OPA’s voice on way forward to address Sri Lanka’s agriculture and food production crisis

Saturday, 28 May 2022 01:21 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • OPA voices its proposals on way forward to a sustainable agriculture system leading to a food-secured Sri Lanka

OPA Sri Lanka President Dulitha Perera
OPA Sri Lanka Land and Agriculture Standing Committee Chairman Sarath Jayatilaka

The Land, and Agriculture Standing Committee of the OPA Sri Lanka, with the consultation of agricultural experts, submitted their short-term recommendations to the Government for urgent attention and immediate implementation.

The agriculture sector of Sri Lanka was progressing well in 2020 despite COVID-19 and also until the end of the fifth season of 2021, owing to the active food production/productivity enhancement program implemented. 

While the sector was striving for a steady progress, sudden decision in implementation of impractical and non-scientific policy on banning chemical fertiliser and pesticides has now resulted in an irreversible damage to food security and imposing further stress over the economy of the country.

As the professional organisation comprising over 50 professional associations, OPA Sri Lanka reiterated that the Government’s sudden decision on banning chemical fertiliser and pesticides was in contrary to the OPA proposals submitted on 2 July 2021 and by many other professionals. 

Over 40% reduction of crop yield, especially of paddy, was reported owing to this decision leading to the present crisis of shortages and price hikes at unaffordable levels, thus compelling to import essential food items including rice, where quality is not assured. 

Further, the ill-fated decision in April 2021 also drastically reduced the agriculture export earnings, especially affecting the tea industry, leading to a foreign exchange crisis. Shortages of the raw material (e.g. forages) for the animal feed industry drastically affected the cost of production in animal industry leading to dramatic price hikes. 

OPA Sri Lanka stressed that immediate implementation of its proposals would lead to arrest further aggravation of the current food production crisis in the country and help recover the hampered livelihoods of the farming communities. 

OPA’s proposals for immediate execution 

1 . Provide essential inorganic fertilisers and promote use of organic matter urgently: It is urged that the required amount of Urea, Phosphatic fertiliser and Muriate of Potash at recommended levels for all crops, including fodder be provided. Also to provide specialty fertiliser for hi-tech agriculture. 

The Government must also take immediate action to provide technical know-how for farmers to use organic matter in a sustainable manner in conjunction with the inorganic fertilisers while the progress of this activity needs monitoring by Agriculture officers and reported to the Ministry at regular intervals by Agrarian Service divisions. 

2. Launch a program to discharge sufficient fuel to ensure uninterrupted usage of fuel-driven farm machinery and implements for harvesting and threshing of late cultivators of the Maha season 2021/2022 and land preparation for the Yala season 2022 in the case of paddy and other food crop production, and for transportation of poultry (egg and meat) and dairy (milk) products and farm inputs (feed and veterinary) and introduce profitable marketable crops to the market and new mechanism for low-cost packing to minimise the damage and waste while transportation. 

3. Supply quality seeds to the growers, sourced either locally or imported: Vegetable seeds – Upcountry vegetables, and other crops, Maize seeds for the Yala season of 2022, and especially for the Maha season 2022/2023, Local legume and oil seeds for the Yala season of 2022, Commercial seed purchasing and distribution program for paddy and Other Field Crops. 

4. Make required pesticides and veterinary drugs available in the market: It may also be considered obtaining pesticides from new agents or dealers while strictly following quality standards. Importation of recommended pesticides (weedicides, insecticides, and fungicides) and veterinary drugs and to develop a prescription-based pesticide issuance system. 

Assurance of strict quality standards of all imported agricultural inputs while encouraging and supporting the local innovations and input development is crucial.

5. Develop a mechanism to promote and commercialise local technologies and innovations with the recommendation of the mandated state institutions through scientific research: Measures must be taken to popularise and expand Good Agriculture Practices (GAP)-certification program at the national level. 

It is important to increase the GAP-certified cultivation area, strengthen the GAP-certification program with trained manpower, develop market linkages for GAP-certified products, increase awareness on GAP towards producers and consumers and develop and implement a road map to make GAP-certification a mandatory requirement for selected crop production systems.

6. Provide credit facilities and introduce effective communication methods as and when required while introducing appropriate risk management systems within the food system: Programs must be launched to conduct a scientifically-just motivation campaign on production, productivity and efficient input usage with stakeholders supported by all Media Networks, under the leadership of the Department of Agriculture (DOA), Mahaweli Authority (MASL), Provincial Department of Agriculture (PDOA), Department of Animal Production & Health (DAPH), Provincial Department of Animal production & Health Department of the Agrarian Development (DAD)

7. Energise the agriculture extension system on both crop and animal production sectors in Sri Lanka: Bringing in national, provincial, and private sector extension systems under one umbrella for operational work, without any changes made to the provisions granted by the Provincial Council Act of 1987.

8. Develop required standards for locally produced agricultural inputs (especially organic fertiliser): Strengthen the Sri Lanka Standards Institution to ensure strict adherence of quality standards. 

9. Introduce simple and practical mechanism to reduce the postharvest losses in vegetables and fruits: Launch programs to help deploy proper planning in conjunction with the cultivation planning.

Measures must be taken to establish an efficient supply and distribution mechanism with effective monitoring system for all agricultural (both crop and livestock) produces within the food system. Steps must also be taken to introduce methods to reduce losses and damages during transportation of agricultural products and have sufficient storage facilities. 

Launch programs to promote year-around adoption of precision farming at all levels through private-public partnership programs. Further strengthening the system by a crop and livestock production forecast system and minimise gluts and lean periods throughout the year through the engagement of all stakeholders.

It was further emphasised that the medium and long-term programs implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Animal Production and Health, Department of Agrarian Development, Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, and the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Animal Production and Health, and the private sector agencies, be reactivated for implementation of a sustainable agriculture system leading to a food secured Sri Lanka.