In the news we hear that Sri Lanka has a hunger crisis in the making. It is said that the civil war is at fault. It is said that global food prices are at fault. It is said that the sudden switch to organic farming on the island is at fault.
I claim, however, that it is your tea drinking - your organic tea drinking - that is at fault. And your clothes. Your demand for organic clothes.
Let’s talk about the Sri Lankan economy. Sri Lanka has two main exports: textiles and tea. I do not know if the cotton for the textiles is grown in Sri Lanka. What I do know is that the tea is grown in the highlands, and it is taking a significant portion of the land.
So you see where this is going. How can Sri Lankans go hungry when they have so much land dedicated to tea? One reason put forward is that nothing but tea will grow there. I wager to suspect that is not true. It would be surprising if tea is the only thing edible that can grow in the high lands. I would not be surprised if the argument is mostly a made-up.
What is likely true, however, is that tea makes a lot more money than most other things you could grow there - like food. The way to increase income from tea is to grow more tea, not food.
An even better way to increase your income is to grow organic tea. Yah, them rich customers in Europe and America - they like organic. They demand organic. You demand organic.
So, switch over to all-organic farming for the entire island to make even more money. Unfortuntely, the Sri Lankan government did this in the worst possible fashion: from one year to the next forbid all non-organic fertilizer and pesticides. Better would have been to slowly phase it in.
And just to finish this train of thought, if a country does not grow enough food for its population, then it needs to import food, and that puts the country in the situation where when global market prices go up, the country may no longer be able to afford buying food from overseas. This will happen sooner or later, thus leading to a hunger crisis. This is often exacerbated when the value of the exports go down, for example, if people decide spend their money on nutritious food instead of tea.
Let’s talk about the rebels, the Tamil Tigers. A key demand of the Tamil Tigers is more autonomy. Unfortunately, I could not find out all of the demands. I could also not find out why they want autonomy or what they want to achieve if they succeed.
But here is my speculation. Much of the land in Sri Lanka is owned by a few large land owners. And they are decidedly not Tamil. The Tamil work the land owner’s tea plantations. The Tamil know they could grow food instead. They want to grow food. They want to eat. They want autonomy to redistribute the land and grow their most basic neccessity.
So while the Tamil work the land to grow tea, they must hunger. They must live in the knowledge that someday food prices will go up and then they will not be able to feed themselves anymore.
I don’t know.
I don’t know. There is a chicken-and-egg problem. The Sri Lankans need foreign income from their exports to buy food. But that will keep the current system going.