Policy brief on agriculture

This is a policy brief which will be released on 7th of June to all policy makers (Cabinet Ministers)

Past Performance of agriculture sector and food security

In 1940 Sri Lanka imported 60% of the rice requirement to feed our people. At that stage we used traditional technologies and varieties of rice and there were no agrochemicals, for rice production. By using high yield varieties, new technologies and agro chemicals we became self-sufficient in rice over the years. Since 2010 Sri Lanka has been producing (rice) more than what is required. In 2015, (population – 20.7 million) we produced excess rice than what was required. The high yielding rice varieties bred by Sri Lankan scientists supported our food security over the years. Using traditional varieties we have been obtaining less than 1.5 tons per hectare (average 0.65 tons) whereas through new, high yielding varieties we are now obtaining 4.5 tons per hectare.

Maize production was commercialised through contract farming in early 2000 for animal feed production to the poultry sector. Currently eggs and meat are the main source of animal protein to the nation. Maize is now the second largest crop in the field crop sector.


However, achieving food security in the country was not without a cost.  It was achieved at the expense of environment and human health. Prevalence of CKDU diseases with the paddy farming community is a serious health issue. The direct cause of the disease has not been diagnosed yet. There is no conclusive scientific evidence to link CKDU with a specific agrochemical. Inappropriate agricultural practices and misuse of agro chemicals in farming are issues that need to be addressed.

Therefore, any national agriculture policy must have to look for four vital components, food security, farmer income, health of all living beings and environmental sustainability.


Challenges in addressing food security of the growing population

Sri Lankan population is increasing and food production will have to be increased in order to feed the nation. According to predictions of Department of Agriculture, we need additional quantity of 0.76 million tons of rice to feed our people in 2020.

However the availability and access to land and water is limited. If the country continues to achieve the food security by being self sufficient to meet the food needs of the growing population, the only option available to the policy makers is to increase the productivity of paddy and OFC as there is limited possibility to expand the area under these crops.

In the workshop following two important areas were highlighted in addressing the growing food needs of the country.

Climate Change

Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges the country has to face in future and if we do not take prudent action it will affect our agriculture and food security. In Sri Lanka, there is a continuous increase in average temperature over the years. The drought and flood incidents have increased; we are experiencing a high rate of landslides more than what we experienced in the 20th century. In 2016 both the monsoon rains failed seriously affecting the availability of rice to meet the consumptive requirements of 2017.  Only two third of extent that the country planned to cultivate in Maha 2016/ 2017 have been cultivated and the total production was significantly lower than what was experienced over the past decade.

In order to face this erratic weather behaviour, the department of agriculture should be equipped with knowledge and practices such as cultivation of short duration varieties.


Not having a cohesive policy and not underscoring the real issues

The government new policy of toxin free nation and organic agriculture with traditional varieties has taken a drastic turning of the overall food security policy. With this new policy 30% of paddy area with improved rice varieties is to be replaced with low yielding traditional varieties with no fertiliser and no agro chemicals. Also under this policy the weedicide Glyphosate was banned overnight. These policies will have serious repercussions on the agriculture sector in the short run as well as in the long run. Proven technologies, adopted over the years, should not have been changed without proper scientific reasoning. Policy changes must be carried out by consulting experts and scientists who are knowledgeable on the subject.

Yet, Department of Agriculture, the main government body responsible to recommend and release the new agriculture technology and agricultural practices to the farmers has not been involved in this policy making process. Abrupt discontinuation of agrochemicals without proven alternatives will have some negative impact on local agriculture. Maize farmer’s costs have risen due to high labour cost involved in manual weed control. Tea and other plantation crop sectors have also been affected due to not having a chemical weed control method. Due to shortage of labour, weed control is a real issue in the plantation sector.

Direct consequences of this new policy to the agriculture sector are observed in some sector. Although the country has very optimistic vision for the organic agriculture sector, it is less adopted at farmer’s level.  The actual cultivated extent of Organically-grown rice in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, Maha season is only 0.08% of the total cultivated extent of rice in Sri Lanka.     Therefore, overall paddy production has been marginally affected.

Not highlighting the real issues in farming sector and misinformation that is fed to policy makers, derailment of agriculture is imminent.

  • Misuse of pesticides – The key issue with regard to pesticides is mishandling and overuse. The farmers must be trained thoroughly in judicious pesticide use.
  • Overuse of Fertilisers
  • Organic farming – No food or agricultural system is toxins free. Whether it be organic or inorganic. The need is to minimize toxins through appropriate interventions.
  • Collapsed extension system in the country –  Over the last 30 years or so our extension services has deteriorated very badly. There are loads of field workers but with poor knowledge and output. So the farmers learn about pesticides and pest control from the pesticide vendors in the village!

Therefore, the country’s effort to achieve food security, increase farmer income, health of all living beings and environmental sustainability, the knowledge of the scientific community is very vital. Government enacted institutions should receive the due consideration in the process of policy making.


Printed from: http://margasrilanka.org/blog/policy-brief-on-agriculture/ .
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