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CROP DIVERSIFICATION IN SRI LANKA - S.S.B.D.G. Jayawardane* and L. A. Weerasena**

* Director General of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

** Deputy Director (Research), Regional Agriculture Research Centre, Angunakolapellessa, Sri Lanka.


Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian ocean located between 79° 50' and 82° longitude and 6° and 9° 50' latitude. The total land area of the island is 6.5 million hectares and the population is 19 million.

The extent of irrigable land in the country has been increased to 483,000 ha including 80,000 ha of well drained upland with the commissioning of lands under the Mahaweli river system and other major irrigation schemes in the post independence era resulting in a breakthrough in rice production. Sri Lanka has become nearly self-sufficient in rice production. However, cultivation of rice in well drained soils in major irrigation schemes is considered to be a waste of irrigation water due to high percolation rates observed. Cultivation of non-paddy crops in the well drained soils could save water and thus pave the way for crop diversification in major irrigation schemes.

The cost of rice production has increased tremendously during the past few decades and consequently rice production has become uneconomical in marginal rice lands, especially in the wet part of the island. Therefore, more lands have become available for crop diversification. The potential areas of crop diversification in the island are found in different ecological settings. Cultivated crops and cropping patterns adopted vary with the agro-ecological conditions. Hence, the definition of crop diversification contains an extensive meaning for Sri Lanka. Thus it could be defined as the cultivation of alternative crops or adoption of alternate cropping patterns instead of traditional crops and cropping patterns.

1.1 Climate

Sri Lanka is located in the tropical belt of the world climatic map. The central hills of the country divide Sri Lanka into three major climatic zones by acting as a barrier to the monsoon winds. The three major climatic zones are named as wet, intermediate and dry zones which receive an average annual rainfall of >5000-2500 mm, 2500-1750 and 1750-900 mm, respectively. Further, three main regions in the island have also been identified, based on elevation, namely, the low country (0 - 300 m), mid country (300 - 900 m) and up country (>900 m). These climatic zones are further sub-divided into 24 agro-ecological regions, each one being more or less uniform in climatic conditions and in soils. Major irrigation schemes are predominantly found in the dry zone and a few are found in the other two zones. Rainfed wetland rice cultivation is mainly practiced in the wet zone.

1.2 Soils in the Crop Diversification Areas

Characteristics of soils have a key impact on crop selection. The major soil groups in the regions where the diversification has taken place are briefly described as follows:

Reddish Brown Earth Soils (Haplustalfs and Rhodustalfs)

These soils are reddish to reddish brown in colour and found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscape in the dry zone. The normal depth is about 1.0-1.2 m. and the water holding capacity ranges from 100-140 mm/meter depth of soil. The steady infiltration rate ranges from 1-5 cm/hr. The percolation rates of the wet puddled soils for the first time exceeds 100 mm/d and remains at a higher value of 10-20 mm/d even after 6 years of continuous puddling.

Low Humic Gley Soils (Tropaqualfs)

These are greyish soils found in the valley bottoms of the undulating topography. Soils are deep and moderately fine textured. Water percolation rate remains at 2-4 mm/d after 6-10 years of continuous paddy cultivation with puddling. Due to the low percolation rates suitability for crop diversification is very low in this soil group.

Non Calcic Brown Soils (Haplustalfs)

These soils are found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscape and well to imperfectly drained areas. Percolation rate may vary from 1-20 mm/hr. There is a high potential for crop diversification in these soils during the dry season. However, coarse textured members of this group are low in productivity.

Old Alluvial Soils(Tropaquents)

These soils occur in old river terraces. They are generally imperfectly to poorly drained with high infiltration rates of 5-40 cm/hr. The water holding capacity is low as 40-80 mm for a meter depth of soil. These soils are low in productivity.

Alluvial Soils (Tropaquents and Tropofluvents)

These soils are reddish to brownish in colour, moderately fine textured and imperfectly to poorly drained. The majority of these soils occur in flood plains and these soils are generally deep. These soils are more suitable for rice cultivation.

