20 May, 2022

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The Future Of The Agriculture & The Agriculture Of The Future

By W A Wijewardena –

Dr. W A Wijewardena

New scholarly work on agriculture

The Emeritus Professor Ranjith Senaratne, formerly Vice Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna and presently Chairperson, National Science Foundation, has just released the third of his edited work under an apt title ‘The Future of the Agriculture and the Agriculture of the Future’. Its subtitle, ‘From Beaten Track to Untrodden Paths’, implies that agriculture, like any other economic activity, should disrupt itself and move into new areas if it is to serve the world’s population at large.

Previously he published a similar edited work on Ceylon Cinnamon (a review could be accessed here ) and on what policy strategies Sri Lanka should adopt to get out of the multitude of ailments caused by COVID-19 pandemic (a review could be accessed here).

While these two works have been team-editions, the latest edition has been completed as a solo work. To accomplish this task, he has got 35 scholars to produce 20 papers on numerous topics in agriculture.

Disrupted agriculture in Sri Lanka

The release of this scholarly work is timely because Sri Lanka’s agriculture has been disrupted by delivering a negative shock to it by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration in its attempt at converting it to organic farming overnight. When this was announced in April 2021 in the guise of supplying toxin-free food products to Sri Lankans, 30 agricultural scientists presented a joint memo to the President highlighting its disruptive features and urging the president to defer it or implement it over a period. Prof. Senaratne as a scientist had been the first signatory to this memo (see a review of this memo here).

Sri Lanka’s agriculture based on decades-long improved varieties that had been introduced local scientists had been fully dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides for delivering a high output, a must in a competitive world. When it is denied of essential nutrients by a sudden political decision that had not consulted the scientific community before introducing it, the inevitable result would have been a drop in the output. These scientists had predicted a drop of about 30-50% in the output depending on the type of the crop. This wise counsel was not heeded to, and scientific opinions were not sought. Instead, those who had nothing to do with agriculture or science were the top policy advisors on the new disruptive move. Now Ranjith Senaratne has collected scientists’ views on the development of agriculture, and it should be an essential reading by those who make policies on agriculture in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration.

It should be a new Agri-Culture

In the Preface to the volume, Senaratne has highlighted that modern agriculture not only feeds the increasing mouths of the globe but also provides numerous inputs to a dozen of other activities such as production of medicines, biofuels, cosmetics, feeds for animals, to mention but a few. But the arable land available for this purpose is limited. When attempts are made to increase the output intensively in the limited arable land space, environmental issues should naturally arise. Hence, the challenge before the modern agriculture, according to Senaratne is to make agriculture ‘more productive, more resource-efficient, more resilient, more environment-friendly, less wasteful and more profitable’.

These are competing goals and to attain them simultaneously agricultural policymakers will have to balance them appropriately. It, says Senaratne, is a new system that can be called Agri-Culture combining the two concepts separately into a new subject matter. The purpose of the present treatise has been to bring out a blueprint of this New Agri-Culture. That is why the book is titled ‘The Future of the Agriculture and the Agriculture of the Future’ implying that they are two separate subjects that should be studied together.

From conventional to knowledge-based farming

In the introduction to the volume, Ranjith Senaratne and Duwini Padukkage have taken the readers through Sri Lanka’s agriculture from a historical perspective and concluded that the future of agriculture depends on the ability of the country to break away from conventional farming to knowledge-based scientific farming. For that, the country needs to make a substantial investment in research and development facilitated by the private sector. The emphasis on the private sector in this conclusion differs from the general belief harboured by many that it is the responsibility of the Government to initiate such research programs.

Contrary to this view, the private sector’s participation in research and development is needed because it will facilitate the commercial production of such research outcomes, a process known in economics as innovation. Thus, in today’s context, research and development should be supplemented by innovation because inventions which researchers would make should be put into practice in the field by entrepreneurs. This has been further analysed by Rizvi Zaheed in his paper on the private sector’s role in technology transfer in agriculture. His conclusion has been that the private sector should be used for this purpose since it has both the capacity and the will to develop technology, adopt it, and facilitate its transfer which is known as diffusion.

Sri Lanka cannot grow everything

Many in Sri Lanka believe that the country should adopt a zero-import policy of foods and Agri-products because they can be produced in the country. This is an extreme version of import substitution. However, the limitations in resource endowments do not permit Sri Lanka to go for this policy target since products like wheat, dhal, certain fruits and vegetables, fish, vegetable oils, and wine cannot be produced in the country. This issue has been analysed by Jeevika Weerahewa, Sumali Dissanayake, and Erandathie Pathiraja in their paper on import of foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials to Sri Lanka.

They have found that despite the massive increase in the trade deficit over the years, the share of foods and beverages in total imports have steadily declined from 70% in 1999 to 30% in 2017. Even then, most of such imports are industry raw materials like wheat. Hence, the claim that Sri Lanka is wasting its forex earnings for importing foodstuffs is an overblown perception.

No direct evidence between pesticides and kidney diseases

The agricultural policy of the present Government is driven by perceived concerns about the adverse health effects of the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. As mentioned earlier, the Government has banned the importation of both these inputs, on one side, and promoted the organic farming, on the other, to provide a toxin-free food basket to citizens. A paper by Sudheera Jayasinghe has analysed the health effects of the use of pesticides, while that by Piyasena Abeygunawardena has investigated the potential and the scope of organic farming in Sri Lanka. Sudheera Jayasinghe’s paper has concluded that it is not the use of pesticides per se that will have adverse impact on health but its overuse and misuse.

As a result, these pesticides have reached destinations which have not been intended and generated harmful effects on health and environment. Hence, it is not a reason to go for a total ban of pesticides. The proper education of farmers on the correct use of these essential inputs would have solved the problem. However, there is a wide claim by some that the chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology or CKDu prevalent in the North Central Province in Sri Lanka has been caused by the use of pesticides by farmers.

But Jayasinghe concludes that the present research knowledge does not establish such a direct relationship. There are many other factors that may have contributed to CKDu. Abeygunawardena has concluded that though organic farming has become popular in recent times, it has failed to compete out the traditional farming methods and therefore should be promoted as the only way forward for the agriculture of the future. But this is a very strong conclusion and, given its limitations in output, markets, and scope, it will take a very long time for the global community to reach that target.

Go for crop diversification

Sri Lanka has been successful in becoming self-sufficient in rice requirement by 2010 by using high-yielding varieties, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides. However, one problem faced by agriculturists throughout the globe has been the degradation of the ecosystem due to unplanned use of inputs. Agriculture cannot sustain unless a solution is found to this problem. Ranjith Pathirana and Athula Liyanage have investigated this issue by using case studies from Sri Lanka involving the erosion of crop genetic diversity due to the introduction of high input hybrid planting materials. Their suggestion is that Sri Lanka should use crop and variety diversification as an alternative regenerative food system.

Soil erosion and agriculture

Agriculture which uses natural resources like soil and water abundantly faces a critical problem when it comes to ensuring sustainability because the quality of soil can be degraded, or water resources could dry out with accelerated use of these resources without replenishment. In this context, the issue of soil degradation and how it could be overcome have been investigated by Ranjith B. Mapa, D.B. Wickramasinghe, and H.B. Nayakekorale in a paper titled ‘Threat to Food Production by Soil Degradation and Impoverishment. In common parlance, this is known as soil erosion, but it is caused by both natural reasons and human interventions.

According to the authors, one problem faced by Sri Lanka is the multiplicity of governmental authorities – there are 11 such authorities – charged with the task but functioning without coordination with each other, and hence, become a failure. Consequently, the authors opine, it is time to combine all these authorities and set up a single soil conservation authority to identify the sources of erosion and address them according to the need.

Water problem in agriculture

The water problem in agriculture is as critical as the problem of soil erosion. This is because the main crop in Sri Lanka, rice farming, is not only a water guzzler but also a crop for which water is overused. I have discussed this issue elsewhere. Arumugam Kandiah and P.B. Dharmasena have investigated the high water use in agriculture amongst competing demands and the ways for coping with the problem.

According to the authors, while rice uses 3,442 litres of water to produce a kilogram of rice, tea uses 7,334 litres, and rubber 18,124 litres. The need for producing more foods to keep the world population fed requires the use of more water in greater volumes. But water is needed by households, industry, and for hydropower generation. When these competing demands are met, there is no sufficient water available for agriculture. Hence, it is necessary to devise methods of efficient use of water in agriculture.

The authors suggest that while improving water productivity, action should be taken to reduce food wastage so that water use in agriculture could be kept at a low level. Writing on the same theme, Asha S. Karunaratne has argued that the use of water and land should be optimised for improving crop productivity and quality.

Produce more with less

The future of agriculture depends on the improvement of productivity and efficiency of resource use to produce more with less. Sri Lanka has already reached this critical level in both subsistence farming involving the production of food crops and commercial agriculture involving the production of exportable crops. There is no unlimited resource availability for any economic activity. A nation which ignores this crucial requirement is to suffer in the long run with declining outputs and incomes of people who are engaged in it. This must be avoided at any cost.

Agriculture of the future: Use digital revolution

The agriculture of the future is therefore dependent on modernising the same on modern lines. This is the second green revolution akin to the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing. I have analysed this issue in a previous article in this series. In this connection, Athula Ginige, Pathirage Samya Dimithrie, Sreenivasulu Midhhe, and Parimal Kumar have presented a blueprint of using digital technology for eco-friendly, resource efficient, knowledge driven agriculture in the future. This is the second green revolution that should be introduced to agriculture.

The possibilities which the authors have suggested are the use of sensors, software, digital connectivity, location tracking, robotics, data analytics, and digital devices in agriculture. One plus point in using digital technology is the decline in the cost of data use when the costs of all other inputs are rising. These high digital technologies can deliver the inputs needed, namely, water, fertilisers, and pesticides more efficiently to plants when they most need such inputs. What this means is that the agriculture of the future is not small-farmer based traditional farming, but smart-farmer based modern farming. This is a must and agricultural policy authorities should prepare the farmers as well as the systems in agriculture to embrace this.

Ranjith Senaratne by editing this volume has opened the eyes of Sri Lanka’s policymakers to new trends in agriculture. In my view, it is a must reading for them.

*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    As country which is similar to end ue becoming another Greece to challenge with the promotion of organic manure instead of inorganic ferlilizers is really joke.

    No doubt, it is defiinitly affordable to rich countries, but a begging nation of our nature, whose 3 meals are becoming a struggle for over 50% of the population as of today, to challenge the world about going to be 100% organic is a clown’s statement.. Pigs might fly – Gota should rather be sent back to a kindergarten and his brother to a prison cell for having fooled the very same punnaku drinkers again and again.

    Name of the future of this country, they should better allow agro experts to make decisions for agric future of this country. Whereever Gota made his farcical decisions without respecting pieces of advice provided by the experts, and the future of the farmers are now already ruined. In a civilized country, people would have torn off the leaders, but fools dominated srilanka would never see it right – they just let criminals to continue their loot as usual. Rajapkshes are the curse of the day. People over to you. let get together to stand against Rajapakshes and save our country and the nation. Longer we wait, the damage will be irreversible.

  • 2
    1

    Thanks, Dr Wijewardena,
    .
    I have read all this, AND I know you to be a man with common sense. “Innovation” has been the key word here, and you end by saying that we should ensure the transformation of out traditional farmers into “smart-farmers” adopting new technologies.
    .
    However, there still is the elephant in the room, which you have not mentioned, although I know you to be intelligent enough to be aware of it.
    .
    Why do we have to get on this treadmill to keep running, but never getting anywhere? Over-population! Malthus is supposed to have seen it coming long ago, but he was a clergyman who had to attribute it to some divine plan – no, I’m not going to read up all that.
    .
    According to my nephrologist (I didn’t know the word ten years ago) I’ve got to limit my intake of certain foods AND swallow a number of tablets every day. I told him that I’m 73, and could he assure me another 73 years on this planet (never mind immortality)? No.
    .
    The way we are going, all of us will have stressful lives, and finally die, aged, maybe 120. What is the purpose of all this? O.K., we want individuals to live long, with no infant deaths. Then shouldn’t our first priority be to reduce births so that we have stable populations of happy people?
    .
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1006502/global-population-ten-thousand-bc-to-2050/
    .
    Why not look at that straightforward graph?

    • 3
      1

      “The water problem in agriculture is as critical as the problem of soil erosion. This is because the main crop in Sri Lanka, rice farming, is not only a water guzzler but also a crop for which water is overused.”
      The problem is that we rely too much on traditional knowledge, by which our farmers “made the island the granary of the East”. Let alone that this may be a quote from some Roman writing from hearsay, the population at the time must have been less than a million.
      Why don’t our experts study Tamil-nadu, which has neither the water resources that we have, or a 2000 year old irrigation system, but still manages to produce an exportable surplus of rice, vegetables, milk, fruit, at very affordable prices. As to the mysterious CKD, since this seems to be confined to the NCP, it is probably connected to groundwater. It may be the real reason for the historical depopulation of the region, not Chola invasion. As I pointed out, Chola descendants are doing quite well in agriculture, so they would have succeeded in the NCP too.

    • 0
      0

      Dear Dr Wijewardena,
      .
      Don’t you think that the chaos that I have highlighted here in response to Plato’s observation is the result of overpopulation plus the substitution of machines for human sweat.
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/holy-violence-with-unholy-motives/
      .
      a14455 is right on that score. I’ve developed a huge pot-belly owing to doing nothing but sitting at the computer when there is electricity, and busying myself on my smartphone after the electricity has been cut.
      .
      You, on the other hand, have such a trim figure. Tell us: do you chop firewood, etc, for exercise?
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe / Bandarawela

  • 0
    0

    (Part!)
    To the Author,
    Good Morning.
    Not a simple solution, as we have to trek a long way, for ultimate resolution
    Sudheera Jayasinghe’s paper has concluded that it is not the use of pesticides per se that will have ADVERSE IMPACT ON HEALTH BUT ITS OVERUSE AND MISUSE.
    Unfortunately, the prominent paediatrician (hailing from?) or carrying the name of town in NWP does not understand or distinguish overuse and misuse, as his search for the meaning for these 2 words in the medical lexicon in his possession has failed to reveal the exact meaning!!!!
    So he has engaged the services of the Athana, Methana, and Hithana Naluwa and enact a drama to enable him to be propelled to high fame in the medical sphere and acclaimed as the saviour of SL!
    When such self-perceived important persons beat up the drums of fear, no wonder, the ’Powers-that- be’, believe them as “Believable” and start something, which should have been the end process of a longer study and in depth.

  • 0
    0

    (Part11)
    Please do not blame the President (I am not implying that you are), as he has taken the advice, especially coming from the self-professed duo of High and Mighty as Gospel Truth and proceeded on this path!
    Only hope the President, takes his advisors seriously, but importantly, ensure judge their calibre and make realistic evaluation of their integrity and knowledge!!
    I agree it is indeed hard, nevertheless, essential and necessary methodology for the HE the President to safeguard Sri Lankans and importantly his integrity and standing!!

  • 2
    0

    Dunn about ol’ agriculture, but in the photograph Gota looks pregnant.

    Dr Shafi’s alleged skills would’ve come in handy!

    A good lesson ……… that one should never alienate people that someday might be of help.

    I treat EE well :))

  • 2
    0

    Dear WAW
    A well presented article , the need of the hour for SriLaknka. The arbitrary decision by the President last year was ill thought and badly implemented. How can any nation go 100 percent organic overnight. This is pure lunacy
    Agriculture plays a major part in the lives and livelihood of Srilankans.Both cash crops , tea, rubber and coconut and rice and vegetables production us a major source of income for t

  • 1
    0

    With apologies to Dr.WAW…………….

    Will someone write a Book titled …….
    The future of the Rajapakses and the Rajapakses of the future………
    From Untrodden Paths to Beaten Tracks…………….

  • 1
    1

    I am no expert in agriculture. but there is a lot of literature available on how to do it. and I am also seeing more and more farmers even from Sri Lanka showing this can be done without any crop losses and lowering of yields. The only thing is that the farmers have to be willing to be able to put in the work needed. It is much easier to spray some chemical and sit on your behind and never have to do any weeding. our lazy bum farmers will rather suffer from kidney disease than work. I was talking to a man from medawachchiya whose parents are on dialysis and complaining of the reduced yield from his plot. I could have rubbed the point into this guy but I did not out of decency for a man who is caring for his parents. Clearly there is and will be no Sagathaya as the JVP and the SJB are presenting . and these farmers are all being mislead by politicians.

    And there are farmers who are succeeding in organic agriculture and showing that there is no real yield loss as these professors from their ivory towers are saying.

    They are quite confident that all these checmcals have no carcinogenic components and they do not cause Kidney Disease ? This is laughable.

    Look at this simple farmer in Sri Lanka if you don’t believe me.

    You tube Channel – Nihal Ranasinghe Agriculture.

    An ounce from a real farmer is better than a book from a professor.

    • 0
      1

      and look at this

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv2IVZFiXrg

      I cannot believe these losers who have never grown anything in their lives like SM LM and OC propagate such lies,

      This is a good lesson for the experts on this forum to stick to what they know.

      • 0
        0

        a14455 / March 1, 2022

        I would not disgree with anyone that promote ORGANIC manure above chemically manufacted inorganic fertilizers.

        I can also ask our average people to start cleaning their homes to the manner westerners are used – would that work ? no. because people have to work on their daily living first before thinking of keeping their environments cleaner… … but POOR Gota little brain would not seem to work well, but he makes every effort to turn our begging nation a ” jogging track enjoying” society…… would that ever be respected by anyone with some sanity ?

        By the time, ballige puthas forcefully grabed power, all was known that 2022 would be decisive because of over 5 billions of US dollars to be paid as loan settlements, nevertheless to go for ORGANIC revolution and ruin the little on the disposal ? Gota s head should be anaysed not by experts by school going pupils… and compare it with that of a donkey in chilaw…. is not that so ?

        • 0
          0

          continuing.
          Just come with the facts if any rich countries has ever achieved their cultivations turning to be ” fully organic”: Reports say even if Australians, Germans, North americans and several other nations introduced ” organic manure ” to their farmers 20 years ago, but not much is yet achieved in terms of total organic food productions. Besides, ” BIO FOODs” are not affordable to even middle class people in Europe, let alone how can a man who spent idling in the US ( like 15 years) make wonders twisting the vulnerable mindset in our motherland ?
          .
          Gotabaya would fit best to sit down and dream. The kind of men and women are the majority in our country. Not even thrivial issues have been well managed by his adminsitration, since the bugger et al grabed the power. So how can the people keep the faith on the looters.
          :
          If a leader to function better, he or she himself/herself should set example. Dr Merkel in Germany did it…. and she made wonders to their economy within her terms. But Gota, not imposing ” powercuts ” to the area his wife and the people reside, but powercuts be ordered to function across the country – is beyond all ethics and morals.
          :
          The kind of leaders deserve to be found dead in drains, so as Tripoli man and his family s last stage worked.

    • 1
      0

      A14455,
      “was talking to a man from medawachchiya whose parents are on dialysis and complaining of the reduced yield from his plot.”
      So there are farmers from Medawachchiya in “Northern California”, where you live?
      Please come back when you have made your mind where you live.

      • 0
        1

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

      • 1
        0

        OC,
        .
        I thought OUR GOOD PUNDIT backlicker of SLPP, A14455, is in IOWA or any remote area inthe US ?

        Listen those who are not aware of UKKD – this kidney ailment is not proved to be due to agro chemicals being used to srilanken or like minded farming fields of the world. THere are enough papers to prove that the levels of the mirror of agro chemicals and the like contaminations are much lower than that of natural composition of the soils.
        .
        Our FAKE Professor channa balusumanaya became a prof thanks to Rajapkshes and their direct intervene. His papers written and published by them on the issue, has not revealed enough to break the hypothesis that is multifactorial. So long the world would break and catergorically prove that inorganic accumulations would be the key reasons those farmers to get caught by UKKD, it is no fair to standa gainst all fertilizer uses and ruin our cultivations. If this would have been cldear to developed world, they would have done it long ago.

        • 0
          1

          Given that any attempt to reply is going to be censured by the censors regime Ill let my post stand. as not one has even looked at the content .

          • 1
            0

            You might have better luck if you stop calling everyone else a fool.
            Also, you could at least stop posting BS about flying taxis and “real farmers”.
            Real farmers don’t know how to upload to YouTube.

    • 1
      0

      No need to have studied rocket science to get that ORGANIC manure based cultivations are not for us – another begging nation. Had ballige puthas in power respected the experts in agriculture, things would not have turned out to be this worse.
      :
      Besides, a man like you a14455 / who seem to know nothing but to play the role of a toilet paper well- constantly not respecitng the facts nevertheless believing in GHANAKKA/GOTABAYA (former petrol shed assistant) and Mahinda (Tompatchaya of the nation) , how can you the like see it right ever ?so as that ULTRA RACIST eagle eye would never see it right about anything in this life.

      God bless srilanka !

      .

  • 3
    0

    This is how Gotabhaya’s world’s first 100% organic drive ended up.
    Awantha Artigala’s cartoon dated 21/02/2022.
    https://www.ada.lk/cartoon/2022-02-21/14-390536

  • 2
    0

    The “FUTURE” depends on the “PRESENT” in all matters of our survival. The “Present” state of agriculture was put into a storm of “PERIL” by the “Know All” President Gotabahaya Nandasena Rajapakse of the “Rajapakse & Co, Inc”. Having even “SEEN” the perilous state of Agriculture in the country, he still doesn’t want to “ADMIT” his mistakes in correcting the course to provide the necessary life and energy into this sector. Recently, he appeared before a gathering of agriculture sector people and asked: “For two years we gave you free fertilizer (chemicals), and did you improve on the produce”? The people said: “Don’t tell lies. You didn’t give free fertilizer. With chemical fertilizer we produced 500 kg. of tea leaves, but today without that we produce only 200 kg.” How a President of a country faces the people and get a bashing and has the audacity and courage to tell lies? That is the state of affairs at “Present” and what “Future” one could expect from all sectors of the economy of the country under an “All Know”, “All Mighty” but an “Incoherent” leader?

    So, it is a waste of time and energy to make proposals to elevate the country’s economy in all sectors including agriculture. Two years of “Advising” have passed without any success. The best and the first is to “Kick” this regime out and start afresh.

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