Challenges to agriculture - Part iii | Sunday Observer
In the face of climate, health and food security changes:

Challenges to agriculture - Part iii

4 October, 2020
Seasonal crops
Seasonal crops

Continued from September 27

All of these practices require integration strategies in the form of management packages for adoption in the different home gardens. The composition of these packages needs to be tailored to site characteristics, local climate and householder’s preference. It will be extremely difficult for householders to identify a suitable package for his home garden. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that farmers consult a well-qualified and experienced field extension agent in the area for the purpose.

b). Seasonal crop based uplands

Chena farmers traditionally cultivated seasonal crops on uplands mainly for food and sharing with neighbors. However, with recent developments in local agriculture, most of such lands have been converted for cultivating seasonal crops without shifting nature and due to the use of herbicides, fertiliser and pesticides, farming of these lands has been mainly for income. Some of the commodity groups now grown include: field crops, vegetable and fruit species.

This system of farming occurs in nearly all climatic regions to varying extents. Commercial scale major field crops are maize, finger millet, green gram, black gram, cowpea, soy bean, groundnut, chilli and onion. Market oriented vegetable crops grown particularly in the wet zone areas include: potato, cabbage, carrot, beet, radish, leek, beans, vegetable cowpea, brinjal, capsicum, tomato, okra, snake gourd, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, cucumber, pumpkin, knolkhol and leafy vegetable. Some examples for seasonal fruit crops include watermelon in dry zone areas and strawberry in wet zone areas. Field crops have been dominant in dry and semi dry zone areas and vegetable in wet and semi wet zone areas.

Most crops depend on timely rains. Surface irrigation options are available but only for limited extents.

Therefore, climate change effects will significantly impact these farming systems.

Seasonal crop based uplands in the dry zone

The development of a climate smart package of strategies and practices for this upland farming system is required to sustain crop production.

These packages will consist of the appropriate selection and integration of some of the strategies and practices. The proposed pre plant strategies and practices include: finalising crop cultivation plans for the season considering weather and climate forecast information, gathering market information, estimating seasonal requirements of inputs, such as chemical fertiliser and agro-chemicals, land cleaning requirements prior to onset of seasonal rains, timely land preparation with the onset of rains, reconditioning soil conservation structures, plot demarcation and preparation and providing adequate drainage facility for water logged areas.

The suggested post plant strategies and practices are: establishing organic manure production units at individual farmland level for facilitating the practice of organic farming, selection of crop varieties well suited to the earth and predicted climate in the season, seed treatment to control the spread of seed borne pathogens, seed hardening, obtaining soil test based recommendations for supplementary chemical fertilizer use, application of water saving techniques in crop irrigation such as drip and sprinkler techniques in areas where stream water sources are available, integrated pest and disease management, introduction of efficient postharvest handling techniques, selection of an appropriate market channel and residue management after crop harvest.

Factors to be incorporated to the package depend on earth characteristics, climate and crops grown. As discussed under homegardens, consultation of a local agriculture extension agent seems to be essential for formulating a suitable package of strategies and practices.

c). Dug-well based croplands

Dug-well based cropland farming has been a minor system of agriculture historically, particularly in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. However, in the late 1980s, with the introduction of agro-wells, it became a major system of farming in the North Central and North Western provinces.

Dug well based croplands in the intermediate zone

With this development, some of the seasonal crop-based uplands faming systems have been converted to dug-well based farming systems, popularly known as agro-well farming.

This farming system includes cultivation of upland crops at commercial scale particularly in dry and semi dry areas having an undulating to flat terrain. The use of groundwater as the main dependable source of water assured crop production through irrigation.

According to recent research surveys, major crops under dug-well based farming includes: cereals (finger millet and maize), grain legumes (cowpea and green gram), oil crops (groundnut and soybean), condiments (chilli and onion), vegetables (batana, bean, beet, bitter gourd, brinjal, cabbage, capsicum, cucumber, gerkin, kekiri, yard long bean, okra, pumpkin, radish, ridge gourd, snake gourd, tomato, thampala, thibbotu, winged bean) and fruit crops (banana, guava, lime, mango, orange, papaw and water melon).

The long term sustainability of agro-well farming systems will require the development and adoption of climate smart management strategies and practices similar to those suggested for seasonal crop based systems.

Some additional strategies and practices to be considered include selection of appropriate sites for construction of dug-wells, based on farmer experience combined with expert knowledge related to local hydrologic conditions such as quality, quantity and depth to groundwater.

Under climate change scenarios of variable amounts and frequencies of precipitation, farmers will need new knowledge of well construction and maintenance as well as the number of wells in a watershed which may be limited at an environmentally permissible level.

Land terracing, preparation of irrigation basins and establishment of overhead tanks for storage of lifted groundwater are also factors to be incorporated to the package depending on earth characteristics and crops grown.

As discussed under home gardens, consultation of local agriculture extension agents as well as water resource experts will be essential for formulating a suitable strategy and management package.

To be continued