UPDATE: SRI LANKA: Mothers’ activity to reduce the milk prices; companies and government’s response


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-38-2001
ISSUES: Right to food,

Update on Urgent Appeal 14 September 2001


UP-38-2001 (RE: UA26/01: Nestle, Anchor, Government, IMF denying food to infants

SRI LANKA: Mothers’ activity to reduce the milk prices; companies and government’s response



Dear Friends,


Regarding our earlier urgent appeal (30-07-2001) on the unbearable increase of milk prices in Sri Lanka, we are sending the latest activity by the Movement of Mothers to Combat Malnutrition (MMCM) to draw your attention and support for this issue and the response of the milk companies and Sri Lankan government.


Thank you.


Urgent Appeals Desk

Asian Human Rights Commission




Mothers’ Appeal in Colombo on Aug. 31: “We will not allow our children to die hungry.”


On Aug. 31, more than 350 mothers gathered in front of the Fort Railway Station at 7:00 a.m. from all parts of the country to make an appeal to the citizens of Sri Lanka and the government.


This event was organised based on a very old tradition in the villages of Sri Lanka, for there is a traditional ceremony of giving alms to the “milk mothers” when the children have some illness or any other evil or misfortune facing them. People believe that these will be overcome by inviting a group of elderly mothers to visit their home in the early morning before the sun rises. They will bless the children, sing traditional songs and verses and invite the gods to bless the children and protect them. They walk in line, dressed in white and chant their blessings. The family then offers them food.


It is believed that the mothers, by virtue of the fact that they have breast-fed children, have protected them until they were strong enough to look after themselves, have special powers to invite blessings on children. People who live in justice, love and kindness are believed to have these special powers.


On Aug. 31, mothers from all over the country gathered. Some of them travelled from as far as the drought-affected district of Hambantota, and others came from the war-affected areas of Polonnaruwa and Welikanda. Some came from the plantation hill country. There were singers who sang songs of love and the eternal love of mothers towards their children while the mothers sat in a line. As expected, there were about 1,000 or more people gathered. After about three hours of the “Satyakriya” (Act of Truth), they then moved in line to a meeting hall to which citizens?groups, the media and political and religious leaders were invited.


The mothers presented their stories, made their pleas and also discussed ways of working to protect their children from this tragic situation. Among those who related their stories and gave their messages were young and elderly mothers from Negombo, Chilaw, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Welikanda, Hambantota, Kegalla and Kurunegala. Another 10,000 leaflets with the signatures of 350 organisations in Sinhala and Tamil were distributed on this day in the city, on trains and also in out-station areas.


The whole activity was organised under the theme of “WE WILL NOT ALLOW OUR CHILDREN (of more than 2 million families) TO DIE HUNGRY.” There was very wide media coverage. Subsequently, some of the mainstream media, including the radio and electronic media, carried articles and conducted debates on this issue.


Other Educational Work


We do not believe that dependence on imported milk powder sold by large companies will ever solve the problem. Therefore, with the organisations that join this campaign, there will be a continuous programme of education by sending them educational material and by conducting regional educational programmes on the value of breast-feeding and about the operations of large milk transnational corporations (TNCs), such as Nestle. This educational programme will include:


– How TNCs impact the domestic dairy industry and encourage bottle feeding;

– Practical grassroots approaches in developing dairies at the rural level;

– Home gardening and sustainable agriculture for food security;

– Nutritional education of households and communities;

– Advocacy on food and nutrition policy.These will be planned in the medium and long term. Special efforts will be made to reach the most insecure areas for food, such as the war-affected areas, the plantations and the drought-affected areas in the South and North.


Similar programmes are being planned in Kurunegala, Galle, Hatton (in the plantation area) and possibly in Polonnaruwa in the upcoming months. Several organisations, such as the Women and Media Collective, the Savisthri Women’s Programme, the Women’s Development Foundation, NAFSO in Negombo, “Shramaabhimani” in Negombo, Janawabhodaya in Negombo, Satyodaya in Kandy and others contributed by bringing groups at their expense. Many other organisations contributed by their participation and by holding activities in their respective areas.


The Response of the Companies and the Sri Lankan Government


The milk companies responded by saying that the government has not announced any tax reduction on milk. Therefore, it is not possible to reduce milk prices, the companies claim. Moreover, they said that they were not willing to reduce their expenses for advertising, saying that it would not be a meaningful reduction. They also said that they would not reduce their packaging costs since that would affect the quality of the milk and its safety.


The government stated, however, that the tax would be removed, and thus, the price would be reduced by 10 to 13 rupees (US$.13 to US$.17) for a 400-gram packet. This has still not happened though.


It is clear that both the government as well as the companies will continue to adhere to their earlier policy of allowing the so-called “free market?to decide prices without any intervention. Consequently, they will not consider the plight of the children of the poor as an emergency which needs their immediate intervention.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-38-2001
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Right to food,