before the war and it could be so even now.
The Central Government, the Provincial Governments, the District administrations, the Pradeshiya Sabhas and the GN divisions must work hand in hand to ensure that the chain of activities work smoothly. “Political philosophers” and politicians may well feel threatened; the bureaucrats may feel that their control and authority is being undermined. The planners will have to work out mechanisms with new and innovative ideas and that means added work. The existing cartels of traders and lorry owners might well show heavy handed resistance when their existing profits come down with the increase inflow of goods from the North by train.
The reward however, will be a contented Northern farmer and fisherman and a contented consumer getting food at cheaper prices. Good food, at affordable prices, means a better fed healthy populace. Housewives will be less harassed; workers will work harder and children will improve their studies.
There is already an infrastructure of existing farmer organizations and cooperatives that can shoulder this initiative if the leadership is given. There is enough know how on agricultural practices and agronomy in Sri Lanka which can be easily accessed.
The Island of Friday, the 17th October 2014, under the by line of Franklyn Satyapalan reported “Northern farmers look for markets in South for their organic products”. He wrote: “General Manager (GM) of the Vavuniya North Fruit Growers Cooperative Society (VNFGCS) Uthayasooriyan Kirupakaran yesterday appealed to traders, supermarket chains and exporters in the southern parts of the country to come forward to help them market their organic products.
“When the farmers receive good prices for their produce, the rural economy will improve and the beneficiaries will be the ordinary people”.
This is an appeal that should be heeded by all in the greater interest. However, one has to realize that agriculture is a complex science and needs a lot of support. Droughts and floods can hit the farmer without any notice and the scarcity of water is constantly haunting him.
In the Opinion page of the Friday Island a letter by a man who was an icon in our school days, Dr N Ethirveerasingam stated: “Can the Ministry of Education in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture establish crops and poultry farms operated by students under the guidance of the agriculture teacher who is always an Agric graduate. The WFP provisions or rice can be supplemented with eggs, vegetable and chicken meal. For most children from poor families the lunch is the only meal or substantial meal”.
The Train to and from Jaffna may have brought with it a message to “feed the hungry mouths” which Dr Ethirveerasingam has referred to.