Needs, challenges & opportunities in agriculture

Posted Thursday August 06, 2015 by Hazel Durbridge

The conference today was, ‘people’s priorities for reconciliation and the role of civil society’. It was quite nifty. It was tri-lingual and we had headphones that translated i.e. for me if someone spoke in Sinhalese or Tamil. I thought they were cool!

There was quite a touching moment when my boss asked me how she had done – marks out of 10. So strange – this privileged upper class Sinhalese woman asks me how she performed. I said 10 and gave her a kiss. She was good. Some minister came who then after his keynote address talked to his neighbour on the platform while the woman who followed him spoke. SO RUDE!

I had lunch with some of the other volunteers and then went for retail therapy.


Issues, Challenges and Opportunities in Agriculture

Within the provincial team there are 45 staff – 10-15 Area Divisional Assistants (ADAs) with 3 staff instructors under each one. All the staff have relevant qualifications and are diverse in age and gender. These instructors are then responsible for between 600-1000 local farming families EACH. This is where the difficulty in service delivery lies.

Staff transport: Not all the instructors and field staff generally in these agricultural departments (especially women) have motor bikes and rely on intermittent public transport. Those who have bikes are not being paid for wear and tear and not enough money for travel costs. They get 2,000Rs per month. Petrol is 160Rs per litre and a bike will do 40kms per litre.

Access to lands: the condition of roads remains a big problem. If people can not get in and out easily this prohibits advanced farming techniques and getting the product back out to sell. There are a number of abandoned buildings which if they are in the right places, could be used for product storage or for bases for staff.

Seeds: Farmers are still not getting access to good quality seeds and seedlings in time. Batticaloa does not need another government seed farm, but it does need a processing machine (c 5 million Rs), because the farmers are unable to process their seeds. This needs to be sited at Vellevely where there is a long established seed paddy producing society of 50 members – Parathy.

They also need a ground nut processing unit in the area of Thatpanai, Kulam, Mavilaiyaru, Puthampun, Rajapalayanagar, Karadiyanaru (Mullai ground nut seed growers at Karadiyanaru) and a pulses processing plant at Vavunativu (Kathiroli Women Agriculture Society). It is essential that these processing units are based in rural, not town areas and close to where crops are being produced. The machinery for both costs 3 million Rs.

Farmers can only keep seeds themselves for 3 months. They need local, cool storage facilities then they would not be dependent on bringing seeds in from outside.

Soil Testing laboratory: Opinion is divided over whether another set of equipment is needed. A soil map of the District could be produced which should last 2-3 years. Soil testing is needed to recommend the levels of fertiliser and the selection of which variety to plant. There is a mobile unit at the university which is currently not functioning. Private companies such as CIC and Hayleys work on the contract growers programmes, but they are expensive. This could be an area for a public private partnership. It would need to be sited at Vellaveli, Kokkoddichilai, Vavunativu or Vantharumoolai.

Legal rights to lands: The majority of subsidies require farmers evidencing legal rights to land. In the short term the DS is providing letters of verification that this family have farmed here between 20-100 years, but for the long term this needs to be legalised.

Irrigation: Interestingly this was not raised by the agricultural departments as much as some other departments. There seems to be an increasing number of agro wells and water pumps.

Marketing of rice surplus: The District produces 312,000 metric tonnes of rice per year and needs 200,000 to feed the population. The other 112,000 is for export, but there is no export centre in Batticaloa. The nearest are in Ampara or Pollonaruwa. Farmers struggle with marketing the surplus therefore there is no incentive to increase rice yield. They prefer to diversify e.g. livestock, market gardens etc.

No big enough local Rice Mill: Rice is being milled outside the district at Polonnaruwa. If a new rice mill were constructed it needs to be in the Kokkaddichilai / Vavunativu area.

Vegetables: the district does not produce enough vegetables for local people. Individuals should have 120gms per day, but figures show the district is producing 25% of that.

Fruit trees: the district department feel that there should be more development of fruit trees in the highlands.

The potential for adding value needs to be further developed e.g. replacing the use of wheat flour with rice flour. However, the general feeling is that this will only work if the value additions are of a quality to compete on the international market.

Training centre: The district has been handed over responsibility for the training centre at Sathurukondan. They need to develop this, but have not been given sufficient funds to do so.

Elephant-Human conflict. This is a huge problem for affected families, but does not seem to get the high profile or attention it deserves.

Funding has come in from FAO, UNDP, WHO and the national government with 50% subsidies for sprinklers. District staff are divided over how effective it has been. Issues raised suggest too much money, not long term enough, not looking at whole villages.

A number of officers in the field are expressing that there needs to be a rethink on approach. More of the same is not going to make the changes necessary.

Development Plan Focus

Of those experts spoken to, most agreed that the future of farming within the district over the next 10 years depended on the increase in production of OFC (other food crops). Of these, black gram, green gram and ground nut are the most profitable.

The GA is adamant that the way forward is to work with farmer’s groups of 30-40 families so that co-operative societies are empowered and it is more sustainable rather than giving equipment to individuals as has happened in the past. Staff quoted that there were currently 165 functioning famer’s organisations out of a total of 352 and question if it would be feasible to have them all functioning simultaneously.

Processing and Marketing need to be two priorities. Any processing plants need to be sited in the rural areas suggested. There are a number of abandoned markets that need bringing back in to use. Bigger farmer’s groups could access proper supply chains.

The district would benefit from the construction of a factory to produce the organic fertilizer & chemicals because the soil everywhere is so poor and presently farmers are mainly depending on inorganic chemicals & fertilizers which is causing cancer etc. There are model factories in Nuwara Eliya and Badulla.

The fate of the USAid donation needs to be investigated, but the cashew plantation at Kiran would be an ideal location to cite a cashew processing factory where all the value added products can be created.. This would provide valuable jobs in a poor area and bring greater profits. Cashew products would also be of great interest to tourists.

Further processing plants are needed for seeds, ground nuts and pulses.

Soil testing is needed and a district map compiled.

Current usage of the district owned backhaw needs to be investigated and if it is in constant use to consider purchase of another to aid in coconut plantation.

Other priorities identified by the Planning Department

  • Paddy – Introduce and promote flood resistant varieties in maha season.
  • Cash crops – Expansion of palmyra cultivation.

Vegetables – Construction of organic vegetable outlets, promotion of organic cultivation practices, introduce and promote flood resistant varieties in maha season.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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