Red Yellow Podzolic Soils (Rhodudults and Tropudults)

These are the most widely spread great soil groups found in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. They occur in diverse landforms and are normally deep. Predominant textural classes of surface soils are sandy loam, sandy clay loam or loam and the structure is usually weak or moderate with crumb or granular structure. Soil reaction is acidic and the cation exchange capacity may vary from 2-10 c mol kg-1 in surface soils.

Reddish Brown Latosolic Soils (Rhodudults and Tropudults)

Reddish brown latosolic soils are the next prominent soil group found in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. Most of these soils occur on terrains that have been incised by ecological erosion. These soils are relatively young. The texture is mostly sandy clay loam and the structure is strong crumb to granular under natural vegetation. These soils are normally deep, soil reaction is slightly acidic and the cation exchange capacity may vary from 4-15 c mol kg-1 in surface soils.

Immature Brown Loams (Eutropepts and Dystropepts)

These are young soils occurring in close association with Reddish brown latosolic soils and are mostly found in the wet and semi-wet intermediate zones of the country. Soil texture is predominantly sandy loam or loam. Structure is often weak crumb or subangular blocky. Soil reaction is acidic in the wet zone and the cation exchange capacity can vary from 1-20 c mol kg-1 in surface soil.

Alluvial Soils (Troporthents and Ustifluvents)

These soils occur mostly in the flood plains and also in valley bottoms in the mid-country wet zone. They are usually deep and variable in drainage and texture. Structure is variable, ranging from well developed to weak. Soil reaction is acidic and the cation exchange capacities may vary from 5-20 c mol kg-1.

Bog and Half-bog Soils (Tropohemists and Troposaprists)

These are mainly confined to the low-lying lands of the west and southwest of the island. These are poor in drainage and rich in organic matter. Strongly acidic, this soil group is low in productivity.


The contribution of the agriculture to GNP increased by 4.4 percent in 1999. However, the share of the agriculture sector in the GDP gradually reduced during the last three decades from 30.3 to 21.1 percent. In 1999, the share of the agriculture sector in the GDP was 20.7 percent. The reduction of the share of the agriculture sector was primarily due to the fast growth in the industry and services sectors during the past two decades.

Table 1 shows the extent, production and trade of the plantation crops and rice in Sri Lanka. It is clear that the country is producing less than 50 percent of its sugar requirements.

Table 1. Major Crops, Their Extents, Production and Trade


Area 1,000 Ha

Production 1,000 Mt

Export 1,000 Mt

Imports 1,000 Mt













2808 mil nuts

916.48 mil. nuts







Sugar cane





Table 2. Extent, Production, and Imports of Major Field Crops in 1999


Extent (ha)

Production (Mt)

Imports (Mt)





















Finger millet








Green gram




Black gram












Sweet potato




Source: Department of Census and Statistics.
Table 2 shows the extent, production and imports of the major field crops in Sri Lanka. These figures further explain that Sri Lanka is largely dependent on the important of field crops, irrespective of their feasibility for cultivation in the island.

Table 3. Production Area and Imports of Major Fruit Crops in Sri Lanka, 1999


Area (ha)

Production (1,000 Fruits)

Exports (Mt)

Imports in 1998 (Mt)



3310,600 bunches




























Passion fruit















Source: Department of Census and Statistics.
Imports: Department of Customs.
Total export of fruits was around 7,000 Mt in 1999 and the total production of vegetables has been estimated to be 554,641 Mt in 1999. Table 3 shows that Sri Lanka imports mainly grapes and oranges.

Table 4. Production of Export Crops in 1999


Production (Mt)





Cinnamon Bark


Leaf oil








Citronella oil




Source: Central Bank Reports 1999
The total land area under export crops was 91,106 ha and the total earnings reached Rs. 11,598 Million in 1999.


