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.
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