Agriculture : Future depends on viable policy framework and research - Expert

‘A balance between increasing demand for food with limited land and water reservoirs, is a must’.  PICTURE: LAKE HOUSE MEDIA LIBRARY
‘A balance between increasing demand for food with limited land and water reservoirs, is a must’. PICTURE: LAKE HOUSE MEDIA LIBRARY

The future of the agriculture sector depends on the development of a framework of policies for Sri Lanka and policy-oriented research is essential in this regard, Professor of Weed Science, Dr. Buddhi Marambe told a seminar on ‘The Future of Agriculture in Sri Lanka and Food Security’ organized by the Marga Institute and the Gamini Corea Foundation at the BMICH, Colombo last week.

Dr. Marambe is the Chairman, Board of Study in Crop Science, Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture (PGIA), University of Peradeniya, Chairman, National Experts Committee on Climate Change Adaptation (NECCCA) and also Chairman, National Invasive Species Specialist Group (NISSG).

“However, there are concerns in the sector such as decisions being made without proper consultation with related parties. Lack of continuous research and dialogue, decisions are not adequately holistic, but ad hoc, and balanced sustainable human and social development is not properly maintained, he said.

There is a huge gap between the decision-maker in agricultural policy formulation and in practice.

“We have not taken into account the ground reality in many aspects including the worker shortage. Policy change and climate change have a few common things, it is unpredictable, human induced and have had detrimental impacts on agriculture,” he said.

The enhanced green house effects have a detrimental impact on agriculture affecting food security.

The world population is estimated to grow further. It was 7.4 billion in 2016 and expected to be 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.5 billion by 2050.

By 2030, food production needs to be increased by 50 percent and in 2050 it needs to be increased by 80 to 100 percent to meet demand. The arable land available will be only 10 percent more than at present. About 90 percent of the population growth will be in developing countries, he said.

Competition will be stiff, water availability and access are key constraints to poverty reduction and food security. A balance between increasing demand for food with limited land and water reservoirs, is a must.

The SDG number 2 which covers ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture have become a difficult task to achieve due to increasing temperature. From 1850 to 2012 global temperature has increased by 0.85 C .

The SDG 13 covers climate change. It covers how climate change could be avoided to achieve food security. Speaking on population versus rice production, he said that in 1940, the population in the country was six million and 60 percent of the rice needed was imported. In 2015, the population was 20.7 million and there was excess rice production. The reasons for excess production were high yielding varieties, use of new technology and the use of agrochemicals. The contributory factors were, improved research and extension services and improved health services.

Sri Lanka was ranked 65 among 113 countries with regard to food security last year. India was 75, Pakistan 78, Nepal 82 and Bangladesh 95.

“Last year was a difficult year. The impact of climate change on agriculture was severe. The year had the worst drought in 40 years. The first inter-monsoon and the South West monsoon failed. The second inter-monsoon failed and the North East monsoon delayed. It was the worst drought in the dry zone since 1973/74, he said.

Approximately 32 percent of paddy land was cultivated in the Maha 2016/17 season and reservoirs filled up to less than 30 percent capacity.

The climate of the country has undergone a drastic change. There is no rain when it is needed, making it a drought situation and there is more rain when it is not needed, causing a flood situation. This has serious implications for food production, It will reduce agriculture productivity by 10 to 15 percent in next three decades. Climate change concerns in development planning in the agricultural sector. Therefore, climate resilient variety development, high quality planting material and production practices, crop-animal integrated farming systems, self sufficiency in the main staple with buffer stocks, cultivating abandoned paddy land, crop diversification based on agro-ecology and further improving of land productivity through judicious input use are necessary.

“By 2020, we will need 18 percent more rice. We need additional quantity of 0.76 million tons of rice in 2020. The price of rice is on the rise. It is expected that rice import requirement for 2017 to increase,” he said.

Going forward in agriculture, the adaptation strategies should be no regret options with a high varieties of rice including oerobic rice, flood tolerant rice, short duration rice, salt tolerant rice, drought/heat tolerant highland crops, timely cultivation and use of residual moisture.

It is importance to carry out crop diversification in crop production. Seasonal climate forecasting, effective dissemination of weather information, crop diversification with proper land selection based on agro ecology, shared cultivation in minor irrigation schemes, incorporation of livestock to farming systems, micro irrigation techniques, rain water harvesting, improved management practices such as shade trees in tea and organic matter integration and crop insurance scheme.

The policy change on national fertilizer subsidy scheme too had negative impact on agriculture sector. There are many challenges to overcome in the sector by the use of innovation in agriculture and increasing rate of technological change.

“The emergence of platform technologies is important in this regard.

We need to tackle problems that have plagued the food and agri sector such as high cost of production and low profitability, lack of value addition, weak mechanism to support commercialization of R & D, poor intra and inter institutional coordination, weak national quality infrastructure and rapid changes in national policies mostly on ah-hoc manner. “Sri Lankan economy in the first nine months of 2016 grew by 4 percent.

The growth of service sector is 5.7 percent, industrial sector 4.8 percent and agriculture negative 2.5 percent growth. The expected rice imports this year is 250,000 tonnes.

“The future of the agriculture does not look promising. However, with prioritizing investments on agriculture on both local and export markets, by carefully designed public-private development partnerships, strengthening entrepreneurial capacities, value added production, better coordination in production, post harvest handling and market mechanisms, increasing private and public investments in R&D and tapping the expert knowledge in decision making the country’s agriculture sector could make a positive move,” he said.

At present where rice production and stocks are concerned, the latest estimates show rice availability upto at least June this year, depending on moderate success of the Yala 2017 paddy cultivation season.

Executive Director, Head, Agriculture Sector, Hayleys PLC, Rizvi Zaheed said, the absence of a buffer stock system, does not augur well for food security, let alone the other important issue of nutrition security. Consultation and collaboration with the private sector and all stakeholders in determining policy initiatives can support the required actions to ensure addressing the real food and nutrition security goals of the country both in the short and long term.

The way forward for food security is for the private sector to work collaboratively with government agencies and farmers to make available inputs such as seed paddy (varieties in short supply) and other inputs to maximize production of paddy in the Yala season this year.

Vegetable production also requires a similar immediate collaborative effort and the setting up of mechanisms for such collaboration, he said. 

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