Crop diversification in the country has taken place in different agro-ecological settings. The governing factors behind this diversification in each setting were different and furthermore, the diversification occurs independently in different agro-ecological regions in different time periods. The major agro-ecological settings where crop diversification has been achieved can be identified as follows:

a) Low country Dry zone - Major Irrigation schemes.
b) Low country Dry zone - Minor irrigation schemes.
c) Up, mid and low country Intermediate zones - Anicut schemes and rainfed rice fields.
d) Low country wet zone - Wetland rice fields.
e) Mid country - Marginal tea and rubber lands.
3.1 Crop Diversification in Major Irrigation Schemes

Most of the planning for irrigation schemes took place in the latter part of the 1950's and in the 1960's. A large extent of land was opened for irrigated cropping with the implementation of these plans. Rice varieties with high yielding ability and better agronomic practices for rice cultivation were also developed in the same period and as a result, rice production was expected to surpass the level of self-sufficiency. In order to overcome a possible saturation of rice production, the government planned to introduce crop diversification to the major irrigation schemes. In addition, they realized the importance of cultivating non-rice crops to obtain the best returns from the resources such as land and water. The new irrigation systems were designed with facilities for irrigation management for crop diversification. Land terrain was developed to cultivate non-rice crops in well drained and rice on poorly drained land classes. Although farmers preferred to cultivate rice in all land classes irrespective of the hydrological regimes, government policies and the attractive prices for non-rice crops, which expanded the margin of profit encouraging them to grow non-paddy crops in well drained land classes.

There are nearly 80,000 ha of well drained lands in the major irrigation schemes available for upland crop cultivation and from this 12,000 ha of lands are at present under sugar cane and a sizeable portion has been cropped with banana. Rice and other annual field crops could be cultivated alternatively in the wet and dry seasons in the rest of the land available. Cultivation of annuals in the dry season saves water for the wet season rice crop. Growing field crops in the wet season is often hampered by heavy rains experienced due to the build up of excess moisture in the root zone forcing the farmers to cultivate rice in the wet season.

There are a few other sub-patterns that could also be identified within the diversification in major irrigation schemes (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Schematic Representation of the Different Diversification Patterns in Major Irrigation Schemes

i. Semi-perennial irrigated crops in well drained and rice in poorly drained land classes.

ii. Wet season rice in all land classes and dry season non-rice annuals in well drained and rice in poorly drained land classes.

iii. Rice in both wet and dry seasons and a short duration grain legume in-between the two seasons.

The dominant crops in the first sub-pattern are sugar cane, banana and papaw while chillies, onion, groundnut, vegetables and grain legumes are the dominant crops in the second pattern. Mungbean (Vigna radiata) is the crop that could commonly be observed in the third sub-pattern.

3.2. Crop Diversification in Minor Irrigation Schemes

Minor reservoirs with less than 40 ha command area come under this category. These are predominantly rainfed reservoirs, which contain the water derived from the immediate catchments. Usually, these tanks are filled during the rainy season but the water storage during the dry season is not sufficient for rice cultivation. There are nearly 185,000 ha of irrigated lands in the command area of minor tanks. The majority of the soils in these systems are either imperfectly drained or poorly drained and not suitable for non-rice crops. However, farmers grow them in minor irrigation schemes by avoiding the short rainy period (April, May) in the dry season (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Schematic Representation of the Different Diversification Patterns in Minor Irrigation Schemes

In minor irrigation schemes, wells are often dug to tap the shallow ground water table boosting the availability of irrigation water during dry periods. This has become very popular today and there are several thousand such wells that could be found in the island. The extent of cultivation by each well ranges from 0.25 ha to 0.5 ha depending on the availability of water. A variety of crops could be found in association with such wells, which range from semi-perennial fruit crops such as banana, papaw and lime to vegetables. In certain cases these farmers tend to cultivate non-rice crops even during rainy seasons by improving the drainage conditions of the soils.

3.3 Crop Diversification in Paddy Lands in the Intermediate Zone

The source of irrigation water in upcountry, mid and low country intermediate zones are mainly derived from anicut schemes and minor reservoirs. The landscape is rolling to hilly in the upcountry and mid country and undulating in the low country. Rice is cultivated in the wet season in terraced land in well to imperfectly drained soils. The attractive prices of vegetables and onion have encouraged the farmers to grow them in the dry season and they are cultivated in raised beds prepared within the basins. Occasionally, this vegetable production is affected due to high soil moisture condition occurring with heavy rains.

