Now cannabis?

The foolish decision of the former President to ban the import of inorganic fertilisers, and other agrochemicals, caused the downfall of our agricultural sector. It has negatively affected the food security of the country, resulting in thousands of people, including children, not getting sufficient food for their maintenance.

This situation has forced the present government to import rice, our staple food, and other food items. Now the State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage, and State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Sisira Jayakody, are promoting cultivation of 10,000 acres of Cannabis, in Ratnapura when there is a shortage of food in the country.

These Ministers appear to be unaware of the fact that we spend nearly Rs. 300 billion, annually, to import food. If these food items imported at a tremendous cost are cultivated in the country, it will be possible to save a substantial amount of the expenditure on food imports.

The main objective of cultivating cannabis, according to the two Ministers, is to earn foreign exchange to import essential food. This is, indeed, another foolish act. Why cannot we cultivate these food crops instead of growing cannabis which in fact is classified as an illegal drug by many governments. In fact, currently cultivation of this crop in Sri Lanka is banned.

State Minister Jayakody needs to realise that we spend nearly USD 6 million to import medicinal herbs, such as katuwelbatu, thippili, etc. According to the Dept. of Ayurveda, around 120 auyrvedic herbs worth USD 5.8 million, have been imported in 2017 to manufacture various ayurvedic formulations. Most of this could be saved if these herbs necessary for manufacture of various ayurvedic formulations are cultivated in the country.

The cultivation of medicinal plants and value addition in the processing chain can contribute to uplift the indigenous health sector in the country.

Sri Lanka is saddled with a widening trade deficit.  By promoting cultivation of medicinal herbs, and food crops such as paddy and lentils, expenditure on imports can be reduced, and a substantial amount of foreign exchange can be retained within the country as well. It will also provide employment opportunities to many in the rural areas thereby reducing poverty. Thus, there are many advantages of growing ayurvedic herbs instead of implementing a foolish project to cultivate Cannabis.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

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