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Climate Change, food security and Mahinda Chintanaya

According to newspaper reports around 200,000 acres of paddy and other crops in the North, East and North Central province of the country were affected by the recent floods, and this will reduce our total rice production by nearly 400,000 t. Farmers use a part of the previous season harvest as seed paddy for the following season. Hence, it would not be possible to re-cultivate most of the paddy lands, affected by the recent floods. In the coming months there may be droughts affecting food production. Hence, the relevant authorities need to formulate and implement effective plans to meet a possible food shortage in 2011.

by Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

(January 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Changes in rainfall patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and in the long-run production declines. Although there may be gains in some crops in some regions of the world due to elevated temperature, it may promote weed growth and pest attacks. The overall impacts of climate change on agriculture are expected to be negative, threatening global food security. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute(IFPRI) populations in the developing world, which are already vulnerable and food insecure, are likely to be the most seriously affected.

During the last few months food production in the world has been severely affected mainly due to climate changes. Factors such as droughts/floods in Australia, India, Pakistan, China, Russia etc. have caused the total food production in the world to decrease. High fuel prices have promoted many countries to grow crops such as maize, cassava, sorghum etc to manufacture ethanol, an effective alternative to petrol, made from carbohydrates obtained from these crops. Cultivation of crops to manufacture ethanol also contributes to r the low total food production in the world. Besides a number of agronomic and socio-economic factors are responsible for the low level of global food production . Hence, if we are to maintain our food security, promoting the domestic agriculture sector is of paramount importance.

According to newspaper reports around 200,000 acres of paddy and other crops in the North, East and North Central province of the country were affected by the recent floods, and this will reduce our total rice production by nearly 400,000 t. Farmers use a part of the previous season harvest as seed paddy for the following season. Hence, it would not be possible to re-cultivate most of the paddy lands, affected by the recent floods. In the coming months there may be droughts affecting food production. Hence, the relevant authorities need to formulate and implement effective plans to meet a possible food shortage in 2011. Rice is one of the main sources of carbohydrates, but there are many alternatives sources of carbohydrates. Cereals such as kurakkan, legumes such as green gram, cow pea and tuberous crops such as manioc, sweet potato are good sources of carbohydrates. Hence, immediate action has to be taken by the relevant authorities to increase the production of at least these crops in the country to avoid a food shortage. .

Mahinda Chintanaya envisages an agricultural sector contributing to regionally equitable economic growth, rural livelihood improvement, and food security through efficient production of commodities for consumption, for agro-based industries and for exporting competitively to the world market

Research:

In all our efforts to increase local food production, effective use of science and technology is vital. A number of countries in the South and South East Asia have been able to increase their level of food production substantially by effective use of science and technology. In a developing country such as Sri Lanka, appropriate research needs to be directed towards those aspects which have a more direct impact on increasing production and reducing costs. Its aim must be to solve those problems which limit production quantitatively and/or qualitatively.

Mahinda Chintanaya, too, has emphasized the need to promote agricultural research aimed at improving livelihood, rural development, food security, agro-based industries, commercial agriculture etc.

Appropriate use of science and technology is a prerequisite for increasing food production level and reducing costs. Research priorities should be based on the needs and problems in the production sectors. The Council for Agricultural Research Policy (CARP), which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, is the apex body for agricultural research in Sri Lanka. Amongst the main functions of CARP is advising the government in all matters related to agricultural research, formulating national agricultural research policy, prioritizing agricultural research, and making recommendations to the Ministry of Finance on the requirements of physical, manpower and financial resources in the entire national agricultural research system.

CARP was reviewed in 2005 by a team of five Agricultural Scientists and they made 22 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this organization. One of them was that CARP should prepare a National Agricultural Research Plan (NARP), the last plan being prepared as far back as in 1997. Most of the research projects in the country are carried out on an ad-hoc basis and hence it was also recommended that CARP should develop a mechanism to prioritize research at national, institutional and divisional levels. There are many critical issues in the field of Agriculture, which need the attention of appropriate research organizations. Among these are the development of better varieties of crops such as green gram, kurakkan etc the use of organic fertilizers, reducing land degradation, organic agriculture, development of bio-fertilizers and bio pesticides etc. It is not known whether CARP has taken any effective action to address these issues. However, in spite of organizations such as the (CARP), the agricultural research efforts in Sri Lanka do not seem directed towards development of technologies as regards critical issues in the agricultural sector.

Extension:

Extension is essential for realizing the agricultural potential of the country as it provides data and information, which could be used in the development of improved and more effective agricultural practices. Agricultural extension in relation to domestic crops is handled by the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and also by ‘Agricultural Research and Production Assistants’ supervised by the Department of Agrarian Services. This situation is more confused by the fact that Intra-Provincial Agriculture Extension officers are managed by the National Dept of Agriculture. It would be much more effective if only one institution handles agric. extension.

Personnel in the agricultural Sector:

There is a gamut of people involved in crop production other than the farmers who are the real producers of rice and other food crops. In addition to the Minister of agriculture at national level, there are seven Ministers of Agriculture at the provincial level. Each Ministry has a Secretary and a number of officers. At the field level, there are Agricultural Instructors, around 2-3 in each DS Division. The Department of Agrarian Services with its Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners, Divisional Officers and Agric. Research and Production Assistants et al are also involved in crop production. Besides, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Council of Agricultural Research Policy (CARP) promote research in agriculture and there are hundreds of research officers conducting research into various aspects of crop production involving millions of rupees. It is imperative that the services of all those in these institutions be obtained effectively to realize the objective of increasing agricultural productivity.

During the last few years numerous programmes such as ‘AMA’, ‘Waga Sangramaya’, ‘Govi Sevana ‘, ‘Api Wawamu Rata Nagamu’ were implemented but these appear to have not made any substantial impact on the agricultural sector of the country. If we are to maintain/increase our level of food security, the government has to take action to formulate and implement a realistic agricultural development plan. Such a plan needs to pay attention to numerous agronomic and socio-economic issues in the agricultural sector. As Dr. Mervyn De Silva indicated in his article on Food Security and right to Food, (The Island of Jan. 19) a comprehensive long term plan (Dr. Silva suggest a 10-year plan) for agriculture needs to be put in place as a matter of urgency. Such a plan as suggested by Dr. De Silva should be formulated by a task force of agro-technologists who have a clear understanding of the technical and socio-economic issues in the sector. It is unfortunate that people with no experience in crop production and related matters have been appointed to direct/supervise some of the key national level agricultural related institutions such as Council for Agri. Research Policy, Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, Institute for Post Harvest Technology etc.

The writer is a Former Professor at Ruhuna and Rajarata Universities and former Chairman of Sugarcane Research Institute can be contacted at csweera@sltnet.lk

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