Figure 3. Schematic Representation of the Different Diversification Patterns in Paddy Lands in the Intermediate Zone

In the upcountry intermediate zone, potato is the major crop that covers a large extent of cultivated lands. Other dominant vegetables are tomato, beans, carrot, cabbage, beetroot and leeks. Presently, part of the extent under potato has been diversified into vegetables.

Potato is not cultivated in the mid country intermediate zone and onion, tomato, cabbage, tobacco, beans, shallots and capsicum are the principal crops found in this pattern. Cucumber, gourds, long beans, okra and capsicum are the leading vegetables grown in the low country. Melon is the only fruit crop cultivated in this part of the diversification pattern (Figure 3).

3.4 Wetland Rice Fields in the Low Country Wet Zone (LCWZ)

In the low country wet zone there are 8,681 ha under major irrigation schemes, 18,016 ha under minor schemes and 68,118 ha under rainfed conditions. The average yield of rice in the region is about 3,000 kg/ha and it has become uneconomical to cultivate rice due to the high cost of production. Also, this area represents the densely populated region where about 40 percent of the total population of the country are found.

A major portion of the paddy lands in the wet zone is very poorly drained and hence unsuitable for upland crop cultivation. The upper order valleys of coarse textured soils are fairly well drained and these soils are presently used for crop diversification. Apart from the prevailing soil physical status, crop selection seems to be dependent on the availability of marketing facilities. In close proximity to urban centres, leafy vegetables are predominantly cultivated, as these fetch a high price and the crops can be grown throughout the year. Other crops cultivated in the low country wet zone are the root and tuber crops (coleus and sweet potato), and vegetables such as long bean, bitter gourd and okra (Figure 4). Banana is the major fruit crop grown in this area.

Figure 4. Schematic Representation of the Different Diversification Patterns in the Low Country Wet Zone

Table 5 shows the costs and returns of this diversified system.

Table 5. Cost and Returns of Diversified Cropping in the Low Country Wet Zone





Leafy Vegetables

Total cost Rs/ha





Gross returns Rs/ha





Returns to land Rs/ha





Returns to capital unit





Returns to labour Rs/manday





The table clearly shows that returns to the land are negative in rice whereas all the other alternative crops give higher returns. Returns to capital and labour are more favourable in vegetable and Innala (coleus) cultivation.

3.5 Diversification in Mid Country Marginal Tea and Rubber Lands

The seedling tea plantations became marginally productive in the mid country wet zone due to the decline in tea prices, rise of input costs and also due to the soil degradation aggravated by soil erosion. Some of these lands were replanted with vegetatively propagated tea and a part of these lands was shifted to export crops, mainly pepper, cloves and cocoa.

Similarly, poorly managed rubber plantations also became marginal with the reduction in prices as the demand for natural rubber was reduced. The cost of production also increased due to the high wage rates and these conditions led the rubber smallholder to withdraw from rubber and shift towards vegetatively propagated tea cultivation.

3.6 Diversification Around Upland Crops

A diversification trend was observed in some upland crops such as cowpea, onion, gherkin, potato and chillies during the past few years. This was mainly due to the decline in prices owing to over-production of crops, cheap importation and shrinking of export markets.

The potato production in the up country intermediate zone dropped drastically due to the reduction in prices as a result of the import of potato. Similarly, the extent under cultivation of onion and chillies also dropped due to importation of the two commodities. As a result, the lands under these crops reverted to paddy cultivation or to the traditional systems.

Gherkin, on the other hand, was produced in the dry and intermediate zones only for export purposes. However, due to the loss in export markets, gherkin farmers have switched back to their traditional crops.

Banana (Mysore variety) was traditionally grown under rainfed conditions in the wet zone. However, in the past few years it has been cultivated under irrigated conditions and due to the attractive income, the land extent under banana in irrigation schemes increased sharply. At present, prices have dropped mainly due to many socio-economic reasons. Papaw has become the succeeding crop in most of the banana plantations which became uneconomical in production.

