COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) – Sri Lanka plans to offer a national crop insurance scheme to help farmers cope with increasingly severe and disruptive weather and resulting crop losses.
In presenting the national budget for 2013 recently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the government was moving toward ways of managing long-term severe weather events, particularly worsening drought.
“In the future, the economic losses of drought must be managed in a more meaningful manner. Therefore, I propose to implement a crop insurance scheme for all farmers,” he said
This is the first occasion that such a scheme has been put in place. Officials said funds of around $1 million (Rs 1000m) will be set aside for the project through a National Insurance Trust Fund. The money would come from compulsory contributions from banking, financial and insurance companies.
Farmers who benefit from a fertilizer subsidy scheme will also have to make a contribution of around one dollar (Rs 150) for every 50kg of fertilizer they draw under the subsidy scheme.
Rajapaksa said that at least 100,000 farmers will benefit from the project if they lose their crops.
DROUGHT AND FLOODING
The new scheme comes in the wake of an eight month drought that has hurt the country’s staple rice production. The drought was broken during the last week of October – but by flash flooding brought on by Cyclone Nisha, which killed 10 people, damaged over 5,000 homes and left 200,000 people affected, according to the government’s Disaster Management Centre.
Before the floods, the drought was feared to have destroyed at least 23 percent of the country’s rice harvest, reports by the UN country office said citing assessments by the Agriculture Ministry.
In some areas where the drought was at its worst, like the northern districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Kilinochchi and the north central districts of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, the losses were likely to be higher, regional officials said.
“In some areas we fear that the losses would be around 50 percent of the harvest,” Ravi Vinanithambi, an environment officer for the North East Reawakening Programme for the Vavuniya District told AlertNet.
MORE MEASURES NEEDED
While welcoming the new insurance scheme, experts warned that Sri Lanka needed to put more such measures in place to face up to the challenges of changing climate patterns.
“We have seen how the harvest fluctuates with the weather. We need to realign the crop cycles according to the changing weather,” L Rupasena, additional secretary at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Training Research Institute said.
Others said that changing weather patterns not only harmed to crops, but presented a direct threat to the country’s poorest people. The International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) launched a $ 1 million appeal in early November to assist 20,000 families hit by the drought. The organisation said that over 125,000 persons affected by the drought needed assistance for at least 18 months.
“These extreme weather events hit the most vulnerable hardest,” Bob McKerrow, IFRC delegation head in Sri Lanka told AlertNet. The drought has caused particular problems in Sri Lanka’s northern districts, where over 450,000 persons displaced by the country’s decades-long civil war have returned since the conflict’s end.
The IFRC estimates that during the recent floods at least 20,000 such families were badly affected.
“It is no longer about a flood or a drought. People are increasingly talking about climate change,” McKerrow said.
STRING OF EXTREME WEATHER
Sri Lanka has had plenty of experience with extreme weather in the last two years. Between December 2010 and February 2011, heavy rains destroyed crops and left thousands displaced in the north eastern region. By the end of 2011, the same region was hit by drought that lasted until late October 2012. The drought ended with a cyclone but had already affected as many as 1.3 million people, according to the IFRC funding appeal.
In between, the capital Colombo was inundated on several occasions with flash flooding. And in November 2011, 14 people were killed due to gale force winds in the south.
“Effects of climate change are gathering momentum. We need to be prepared,” McKerrow said.
Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka.