Future of Agriculture and Food Security in Sri Lanka-

Taken from Professor Buddhi Marambe’s Presentation at the Marga Institute/ Gamani Corea Foundation Seminar on the future of Agriculture in Sri Lanka and Food Security

AgriculturePolicy change and climate change are both unpredictable in Sri Lanka. Both are human-induced and both have had and will have detrimental impacts on agriculture in Sri Lanka. World population is estimated at 9.5 billion (2050) and about 90 % of the population growth will be observed in developing countries. Approximately 50% increase in food production is required by 2030 to feed the world population and 80-100% increase in food production is required by 2050 to feed the world population. But only about additional 10% of current arable, non-protected land will be available (445 Mha)(Lambin, 2011). Water availability and access are key constraints to poverty reduction and food security.

In 1940’s the population of Sri Lanka was 6 million people, 60 % of rice requirement was imported and traditional varieties were used then and there were no agrochemicals. Life expectancy was just 46 years, then. In 2015, population was 20.7 million people and there were excess rice production with the use of high yielding varieties and use of new technologies and agrochemicals. Today life expectancy is 76 years.  We are ranked 65th in 113 countries and we are ahead of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

However this story may not have a happy ending. Climate change is real. We have experienced slow & continuous rise of ambient temperature (0.01 – 0.03 °C per year), frequent occurrence of extreme weather events, droughts & floods have increased, occurrence of high intensity rains, land slides, tornado type winds, intense lightning strikes, total number of dry days, warm days  have all increased whereas number of cold nights/comfort nights have decreased. Climate of the country has undergone a drastic change where there is no rains when it is needed (drought) and there more rains when it is not needed (floods). In 1916 we experienced the worst drought in 40 years. Heavy rains in early 2017 affected our vegetable cultivation. We need an additional quantity of 0.76 million tons of rice in 2020.

So where do we go from here? We need to take into account climate change concerns in development planning in the   agriculture sector (e.g. NAP). We need to go for:  Climate-resilient varietal development (planting material), high quality planting material (e.g. seeds), crop-animal Integrated (climate-resilient) farming systems. We also need to maintain self-sufficiency in the main staple food which is Rice (Make use of both traditional as well as modern technologies), with buffer stocks + planned release. We need to cultivate abandoned paddy landwhich has no other land use. Crop diversification based on agro-ecology is vital and we need to further improve land productivity through judicious input use (e.g. organic matter + chemical fertilizer, crop   protection).

We also need to :-

  • Prioritize investments on agriculture – local/export markets
  • Enter into carefully designed public–private development partnerships (e.g. seeds, improved technology, product trace-ability)
  • Strengthen entrepreneurial capacities (e.g. Young Farmer Forum; Farmer Cooperatives)
  • Increase value added production (e.g. rice varieties for biscuit production – At 306, 308, 309)
  • Have better coordination in production and market mechanisms (e.g. price control??)
  • Increase private and public investments in R&D
  • Tap the expert knowledge (science-based) in decision   making: NOT non-expert or divine advice

And we all lived happily ever after





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