3.7 Success Stories of Crop Diversification

There are several success stories in crop diversification in Sri Lanka. The most illustrative examples of crop diversification are:

· Chilli cultivation in the Mahaweli river project H area.
· Onion production in Dambulla (dry zone).
· Potato production in upcountry intermediate zone.
· Vegetable production in mid country intermediate zone.
· Sweet potato production in low country intermediate zone.
· Banana production in Udawalawe river irrigation scheme.
3.7.1 Chilli Cultivation in Mahaweli River Valley H Area

Two decades ago when the import restrictions were imposed, chillies were extensively cultivated in Mahaweli system H (a major irrigation scheme) mainly for dry chillies, under a crop diversification programme. This programme successfully met the chilli requirements of the country until import restrictions were relaxed. The attractive prices obtained for dry chillies resulted due to government policy on import restrictions, availability of proper varieties, quality seeds and the other support services which contributed to the high degree of success in chilli production. At present this situation has partly changed mainly due to the relaxation of import restrictions.

3.7.2 Onion Production in Dambulla (dry zone) Area

Onion cultivation in rice fields during the dry season was initiated in the mid country intermediate zone nearly two decades ago. Owing to the initial success, onion production spread towards Dambulla (Low country dry zone) producing a fair percentage of the national requirements.

However, this production was restricted only to the cultivating season and could meet only part of the demand mainly due to the poor storage characteristic of the produce. With the relaxation of import restrictions the onion extents in this area declined resulting in a fall in production.

3.7.3 Sweet Potato Production in Low Country Wet and Intermediate Zones

Sweet potato was mainly cultivated only in well drained soils in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. In 1980, the crop was introduced to the minor irrigation projects in the Godakawela area of the low country wet and intermediate zones. Sweet potato was cultivated only during dry seasons in rice fields where rice was always the leading crop in the wet season. Owing to the success of the production effort, the cultivation extent increased rapidly and today this area accounts for about 20 percent of the national production of sweet potato.

3.7.4 Banana Production in 'Udawalawe' Irrigation Scheme

Banana is a water-loving crop that can be grown successfully in the dry zone with irrigation facilities. This crop was initially cultivated in the lands where the water supply was inadequate for rice cultivation. In 1986 there were only 251 ha of banana in the project area and today the extent has increased to nearly 4,000 ha with an average productivity of 25 t/ha/yr. Several reasons can be attributed for the success of this diversification programme. These are:

· Attractive income from the crop (SL Rs. 200,000 - 250,000/per ha/year).
· Strong agriculture extension programme.
· Presence of an efficient marketing network.
· Suitability of the land.

4.1. Food and Nutritional Security

Currently, most of the key food crops are grown in the island. However, in order to meet the national demand a larger quantity has to be imported annually (Table 6).

Table 6. The National requirement of some of the essential food commodities in 2000


Requirement (Mt.)

Extent to be Cultivated (ha)

Present Production (Mt)








Dry chilli





Chilli green





Red onion





Big onion















Green gram





Table 6 clearly shows that there is a production deficit in the necessary food commodities. Hence, in order to meet the demand in the future, certainly the land extent under these crops needs to be increased. From the expected production of non-rice annuals, a major portion of green gram and maize can be produced under rainfed conditions. However, for crops such as onions, potato and chillies, the majority of the production is expected from irrigated fields under crop diversification.

Similarly, the per capita fruit consumption in Sri Lanka (5.0 kg/person/year) is far below that of developed countries (45 kg/person/year). There is no doubt that the production has to go up in order to increase the fruit consumption in the country. As a result, fruit crops that could be effectively produced in the island have been identified and it is already planned to increase the land extent under these crops, especially with supplementary irrigation.

In Sri Lanka, nearly 34 percent of the population is still living below the poverty level and in an under-nourished status. Their present level of protein intake is inadequate for optimal growth and development. The expansion of the production of pulses such as green gram, cowpea, soybean and groundnut has to take place to at least supplement part of their protein requirements.

4.2 Income Growth, Poverty Alleviation and Employment

As an outcome of the socio-economic changes that occurred during the last few decades some production systems became uneconomical to operate. Rice cultivation in the wet zone and the marginal tea and rubber lands in the mid country are two examples in this regard. The wetland rice cultivation extent of nearly 94,815 ha and the marginal tea and rubber extent of about 50,000 ha were affected by these changes. This development certainly affected the income level of those dependent on these production systems. As described earlier, crop diversification would generate better income from these lands and transform the marginal operations into profitable enterprises.

There are about 195,000 ha of land available for crop diversification in the dry season. On the other hand, the production of non-rice crops requires more labour throughout the year compared to rice which has only a seasonal demand. Therefore, cultivation of non-rice crops would generate more employment opportunities. In addition, diversification may lead to an increase in production of non-rice crops and may create more opportunities for agro-based industries to be developed. Such a change would undoubtedly generate more income, employment and help to alleviate poverty.

4.3 Judicious Use of Land, Water and other Resources

The well drained soils in the major irrigation schemes have high percolation rates exceeding 100 mm/d. Cultivation of rice in these soils provides low returns for each unit of water used for cultivation. On the contrary, cultivation of non-rice crops need less water and provides relatively higher returns to each unit of water used. Since the cost of irrigation water is fairly high, it is a pre-requisite to use this resource in the most effective manner. Meanwhile, the selection of crops based on the land classes can be practiced effectively. The appropriate crop selection would assure the productivity of the crop, improve the soil conditions and also favour the environment. Crop diversification provides an opportunity for the farmers to shift from one crop to another, depending on market prices and productivity.


5.1 Constraints in Crop Diversification

Constraints to crop diversification in the island can be grouped into five categories. They can be named as physical, agronomic, economic, social and management constraints.

5.1.1 Physical Constraints

Crop diversification has to be practiced with non-rice crops in the island. Non-rice crops cannot tolerate excess soil moisture and prefer well drained conditions. There are only 80,000 ha of such lands available in major irrigation schemes. In minor irrigation schemes almost all the soils are imperfectly to poorly drained. The situation is even worse in the wet zone where high rainfall and frequent floods often make excess soil moisture conditions unsuitable for growing highland crops.

Land configurations of most of the irrigated rice fields do not favour the use of machinery, especially in well drained parts of paddy tracts. This situation prevents the farmer from using even medium scale machinery for land preparation and increases the cost of land preparation. In addition, due to the requirement of two different ways of land preparation, more energy needs to be utilized. This discourages the farmer from practicing such land preparation as it also increases the cost of production.

5.1.2 Agronomic Constraints

The majority of the upland crops cultivated in Sri Lanka do not tolerate excess soil moisture and water saturated soil conditions and hence the farmers are left with only a few crops such as sugar cane, soybean and leafy vegetables that tolerate excess moisture to some extent.

In rice and non-rice cropping patterns, non-rice crops of the 12-16 weeks age class are preferred and most of the cash crops exceed this age limit. On the other hand, crops in a preferred age group, for example pulses and maize, do not generate sufficient income to be attractive alternative crops. Certain crops such as okra and groundnut, which tolerate excess soil moisture, get affected by viral diseases such as mosaic virus when cultivated in the dry season.

5.1.3 Economic Constraints

Diversified cropping demands high input conditions and this leads to increase in the cost of production. As most of the diversifiable crops are seasonal, production comes to the market within a short interval. In addition, most of this produce is perishable in nature and cannot be stored at farmer-level for a long period. Consequently, market prices fall during the harvesting period. In certain situations traders deliberately lower the prices to obtain high profits for them. The open economic policy that became effective during the past two decades relaxed the import restrictions. The lower world market prices of these food commodities encouraged the import of these items, reducing the market price in local markets. The effect of the combination of all these conditions lowers the overall profit margin for the farmer and they are compelled to shift towards easy crops, and in most cases, this is rice.

In addition to the above scenario, unavailability of good quality seed in time (e.g.: onion) also discourages some farmers from the cultivation of non-rice crops.

5.1.4 Social Constraints

Traditionally, Sri Lankan farmers prefer rice cultivation for cultural reasons and they are also highly knowledgeable in rice cultivation but have little knowledge of upland crop cultivation. Hence, most of the farmers are reluctant to shift from rice to other alternative crops. Paddy on the other hand is an easy crop to cultivate for them and hence they find sufficient time to go for off-farm employment. However, with non-rice crops farmers cannot look for off-farm income though the returns are comparatively high. The absence of knowledge and the need for constant attention in non-rice crops restrict the old generation of farmers to move away from rice and it is the knowledge seeking youth who are mostly interested in cultivating non-rice crops. The majority of the youth are, however, leaving the farm to seek employment in other sectors. Land ownership is another obstacle in promoting non-rice crop cultivation in Sri Lanka. Land ownership is not always with the farmer and therefore farmers have no choice for crops as the decisions lie with the land owner. This situation was created as there was no way of assuring a guaranteed income from the non-rice crops. In addition, the tenancy for rice lands is legally protected in Sri Lanka.

5.1.5 Management Constraints

Irrigation schemes designed after the 1960's have facilities for irrigation management in crop diversification. However, irrigation schemes that have been implemented prior to this period were designed only for continuous water supply. Hence, rotational irrigation, that is a must in non-rice cultivation, is difficult to practice in old irrigation projects.

Heavy rains that occur soon after irrigation or coincide with irrigation create excess water conditions which are detrimental to upland crops. Present irrigation systems do not enjoy the ease of immediate water regulatory facilities between head works and the peripheral distributaries. Therefore, enhancement of water regulatory facilities is also needed for better crop diversification in the irrigation schemes.

5.2 Globalization and New Technologies in Crop Diversification

Generally, the cost of cultivation of all the crops is relatively high in Sri Lanka and in addition, the yields are comparatively low in relation to the subtropical and temperate countries. This could mainly be attributed to the climatic differences among the tropics, subtropics and temperate countries. Due to low yield and high cost of cultivation the prices of agricultural commodities are relatively high. Therefore, options are very much limited for exporting vegetables, pulses or grains. In contrast, importation is continuously taking place as the import restrictions have been relaxed. This situation adversely affects local agricultural production and hampers the crop diversification effort.

The production of condiments such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms has comparative advantages. But expansion of those crops to non-traditional areas, where such cultivation is not being practiced, is very much limited as these require special climatic conditions. Introduction of varieties of condiments that perform well within a large range of climatic conditions is a challenge for the researchers in their respective fields. In this situation, biotechnology can be used for developing new varieties and propagation techniques such as tissue culture can be used more effectively for the expansion of new crop varieties.

With the open market system, the involvement of government in planning is limited and furthermore, the decisions are now being made by agricultural entrepreneurs. Hence, before entering into any agricultural enterprise, farmers are required to decide on the crops, type of technology etc., and they also need to forecast and anticipate the fluctuations in prices, marketability of the produce, extent of cultivation and the expected total production to avoid future gluts and major price slumps. Similarly, information on the land, soil type, crop suitability etc., should also be useful for the future agriculture entrepreneur. There is a need to have an institution to provide such information to support the decision making of the agriculture producer as well as the traders. In this system both farmer and traders should be able to collect information conveniently.

5.3 Institutional and Infra-structural Development Towards Crop Diversification

5.3.1 Institutional Development

Farmer organizations at different levels of the irrigation schemes are required for effective crop diversification programmes. Such organizations facilitate effective irrigation management, supply of inputs and organizing marketing facilities. This requirement is effectively met in almost all irrigation schemes in the island and the Irrigation Management Division attached to the Irrigation Department is responsible for the activity.

There is a fairly effective agriculture extension network present in the country. It is presently handled by the Department of Agriculture at both provincial and inter-provincial level and by the Mahaweli Economic Agency in the major irrigation schemes. In addition, there are several non-governmental organizations that take certain extension messages to a limited section of the farmers. However, the extension service suffers from lack of sufficient staff at village level to take the extension messages across to the farming community. Therefore, an increase in strength of extension agents at village level is needed to improve the efficiency of the extension service.

The Department of Agrarian Services mainly handles the minor irrigation schemes and is also responsible for supplying inputs and purchasing certain farm produce to a limited extent.

