Traditional farmers who gathered experience and skills over centuries, managed to sustain yields under adverse farming conditions using locally available resources. A study conducted by the author with the support of ‘Future in Our Hands’, during2007 - 2010 in the Moneragala district, investigated how traditional rice farming and the related ecology faced the challenge of drought and emerging issues of modern farming by tracing coping strategies from the past.
Traditional system practised by farmers includes: i) cultivation of traditional rice varieties; ii) use of organic fertilizers (straw, green manure, cow dung, poultry manure, liquid fertilizer etc.); iii) management of weeds through hand weeding, mechanical weeding, and water management; iv) management of pest and diseases by practising Kem krama (rituals), maintaining bio-diversity, and using bio-pesticides; and v) management of available water without leading to moisture stress.
A study was carried out in 16 villages, where some farmers practised traditional farming and some others adopt modern farming. The main differences seen in modern farming compared to traditional farming were that the farmers used: i) new ‘improved’ rice varieties; ii) Inorganic fertilizers (urea, muriate of potash and triple super phosphate); iii) Weedicides; iv) Pesticides; and v) pre-scheduled irrigation. These two farming systems were assessed by using various indicators such as productivity of land, labour, capital, and seed, input cost and net return per unit weight of grains.
Results showed that the traditional rice farming when adopted for a few seasons could tolerate drought conditions, reduce soil salinity, and improve soil P, K and organic matter and some physical properties. Moreover, cost of production decreased while labour and capital productivity increased. The system improved its capacity to control pests without any additional measure. Findings are summarized in the table below: