Bakers suffer as Sri Lanka wages war on 'wheat terrorism'

More than a year after they crushed ethnic rebels and put an end to a decades-long civil conflict, the authorities in Sri Lanka have declared war on wheat.

Such is the passion and nationalist fervour of some government ministers to replace wheat products with domestically produced rice, they are talking of a "war against wheat-flour terrorism". The drive by the government, headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has seen bans on wheat products being served in government offices, prisons, schools and hospital canteens and a government subsidy for it to be scrapped. The impact of the move has been so dramatic that more than 2,000 bakers have found themselves out of work, according to their industry body.

The All Ceylon Bakery Owners' Association said more than a quarter of bakeries in the island had closed down this year because of high taxes and other government moves to discourage imported wheat.

"The government is promoting rice flour and wants to support local farmers," Mahinda Ranasinghe, the association's treasurer, told The Independent. "There has been a lot of adverse publicity. For 30 years we have been using the word terrorism. Now there is no terrorism in Sri Lanka. But it seems people still want to use that word."

The decision to discourage the eating of wheat has economic, public health and nationalistic motives. The government has claimed consuming rice is healthier than eating wheat. Officials said there was also a desire to promote locally produced products rather than foreign imports; while Sri Lanka does produce some wheat, much of it is imported. Some of the more nationalist elements have even said wheat is part of an international conspiracy foisted upon the country by foreign corporations.

Yet the main reason appears to be economic. Last year, Sri Lanka spent more than £150m on imported wheat. The end of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has also opened up areas of the north and east of Sri Lanka, previously in rebel hands but which were once considered rice bowls of the country. "We used to have to import wheat. Now we have an excess of rice," said one Sri Lankan official. "It is more that we want to revive the food habits of the past."

What is not clear is why the authorities in Colombo have launched the drive for rice with such intensity and utilising such loaded language.

Wimal Weerawansa, head of the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna or National Freedom Front, part of the ruling coalition and currently Sri Lanka's minister for housing and construction, has been outspoken in declaring the move as a strike against "wheat terrorism".

Mr Ranasinghe said the bakers' association was now trying to comply with government demands to use rice flour in their products. He said bakers were currently testing bread recipes that used up to 25 per cent rice flour. It was impossible to use 100 per cent rice flour, he added, because of the absence of gluten. He said: "We are taking every opportunity to use rice flour. We consider it our patriotic duty."

Suggested Topics
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice