The agricultural heritage that this splendid island of Sri Lanka holds with it needs no explanations. In fact, this country was able to manage cultivations in rare dimensions, and succeed in amazing the world with its high-quality products. However, when exploring the past agricultural values, it is a clear fact that paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka was among the most ancient agricultural trends of this island. Hence, we thought of focusing this read on the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka, to explore its journey so far, and the present status. So, without further exaggeration, let us begin the exploration by having a look at the history of the paddy cultivation on this island!
History of the Paddy Cultivation in Sri Lanka
The roots of the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka trace back to the glorious history from 161 B.C. to 1017 A.D. The ideal climatic conditions of Sri Lanka have yielded a prosperous harvest from the paddy cultivation and that encouraged Sri Lankans to make the paddy cultivation their way of life. Hence, it turned into the prime focus of the lives of Sri Lankans for decades. This knitted a beautiful pattern that included the society, culture, and religious beliefs of the country.
The ancient rulers of Sri Lanka had the far sight to realize the importance of paddy cultivation as a nation. Thus, they built a remarkable number of extraordinary tanks to improve rice production on a mass scale. In addition, they nurtured and fostered rice production. As a result, Sri Lanka was called “The Great Barn of the East” during the period of King Parakramabahu the Great, because of the exportation of quality rice to the world.
However, the human and animal labor used for paddy cultivation has been replaced with machinery at present by adding greater efficiency to the production process. In 1950, total organic sources that caused no harm to the surrounding environment or health were replaced with inorganic/chemical fertilizers. The reasons for this introduction were to increase the harvest, encourage the farmers to adapt to high-yielding varieties in order to attain self-sufficiency and ease the burden of farmers’ budgets.
Furthermore, there are two main seasons as Yala and Maha. It is during these two seasons that the farmers did that paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka for centuries. The determination of these two seasons happened according to the rainfall pattern of Sri Lanka since the water sources play an essential role in paddy cultivation.
Paddy Plantation in Sri Lanka at Present
Rice as the staple food of the country fulfills an average Sri Lankan’s 45% of total calorie requirement and 40% of total protein requirement. So, the demand for rice in Sri Lanka never goes down, and thus, paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is successfully performed, even at present.
Accordingly, rice happens to be the most prominent cultivation in Sri Lanka which occupies 0.77 million hectares of land. During Maha`season, the country cultivates an average of 560,000 hectares of land whereas during Yala it is 310,000 hectares of land. Therefore an average of 870,000 hectares of land is annually sown with rice.
Island-wide, there are about 1.8 million families engaged in paddy farming. Moreover, 2.7 million tons of rough rice are produced and address approximately 95% of the domestic requirements annually. The following sections will brief you on more information about paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka at present.
Which District Grows the Highest Amount of Paddy in Sri Lanka?
Among the districts that cultivate paddy in Sri Lanka, Ampara, Polonnaruwa, and Kurunegala districts provide the first, second, and third highest amount of paddy harvest respectively. In addition to these 3 districts, the following is the descending order of the list of districts with higher paddy harvest in the country.
- Nuwara Eliya
Accordingly, we can understand paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is done in most parts of this island, making it a significant aspect of the Sri Lankan agricultural sector.
What is the Present Paddy Production in Sri Lanka?
Regardless of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Census and Statistics along with the Department of Agriculture of Sri Lanka declared that the highest paddy production of Sri Lanka was recorded in the last year (2020). The total rice production for the year 2020 is 5,037 million metric tons. Accordingly, 3,197 million metric tons of the harvest are from the Maha season and 1,840 million metric tons are from the Yala season.
However, the rice production in Sri Lanka in the year 2020 has been increased by 9.7% when compared to the rice production in 2019. Similarly, there is an increase of 28.2% in rice production in 2020 in relation to rice production in 2018. Surprisingly, the rice production in Sri Lanka has doubled in 2020 compared to that in 2017. So, all these facts, again and again, prove that the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is at a good status even at present.
What are Yala and Maha Seasons?
The terms Yala and Maha appeared several times in this read. So, as you might already know, Yala and Maha are the two main seasons that Sri Lankan farmers cultivate paddy.
Yala is the minor season where planting is done from April to May while harvesting is done from August to September annually. This season’s harvest usually fills 30% of the total annual paddy harvest. It depends on the southwest monsoon rainfall. The major season that cultivates paddy in Sri Lanka is the Maha season. Its cultivation process starts from October to November and the harvesting happens from February through March. It fills 70% of the annual total paddy harvest of the country. Further, the Maha season depends on the northeast monsoon rainfall.
Types of Rice Grown in Sri Lanka
At the beginning of the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka, different varieties of paddy were the heirloom of the family. They passed that down to the next generation only. Sri Lanka used to provide about 2000 indigenous varieties of rice to the world. However, in the 1980s, the introduction of semi-dwarf seeds happened in parallel to the introduction of chemical fertilizer. Therefore, at present 95% of rice production in Sri Lanka contains hybrid rice varieties. Farmers produce these with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase the harvest. At present, there are several types of traditional rice grown in Sri Lanka. The following list shows a few of them.
- Kalu Heenati
- Maa Wee
- Kuru Wee
- Dik Wee
However, the most popular types of rice are as follows.
- Keeri Samba
- Red Naadu
- Red Samba
Out of all the types of rice, Suwandel, Kalu Heenati, and Maa Wee are pioneers of health benefits.
Suwandel means fragrant rice in Sinhala. It has an exquisite aroma that is unique. This type of rice is commonly visible in celebrations and ceremonies due to its milky taste. Farmers cultivate Suwandel rice organically. It contains nutritions such as 90% of carbohydrates, 7% of crude protein, 0.7% of crude fat, and 0.1% of crude fibers. In addition, it has higher amounts of vitamins and glutamic acid in relation to the other rice varieties.
Furthermore, Kalu Heenati is a highly nutritious red rice type that can be used for daily consumption. This is good for breastfeeding mothers. In addition, this has the ability to enhance sexual potential and physical strength. Maa Wee has a unique texture and it is a type of red rice with a reddish-brown color. Unlike other varieties, it has a low carbohydrate percentage.
Structure of the Paddy Fields in Sri Lanka
The local term for the paddy field is “Kumbura”. This is the place where farmers cultivate paddy. The division of the paddy tract into perceptible square shapes called “Liyadi” is necessary before cultivating paddy. The ridges called “Niyara” surround the square area. Besides, there is one open place named “Wakkada” in the ridge to provide water into the square.
Farmers build “Kanati”, which are smaller than the square-shaped “Liyadi” to manage and regulate the water flow into the paddy field. Two “Kanati”s are there at the two ends of a tract of a paddy field (“Kumburuyaya”). They are called “Kurulu Paluwa” with the meaning dedicated to feeding the birds. This is a trick used by the ancient farmers to minimize the harm to their harvest mainly by birds and other animals. This is one of the many magnanimous techniques used by the ancient Sri Lankan farmers to practice a very harmonious relationship with nature with the least harm induced on the environment and wildlife.
Furthermore, there are two types of paddy fields in Sri Lanka basically. They are the “Goda Kumburu” and “Mada Kumburu”. To cultivate “Goda Kumburu”, a permanent water supply is not necessary. The natural rainfall helps to cultivate paddy in “Goda Kumburu”. Due to the unpredictability of rain, farmers usually do not prefer “Goda Kumburu”. “Mada Kumburu” has a permanent water supply method such as a river, stream, tank, reservoir, canal, etc. It provides water to the paddy fields throughout the season continuously.
Activities Related to Paddy Cultivation in Sri Lanka
There is a set of activities related to paddy cultivation and farmers perform them in a procedural way for best results. These activities are as follows.
- Harrowing (See Sama)
- Enriching soil
- Leveling (Poru Gema)
- Bovines caring
- Seeds sowing and saplings planting
- Safeguarding the paddy field
- Disease controlling
Following these steps help the Sri Lankan farmers to yield a good quantity of harvest with the best quality. Let us go through each step and see what these activities are and their significance in paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka.
Harrowing (See Sama)
The preparation of land prior to the cultivation of paddy is a harrowing process. Farmers used a plough (“Nagula”) and oxen for this in the past. The ancient Kings who lived in Sri Lanka used to patronize this occasion with a very colorful festival named “Vap Magula”. Moreover, they used an auspicious time to start this festival and it contained many religious and traditional rituals. At the end of the harrowing, farmers sow the seeds of the saplings.
To enrich the soil, the ancient farmers used compost fertilizer that does not add any toxic or chemical components to the environment. In addition, they added fallen leaves and decayed hay to nurture the soil in the paddy field by increasing the microbial activity. They could gain a larger harvest from this organic fertilization method and the harvest was free of poisonous materials that are harmful to the consumers.
Leveling (Poru Gema)
Leveling is the process of regularizing the land for cultivation. Farmers use an apparatus called “Poruwa” and oxen for this process. This is usually done after a few weeks of completing the harrowing and soil-enriching processes. The purpose of this is to make sure that the water flow is uniform in between two “Liyadi” s.
Bovines play a major role in paddy cultivation and their involvement in the process happens at several stages of paddy cultivation. Thus, farmers used to consider them as an immeasurable asset for paddy farming. Farmers treat the bovines with utter love and care and never induce any injury or harm to them at any point of their involvement. However, farmers used a stick named “Kewita” to guide the bovines when leveling and harrowing.
Farmers feed bovines with enough food, water, and the necessary rest and treat them when they are not feeling well. More importantly, they do not stain the animals or overload them with work. Farmers used to wash, bathe, and clean the bovines at the end of the day. They never make the animals work all day long.
Furthermore, farmers use names such as “Amma”, “Appa”, “Wahudaruwo”, etc to call bovines adorably which means mother, father, and children in Sinhala.
Seeds Sowing and Planting the Saplings
At the end of completing the above steps, farmers choose whether to sow the seeds or to plant the saplings according to their preference.
The weeding process is carried out to remove the unwanted and harmful plants in the paddy fields. Women used to do this and they sang rhymes named “Nelum Kavi” to overcome the tiredness and loneliness they felt while working. It usually takes about a fortnight to weed an entire paddy tract.
Safeguarding the Paddy Field
The next part is to protect the paddy fields from the animals. In order to process this, farmers used to build a wooden fence named “Danduweta ” in Sinhala, surrounding the paddy field. They used fallen and trimmed tree stems and branches to build the fence. In addition, they never forget to put in a scarecrow in the middle of the paddy field to chase away the birds and some other little animals that come to the paddy fields to destroy the crops.
Similarly, farmers build huts on the top of huge trees near the paddy fields so that they could keep watch over the paddy field day and night. Also, it provided the farmers’ protection from wild animals such as elephants, and bores, especially at night. Moreover, farmers sing folk songs named “Pal Kavi” to stay awake and to overcome the loneliness, tiredness of watching huts on the trees.
Farmers are accustomed to cultivating in relevance to the seasons named “Kanna” system. That method naturally avoids major pest invasions. In addition, to control other minor pest attacks farmers use organic pest control techniques such as spraying of ashes from hearths and solutions made with margosa seeds and leaves.
Once the rice cobs turn to light gold color, farmers start harvesting. They use a sickle as a tool in the process. Temporarily they pile up the harvest on the threshing floor named “Kamatha”. At the end of the day, they bring the harvest home to the store. During the harvesting process, farmers used to sing a set of folk songs called “Goyam Kavi” for the same reasons above.
Challenges for the Paddy Cultivation in Sri Lanka
Paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka has been affected majorly in a few aspects like climate, soil, environmental factors, and socioeconomic factors. The following sections will help you get to know them in detail.
Spread of Weeds, Pests, and Diseases
Several weed species have emerged in paddy cultivation lately. The spread of these weeds depends on local factors such as soil type, hydrology, and irrigation patterns. According to the regional trend, the dry zone of the country has a higher tendency to spread weeds than other regions.
Following are some of the weed types that can be widely found in Sri Lanka.
- Echinochloa crus-galli
- Ischaemum rugosum
- leptochloa Chinensis
The natural mechanism to control pesticides has become very weak due to the excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides. Naturally, the predators, pests, and parasitoids interact with each other to sustain the balance of these populations. Hence, it has become a major issue in the paddy cultivation of Sri Lanka. The paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka finds the following pests more commonly.
- Rice Thrips
- Brown Plant Hopper
- Yellow Stem Borer
- Rice Leaf Folder
- Rice Gall Midge
- Paddy bug
Furthermore, the rice diseases outbreak can vary according to the land condition, management, and climate.
Management of Water
Both lack of water and excessive water is harmful to paddy farming. This has become a major threat to the rice production of the country. Normally, the excessive water problem is abundant while the lack of water is abundant in dry zones. In the wet zone, due to the excessive water flow, the salinity in the area gets imbalanced as the water seepage and runoff. However, when the water evaporates, the salinity in that particular area gets higher. Following this issue causes the accumulation of Iron at a poisonous level.
Problems in the Fertility of Soil and Nutrients
The decrease of rice harvest over time without the input of additional Nitrogen to the fields has become a major problem in relation to the fertility of soil and nutrients. Thus, some research has been done not only at an experiment level but also nationwide. However, researchers proved that the natural inherent Nitrogen level of the soil has the capability to yield 2.5 to 3 tons of rice per hectare at the experiment level. Furthermore, they have found that the micronutrient level of the soil is also at a critical threshold.
Among the nutrient components that are deficient in the soil, Zinc, Copper, Iron, and Sulphur are prominent. The studies have proved that the deficiency of these nutrition components can prevent the rice plant’s ability to take the necessary amount of nutrition at the particular growth stages of the plant.
The Practice of Inferior Management
The farming practices directly affect productivity. The inferior management causes the decrease of the harvest. The excessive use of pesticides along with chemical fertilizers has become a great threat to human health and the environment at the same time. In addition, the quality of the seeds can also decrease due to the mixing of weed seeds with the fertile seeds.
Non-seasonal paddy cultivation has also become one of the key reasons for the decrease in productivity at present. The reason for this is the negligence towards the optimum use of temperature and rainfall known as climatic parameters. This leads to an outbreak of pests and diseases because of overlapping the crop cycle within a small-scale area.
The inappropriate ploughing implementations can also reduce the yield. The plough layer should not be shallow in order to get a better harvest.
Constraints in the Institutions, Knowledge of Farmers, and Labor Efficiency
The storage space in the close proximity of the individual farmers is not sufficient and that is a vital constraint of productivity. Sri Lankan farmers do not have sufficient money to invest in the construction of storage facilities to store the rice, which is a common issue in Sri Lanka. The recorded loss of the post-harvest is very high as a result. However, 15% of the harvest becomes useless because of improper processing and storage and the harvesting at an inappropriate time.
The oligopoly market is another institutional constraint that keeps the farmers from improving or establishing the facility for processing and storing. The efficiency of the labor provided depends on health and wealth.
Besides, a lack of knowledge on how to use and store the agrochemicals used in paddy farming has led to severe health problems in the farmers who normally live in rural areas of the country. They do not possess the necessary knowledge on when to use the suitable amount of agrochemicals and the precautions when using them. Thus, this has become a tragic situation in the field of agriculture in Sri Lanka.
Socioeconomic factors that directly affect paddy farming in Sri Lanka are the health hazard arising due to the misuse and storage of insecticides, and the exposure to toxic chemicals that have reduced the labor efficiency of farmers. Also, the lower social status of the farmers in society has discouraged the younger generation to engage in paddy farming activities. Indeed, this is an unfortunate situation, and all these issues need solutions in order to pave a better future for paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka.
Future of Paddy Cultivation in Sri Lanka
In order to uplift the future of paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka, the recommendation of cultivars that are specific for locations will be a fruitful step. It will help to increase the resource uptake of individual areas. Medium duration cultivars (4 – 4.5 months) should not be cultivated in areas where water is a limiting factor. Due to the higher labor cost that is essential for medium duration cultivars, it has decreased its spread up to 18% at present. In addition, the proper amount of rainfall also directly affects the yield of the medium-duration cultivars. Implementing adequate irrigational facilities will help to increase the tendency to cultivate this type of cultivars.
Improving soil fertility is another suggestion to brighten the future of paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka. Instead of cultivating the same cultivars in the same land continuously, trying various crops such as chili, onion, green gram, cowpea, soybeans, groundnuts, and other vegetables in rice fields can increase the fertilization of the soil in the land. Weed, pests, and disease management are also necessary to secure the future of paddy cultivation. In addition, proper preparation of land for prevention, minimization of the use of agrochemicals, encouragement to use natural biological control mechanisms, and introduction are adequate. Post-harvest loss reduction is necessary and can be done by constructing the necessary and suitable facilities that have the potential to store the harvest efficiently.
Educating the farmers on the appropriate timing to harvest and process is another step. Monitoring the problems faced by the farmers and addressing their problems by establishing extension services can plant the seeds of hope in the younger generation and encourage them to engage in paddy farming. Moreover, providing knowledge on recommended farming practices can motivate them to choose paddy farming as their future occupation.
The Bottom Line
Above all, we can clearly mention that paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka has simply been an integral part of this country. In fact, it has become a major aspect of the lives of Sri Lankans that cannot be separated. Besides, the contribution of the paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka in fulfilling the country’s rice demand and the economy is highly appreciable. Thus, paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is highly significant when considering the country’s agriculture. However, it is not a secret that paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is still facing challenges. Still, we believe that the future of this sector would be better and bright. Let’s hope for the best!