First there was the direction for the umpteenth time from Johnston Fernando that from December 11th, that is the day after this Saturday, Poya anyone caught transporting fruit and vegetable in bags will be prosecuted using the full force of the law.
Then there was the usual off the charts saying from the Prime Minister that we should ban the import of fruit, and that the price of wheat flour should be increased to a level where no one can afford it.
In summary these are the people who we have elected to lead this country and no one seems to raise an eyebrow, let alone stand outside one’s house with a placard saying we must get rid of these cretins as it gives a mad man a bad name!
Is it that we believe they are totally mad? and so ignore them or do we accept what they say and wait for them to act on their say so? Either way we seem to have lost our voice of reason even to point out the absurd and vilify the sayer so they just shut up.
I have used plastic crates from the day I transported my fruit and vegetables. I had to pay a fortune for these crates even then, and I had to protect them with my life from being stolen while my pick-up truck was unattended. Yes we would all like to have plastic crates and transport in plastic crates, but unless we can both ensure that there is a proper mechanism and accountability for the crates, in the back and forth transport mode, much in the same way we paid a Rs50 deposit when we used a Tomato wooden box in transporting tomato, there is no way we can adhere to this requirement. When a plastic crate costs Rs1000 we do not want to exchange a nice new crate for a decrepit one. Especially as there are many different types and sizes. At least the Tomato box was a standard size and quality!
The other significant point is the transport lorries are not built for crates. When you take the same weight of produce in crates you need a minimum of a 100% increase in the volume for transport, which the current trucks cannot accommodate. They may have to be high sided being able to stack the crates up to the heavens to transport. If the weight is compromised the haulier will have to charge that much more per kg transported. To him the wastage or loss in transport is not the issue, it is taking as much as possible weight wise to make his trip economical. The wastage of course is a national issue, but we must come up with a holistic solution. I have always recommended overnight rail transport as that system can carry the volumes better than road, and it will also be more environmentally acceptable too. However we must work towards it, though at present we are not geared to it. We must ask why this rule that has come into effect for nearly a year has not been acted on despite the numerous threats by the same minister. Well is this latest outburst a repeat of this? The idea is good Minister, see how you can implement it practically given the ground situation, and not make asinine statements each time you get hot under the collar!
As for the Prime Minister he still has a head of jet black hair in his eighties and is known to make statements when he in a pique. On a serious note, if we ban the import of fruit then we do not give our consumers a choice. We do not necessarily protect our own production as it is usually fruit that we do not grow that we import. Of course we have farmers who complain that due to the cheap apples, people do not eat papaya. Sometimes many of the imported fruit is much cheaper than local fruit such as mangus, and mango that are at astronomical rates. If we ban the import of fruit then these same fruits will become more astronomical.
Is the Prime Minister assuming that when the prices rise, when imports are banned, we will grow more fruit. That is only on a long term trajectory, where in the short term only wealthy will be able to imbibe in a mango! I am not sure if there is a tax on imported fruit that does not have a local substitute, but a nominal tax is acceptable, though I see that Pakistan is complaining that we have put exorbitant taxes on fruit and vegetables we import from them. Primarily Oranges and Potato.
I grow fruit. I have problems with the distribution system, once my home delivery business was aborted due to an accident. A banning of imports is not going to change anything, it may pay for my inefficient production methods, and I will have less incentive to be more efficient. We should not be in the business of making the farmer more inefficient, we must make him more productive. This will not do that.
As for the Wheat Flour being priced out, then bread will become unaffordable and we will have to eat rice and rice based products only. Of course there may be more research into making more foods using rice flour as a substitute, but it will astronomically increase the prices of short eats and fast food.
Wheat flour is already taxed heavily, yielding the government a lot of tax income. However in an era where people look for convenience often unable to get home in time from work in order to cook a rice meal, they prefer to buy a snack at take outs. The working public will be further inconvenienced as rice based cooking is more time consuming. The person staying at home can cook his three rice meals!