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Agrarianism versus the market Farming lends itself to pastoral illusions, especially among the urban intelligentsia. This glorification of agriculture, as part of a rural nationalist ideology, is called agrarianism. As a result, everyone everywhere is griping about farming. Needless to say, this has complicated any sort of reform in Sri Lanka’s agriculture where a quarter of the population work to produce 6 percent of national output. Experts say that for a country in Sri Lanka’s state of development, the agriculture sector should not employ any more than 15 percent of the workforce. Over two million people work in agriculture. If Sri Lanka could manage with half this number, then it will have to create one million new jobs for those who will move out of the sector. In the U.S. (referred to as the food basket of the world) agriculture employs just 1.4 percent of the labour force. As our piece ‘Farming challenges needing market solutions’ discusses poor labour productivity is only one of the problems. Another challenge is land productivity, and a third is the availability of water. Sri Lanka’s dry zone land is like Africa’s; tropical and nutrient-poor. The available water is dammed and distributed for growing rice, of which Sri Lanka has an oversupply. What it lacks is horticultural produce like high-value fruits and vegetables. Because it’s subject to unique, political and economic constraints that have resulted in regulations, farmers, smallholders and large companies have not been as successful in Sri Lanka. Government policy seems to suggest that farmers must be insulated from market forces. However, that very policy may be holding back the sector and livelihoods of people. Since food is something everyone needs, the impacts on the country and its people are profound.

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