Friday, 9 March 2012

Traditional Rice Farming in Sri Lanka: Still Viable with Climate Change

By P.B. Dharmasena
Former Deputy Director -  Field Crops Research and Development Institute, Mahailluppallama, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has experienced many changes over the last century which has had a significant impact on traditional rice farming in the country. A change in the climate can be seen as the island has faced a reduction of rainfall and an increase in air temperature in certain areas of the country. Furthermore, land used for vegetation has been put to other uses resulting in a loss of 50 per cent of forest cover. The population has also increased by 15 million in a land area of 6.54 million hectares over the last 60 years. Occurrence of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, cyclones, landslides, epidemics, etc., has made life difficult for people to go about with their activities. Traditional sustainable agriculture shifting towards modern technology-intensive mode is partly to be blamed for these natural disasters.   

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:

The overall conclusion from the study is that the management of system ecology, adoption of traditional farming practices and integrated water resources management are the best practices to mitigate the drought effect in rice farming. However, there is a need to mobilize and strengthen communities and investigate the possibility of incorporating modern farming objectives such as high yield, increased production, profitability, etc., into traditional farming systems.

P.B.Dharmasena was the former Deputy Director of Field Crops Research and Development Institute, Mahailluppallama, Sri Lanka, and worked as a researcher in soil and water management in the Department of Agriculture for about 30 years. He has worked as a consultant for various organizations such as FAO, WFP, MASL, ADB and WB. He has published more than 100 articles on surface and groundwater, small tank agriculture, rainfed farming, soil conservation, traditional farming, etc. He obtained his B.Sc, M.Sc and PhD from the University of Peradeniya and holds a Post-Graduate Diploma from the Agricultural University of Norway.                                                  


  1. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.

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