-By Shantha Jayarathne
(Lanka-e-News -03.Dec.2023, 5.45PM) The Medirigiriya Cooperative, now led by the dynamic Board of Directors representing the National People's Power (NPP), has embraced cutting-edge drone technology to revolutionize farming practices in the Polonnaruwa District. In just five months since assuming office, this cooperative has emerged as a beacon of innovation, effectively addressing pressing challenges faced by farmers in the region.
As part of my ongoing research on cooperatives, this article marks the third installment in a series aimed at exploring the potential of cooperatives in alleviating rural indebtedness. Through an in-depth investigation into various cooperative societies in Sri Lanka, the goal is to share valuable experiences and findings with a wider audience.
Farmers in the region contend with soaring production costs, unequal access to fair prices, and a severe shortage of labor exacerbated by the presence of agricultural mafias. The consequences are dire, with farmers burdened by perpetual debt and grappling with health issues such as kidney and respiratory problems. The Medirigiriya Cooperative's forward-thinking program, initially to be implemented across the district, holds the promise of liberating farmers from these constraints.
Mr. Aruna Shantha, Chairman of the Medirigiriya Cooperative, highlighted a stark reality: traditional insecticide spraying takes a toll on farmers who spend around four hours manually covering one acre of paddy land. Laden with approximately eight chemical-filled tanks, each weighing about 15 kgs, navigating muddy fields poses health risks. Enter the cooperative's pilot project, leveraging drones for efficient insecticide spraying. In just 15 minutes, an acre of land is covered, reducing chemical wastage by 50% and ensuring uniform application in adherence to established standards.
This groundbreaking initiative not only cuts costs for farmers but also benefits consumers by lowering rice production expenses. Despite initial hesitations among farmers, the Medirigiriya Cooperative plans to promote widespread drone technology use through targeted awareness programs in the Polonnaruwa district.
The upcoming comprehensive sales complex, set to launch at the beginning of next year, represents a 'One-Stop Shop' for farmers. From insecticide spraying drones to a range of modern agricultural tools and financial services through an on-site rural bank, this initiative aims to address all the needs of farmers under a single roof.
Moreover, the cooperative's influence on fertilizer prices in the previous season has been demonstrated, with competitors aligning their rates with the cooperative's competitive pricing. For instance, while the government was selling a 50 kg bag of Urea for Rs. 9500/-, the cooperative offered the same bag at Rs. 8500/-. Plans to reopen six abandoned paddy storage facilities, streamline collection processes, and modernize 15 inactive rice mills further underscore the cooperative's commitment to elevating the agricultural landscape.
The Medirigiriya Cooperative is set to launch its own brand of rice at a fair price, allowing control over market prices to benefit both farmers and consumers. The Board of Directors' dedication to employee welfare is evident in the successful implementation of a Performance-Based Incentive Scheme, eliminating irregularities in fuel sales at their cooperative filling station, and allocating profits for employee well-being. A low-interest loan scheme for farmers through cooperative rural banks and plans for organizing farmer production cooperative societies showcase a holistic approach to rural development.
In a broader context, the cooperative's move towards technological innovation signifies a commendable responsibility in Sri Lanka's development. Despite its past reputation, the cooperative is now emerging as a crucial player under the guidance of the honest leadership of the National People’s Power (NPP).
As conscientious citizens, it is imperative that we acknowledge the transformative potential of the cooperative and rally behind this incorruptible leadership poised to rebuild the country from the ground up. This represents an unprecedented opportunity for positive change, safeguarding our nation's resources and charting a brighter future for generations to come.
Former Senior Consultant
Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA)
by (2023-12-03 12:20:17)
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