Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Dr. P.B. Dharmasena
Field Crops Research and Development Institute, Mahailluppallama

Sri Lanka is still and will be for near future considered as a country dependant mainly upon agriculture including plantation sector. Challenges posed by external factors due to globalization and open economic policies have directed the country’s agriculture to move away from the self reliance. Competitive export and import opportunities among countries have led to maintain the standard levels of quality and steady levels of production at a lower price in all commodities. This situation demands a firm and perfect policy for country’s agriculture. Further, present agriculture does not show any indication of sustainability as it has ignored the centuries old wisdom of traditional agriculture. In developing a strategic mechanism to promote an alternative to present agriculture, cognizance must be taken from deep rooted customs and traditions and the time tested agricultural practices to assure the sustainability in the agricultural sector. Farmers’ dependency mentality evolved due to modern agriculture and the government policies dealt with agriculture from time to time should gradually be removed by developing self confidence, self motivation and empowerment.

Most critical issue at present is that the agriculture does not bring a consistent economic gain to the farmer. Import export policies do not respond effectively to maintain profitability of farming. Farming without adequate concern on conservation of natural resources such as soil and water and environmental protection has led to deterioration of the agricultural resource base in the country and pollution of the environment. Government has not paid adequate attention to provide farmers with input and marketing facilities in time. Land resource is utilized for various purposes including agriculture with out considering its suitability, capability and vulnerability to degradation. Farmers are not much aware of the current trends in agriculture, marketing and technologies.

Policy Aspects

Need is felt for urgent attention to formulate a firm policy to implement sustainable agricultural production program in the country. In policy statements on various sectors of the agriculture following aspects should be included to assure conservation and efficient utilization of soil and water resources.

In irrigated agriculture water losses from reservoirs and canals should be minimized, efficient field water management has to be promoted for increasing the water productivity through crop diversification and with new water saving techniques. In rain fed agriculture the unirrigable land mass of the country should be developed on watershed basis with proper soil and water conservation techniques, put into most suitable land use forms such as agro-forests, perennial orchards, field crop farms, mixed timber plantations, pasture lands etc. State resources should be mobilized to make these lands productive with sustainable rain fed agriculture to benefit farmers on short, medium and long run.
Organic farming should be encouraged to reduce adverse effects of agro-chemicals and inorganic fertilizer on environment and human health by expanding the organic farming sector, creating awareness in general public for consumption of organic products, generating new technology and certifying products, processing and packaging to earn foreign exchange and gain high price to the farmers. Integrated farming should be introduced to farmers for optimum use of their resources, year round steady income and effective use of residues. The policy on integrated farming towards sustainable agriculture should be to improve village level productive farming, discourage artificial products and chemical use, familiarize livestock farming and encourage cottage industries to capture foreign and local market with traditional products.

Sustainable agriculture policy should stress the importance of conserving natural resources (land, water, forest, atmosphere etc.), while utilizing them effectively for agricultural production. All land users for agriculture should be encouraged for sustainable use of natural resources by awareness creation, making resources conservation compulsory, generation of improved technologies, safe and efficient management of rainwater, river, tank and groundwater.

Agriculture should be mechanized in all possible ways to reduce the cost of production and improve the quality of produce but with no harmful effects on natural resources such as wind and water erosion, increased water and soil nutrient losses, air pollution etc.

National policy on agriculture should emphasize the use of indigenous knowledge in agriculture, which ensures preserving and utilizing traditional crops and varieties, resources conservation practices, medicinal plants, cottage industries and agricultural heritage of the country.

Strategies to Achieve Sustainability in Agriculture

In implementing what is spelled out in a policy various strategies need to be identified. Following activities need much attention to achieve sustainable agriculture production in Sri Lanka with special reference to soil and water conservation.

Lands potentially suitable for agriculture should be given priority for agricultural production to assure the land resource availability for future expansion of agriculture. Primary and secondary forest lands should not be exploited for any purpose other than development of forest vegetations. Decision makers of agricultural production planning should not consider only the national production requirement but also the sustainable production levels of resources including farmers. Thus, food production expectations should aim at national food security, but not always at reducing outflow of foreign exchange for food imports.

Increasing agricultural productivity should not jeopardize the land, water and other resources of the country. Since many ministries bear the mandate of conserving natural resources there is a necessity to establish a national advisory board for conservation of natural resources independent of political authority.

A national development plan for agriculture has to be prepared wherein integrated approach of agriculture, livestock and small agro-based industries is promoted. Any agriculture related activity implemented in the country should be a part of the national agriculture development plan. Committees should be established at provincial, district, divisional and village level to plan and implement the agricultural production program. Farmers should be protected from adverse effects of free trade policies and globalization.

Reorientation of Research Agenda

In identifying areas for research under the theme of alternative agriculture for self reliance most essential knowledge urgently needed can be obtained by answering following ten research questions.

1. How can the negative impacts of globalization and trade liberalization be managed locally to achieve sustainability in agricultural production?

2. What land and water resources are available in quantity and quality in different parts of the country?

3. How they could be developed and allocated for different purposes among competing interests?

4. What governance framework and institutional mechanisms (policy, legal and organizational frameworks) are needed to create an environment for cost-effective interventions of sustainable agriculture?

5. What is the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation?

6. How poverty can be alleviated through sustainable agriculture?

7. How can the impacts (environmental, social and economic) of land use changes be assessed?

8. What combinations of technological and management strategies are needed to assure the utilization of natural resources effectively, efficiently and equitably for agriculture to alleviate poverty and enhance environmental security?

