Only as little as 1.7% of the agricultural household population has received formal training to conduct agricultural activities, a survey by the Census and Statistics Department has found, which could significantly challenge efforts by policymakers to increase productivity in the labour-intensive sector.
The Agricultural Household Survey 2016/17 released by the Department this week showed that even then, the duration of the majority of training was limited to less than a month. Additionally, only 3% of the agricultural household population over 25 years of age had degrees, while 46% had passed Grade 6 to 10, 17% had passed Ordinary Levels, and only 12% had passed Advanced Levels.
According to the survey done in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADB), out of 2.1 million estimated agricultural households, 8.1 million estimated agricultural household population and a sample size of 24,050, only 27% of agricultural households received instructions or information on farming. Of this, 55% was from the Government, 15% from farmers associations, and 13% from other farmers.
The information received was mostly about fertilizer use and new seed varieties and very little information on access to credit, marketing and crop sales. This indicates a gap between cultivators and field officers, and a lack of the training necessary to increase agricultural production, the study said.
While the biggest difficulty faced by agricultural households was drought and irregular rains which affected 43% of households in the Yala season and 52% in the Maha season, unusually low prices and financial difficulties were in the top five difficulties faced by agricultural households. The survey reported that 5% and 6% of households faced unusually low prices and 3% and 6% faced financial difficulties in the Yala and Maha seasons respectively.
The survey states that loans had been taken by a considerable amount of agricultural operators for cultivation activities. Out of these, 53% were from banks, 12% from institutes providing agri input, and 11% were from NGOs. Only 3% were from finance or leasing companies.
The dependency on loans comes despite 52% of households having inherited their land and 16.8% using land granted by the Government. However, a high cost of paddy production was a concerning finding of the survey, with the average cost of production of paddy reported between Rs. 20,000 to 30,000 per acre. This cost includes only cash payments and the survey states that close to half of production cost was spent on labour and machinery, while cost of fertilizer and insecticide/weedicide were 20% and 10% of the total cost respectively.
While the survey also looked at housing, vegetable and fruit cultivation and livestock, an interesting finding of the study was the level of education among agriculture households. Despite the free education policy in Sri Lanka, a 91.9% literacy rate in the 15 years and older population and 80.32% literacy rate in the 65 years and older population in 2017 according to UNESCO, a total of 4% of the agricultural household population over 25 years of age had no schooling whatsoever.