According to Prof. Sirimal Abeyratne’s (SA) piece titled “Old wine in new bottles” in the Business Section of Sunday Times last week, we need to ensure a significant number of people in the rural agriculture sector leave so that the average farm-holdings could expand to an economical size of 10 acres in order to make it a viable farm land. There are nearly two million people in the agriculture sector and if this is reduced to 500,000 as indicated by SA, what is the balance going to do? Become security officers or 3-wheel drivers? If the two million farmers can be engaged in more productive farming and agro-industries it will enable the agriculture sector to increase its contribution to the GDP, and reduce our annual foreign exchange expenditure on food imports which at present is around Rs. 300 billion.
Prof SA’s piece in the Business Times indicates that the contribution of agriculture to our GDP is US$7 billion a year. This value perhaps includes the contribution of the plantation and non-plantation sector and could be raised substantially by increasing the productivity of the two sectors.
Production of tea, rubber and coconut sub-sectors has declined, and this could be increased substantially by replanting and adapting better management practices. Total domestic sugar production and sugar recovery rate, which are considered as indicators of the productivity in the sugar sub-sector has declined during the last few years. Developing and planting high yielding sugarcane varieties and carrying out better management practices would increase the productivity of this sector. Our average rice yield is around 4.2 t/ha which could be substantially increased as the potential yield of some of the rice varieties which are presently cultivated is around 8-10 t/ha. Productivity of most crops cultivated in the country remain at a low level due to many factors such as low quality seeds/planting material, bacterial and fungal diseases and also insect attacks. Better management practices would increase the productivity of these crops.
Soil degradation is a factor which causes low productivity in most of our farms. Land degradation is of common occurrence in many parts of the country and is due to many factors such as soil erosion, soil compaction, nutrition depletion, development of salinity or acidity, loss of bio-diversity, etc. During the last few decades attempts have been made by successive governments to control land degradation. There are many ministries, departments and other institutions which are expected to take appropriate measures to control land degradation.