9. How a community can feel and realize an improving process of sustainability?

10. What Decision Support Information Systems are needed to empower the stake holders in implementing sustainable agricultural development programs?

Reorientation of agricultural research agenda from crop based to resource productivity based is essential to achieve sustainability. Promotion of endemic fruits, vegetables and medicinal products for both local consumption and foreign markets can be initiated through research. Knowledge on conservation of natural resources at present is dispersed and available in various institutions. Gaps need to be identified where further studies are needed and organized by networking them so that any would have the access for utilization.

Theme talk made at the Tenth Annual Forestry and Environment Symposium held at Kabool Lanka International Training Center, Thulhiriya on 2nd and 3rd 2005 organized by Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

Environmental Impacts of Tsunami and it’s Rehabilitation

Prof. D.M.S.H.K. Ranasinghe
Department of Forestry & Environmental Science, University of Sri JayewardenepuraTsunami, the Killer Wave swept nearly two thirds of the coast of Sri Lanka on 26th of December, 2004. The coastline especially the Eastern and the South Western suffered a major blow, rendering more than 40,000 dead, about 900,000 displaced. Most of the physical infrastructure including houses, hotels, and common facilities like railway, roads, buses, bridges, power and telecommunications were damaged. Many people living on the shoreline and adjacent areas lost their livelihoods.

A rapid assessment of the damage of the coastline starting from Dehiwala in the South Western Coast all the way to Jaffna Peninsula showed that the almost all the aspects of environment, including economic, socio-cultural and ecological suffered a great blow from the Tsunami waves. The economic loss was assessed in the range of more than 1.5 billion US $ while the socio-cultural damage could not be quantified. With regard to ecological environment, many items which contributed to the ecological stability of the coastal ecosystem were damaged. This includes mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs, estuaries and bays along with their fauna and flora, vegetation on the beach and also those in home gardens. Well over 500 million kg of rubble were created by the Tsunami and posed an enormous challenge to the solid waste management system. Debris and sea sand, whether deposited by the Tsunami or by clean up operations has blocked drainage channels in many areas. More than 15,000 wells have become unusable due to salinisation. The excessive pumping of fresh water from inland areas has resulted in salt intrusion to ground water supplies. Several coastal water bodies have been contaminated with salt water, floating material, faecal matter and black sediments and need restoration. The original ecosystem in these areas have been destroyed, natural purification has ceased resulting in highly toxic water bodies.Among the coastal and marine ecosystems, shallow fringing coral reefs suffered more damage compared to the deep ones. Intact coral reefs acted as buffers to minimize the Tsunami damage. Estuaries often acted as channels of entry for the tsunami facilitating damage and salt water intrusion to inland areas. Frontline mangroves were badly damaged while deeper ones were left intact and dense mangroves converted the wave into a flood. Lagoons absorbed tsunami energy, but in doing so lost seasonal sand barriers, their banks scoured. Large vegetated sand dunes stopped tsunami intrusion. Beaches were eroded and scoured losing width and height, mainly from tsunami backwash. There was much debris on most beaches.There was severe damage in near shore areas, including seashore Pandanus and creeper vegetation and inland Palmyrah trees with near shore coconuts less affected, as were inland economic trees. Casuarina plantations proved vulnerable to tsunami damage and by themselves had little protective value, though in place they helped stabilize sand dunes which themselves moderated the Tsunami. Alien invasive species have been spread by the Tsunami to new areas. The paper also lists recommendations for minimizing the environmental damage in the tsunami rehabilitation programme.
Theme talk made at the Tenth Annual Forestry and Environment Symposium held at Kabool Lanka International Training Center, Thulhiriya on 2nd and 3rd 2005 organized by Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

Recent Trends in the Forestry Sector of Sri Lanka

Mr H M Bandaratillake
Director, Forest Resources Management Project
Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources
Former Conservator, Forest Department, Sri Lanka

Abstract of the theme talk presented at the tenth Forestry and Environment Symposium of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenpura, Sri Lanka on 2-3 December 2005

The forest cover in Sri Lanka has been continuously declining during the last several decades. The forest cover which was around 44% of the land area in 1956 had declined to 23.9% in 1992 and 22% at present. It has been widely accepted that this rate of deforestation has caused one of the main environmental and social problems in the country. Although, successive governments have taken many steps to conserve forests and to introduce laws and regulations to control deforestation, the problem was aggravating from year to year without effective solutions, mainly due to the conflicting demands placed on forest resources.

In view of this situation, the National Forest Policy was revised and Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) was formulated and approved by the government in 1995. The Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) which was based on the National Forest Policy, provides the framework for developing partnerships with non state sector for promoting community and private sector participation in forest conservation and development. FSMP also provide a guiding framework to introduce new policies and to carryout legislative, administrative and institutional reforms required.

The Forest Resources Management Project (FRMP) which is scheduled to implement during 2001- 2007 is the first implementation programme of the FSMP. The overall objective of the FRMP is to establish and operationalise participatory sustainable forest resources management for increasing forest protection and production. With the implementation of FRMP, number of new strategies and programmes have been introduced to the forestry sector in order to achieve the objectives of sustainable forest management. Some of these strategies include; private sector re-forestation and management, woodlot development, establishment of Permanent Forest Estate, Re-organisation of the Forest Department, Amendments to the Forest Ordinance, Private sector harvesting of forest plantation and development of nature tourism etc,. Legal provisions including mechanisms for benefit sharing have been provided to facilitate the effective implementation of these programmes.