5.3.2 Infra-structural Development

Modern irrigation schemes designed after the 1960's were completed with the following basic facilities:

- Canal system with high canal capacity.
- Gates and regulators for efficient irrigation control.
- Access roads to each and every allotment.
However, the experiences in the last decade show that food and fruit processing factories at regional level are necessary to deal with the problem of seasonal excess production of crops to ensure good market prices for agriculture produce, thus facilitating the diversification process.


Government policy was to reach self-sufficiency in most of the essential food crops after independence. Hence, government set strategies to fulfill the above policy were:

a. To increase the extent under cultivation during the last four decades, the government planned and commissioned several major irrigation schemes and increased the irrigable land extent to 483,000 ha.

b. Seed and planting material production was handled mainly by the government institutions and seed farms were operated to meet the national demand of seed and other planting materials. Importation of seed potato was mainly handled by the government.

c. Subsidy schemes were formulated to encourage high input usage, especially fertilizer which was provided under the subsidy.

d. Crop insurance was introduced to minimize risks.

e. Guaranteed prices or minimum prices were set and marketing was sufficiently intervened to activate the pricing policy. Government institutions such as the Paddy Marketing Board and the Marketing Department were established to purchase the agriculture produce.

However, with the introduction of an open market system in the early 1980's some of those policies were relaxed. Subsidy for fertilizer was reduced and the private sector was primarily responsible for marketing the agriculture produce. The government institutions for marketing were not functioning effectively. Although there was a minimum price for most of the commodities, the government could not maintain it as the state institutions responsible for marketing were ineffective. Government involvement in seeds and other planting material production was reduced to a substantial degree and the private sector participation was encouraged and promoted. The cost of production of crops increased as the fertilizer subsidy and most of the direct and indirect subsidies were reduced.

Although the import restrictions were relaxed, a certain level of protection was maintained. However, these measures were not sufficient to avoid the decline in local production of chillies, onion, pulses and potato to a significant extent.

Currently, the government adopts the trade liberalization policy where GATT, SAFTA and other regional trade agreements promote free trade. This makes most of the crop production at the existing level of technology under the present wage rate comparatively disadvantageous. Hence, the imported produce competes with the local commodities and deprives the local farmer of his self-employment. For example, the extent of potato cultivation, which was 4,430 ha in 1996 dropped to 1,119 ha during the last three years. However, the production area of condiments such as pepper and cinnamon has increased as Sri Lanka has a significant comparative advantage in condiment production.


· There is good potential for crop diversification in Sri Lanka and this potential is well realized in major and minor irrigation schemes except in the wet zone of Sri Lanka.

· The diversification patterns in rice lands in the intermediate zone of the up country and mid country have been successfully established. Diversification in major irrigation schemes in rice lands of the low country wet zone is also operated with limited success. However, the stability of the system largely depends on the market prices of agricultural produce.

· Susceptibility of crops to excess moisture is the major physical constraint in all rice-based crop diversification systems. Insufficient number of available candidate crops is a major constraint in all diversification patterns.

· Since market forces are the driving force for diversification, efficient operational systems encompassing a decision support system have to be developed. The diversification enterprises must also suit the international and regional trade policies.

· Infrastructure development of agriculture enterprises and agro-based industries is necessary for further promotion of the diversification programmes.


Annual reports, 1999. Central Bank, Sri Lanka.

Dimantha, S. 1987. Irrigation management for crop diversification in Sri Lanka. p. 135-150. In Irrigation management for diversified cropping, International Irrigation Management Institute, Digana, Sri Lanka.

Hemaratna, H. A. 2000. Economics of crop diversification in paddy lands in low country wet zone in Sri Lanka. Unpublished.

Jayasekara, S.J.B.A., R.P.K. Kannangara, 1991. Sri Lanka. In Agroclimatology of Asian Grain legumes. Research Bulletin No. 14 Ed. By Virmani, S.M., D.G. Faris, and C. Johansen, ICRISAT, Patanchery, Andrapradesh, 502324, India.

Mapa, R.B., Somasiri S. and S. Nagarajah. 1999. Soils of the wet zone of Sri Lanka p.184 special publication No. 1. Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, Vidya Mandiraya 120/10, Wijerama Mawatha. Colombo 07, Sri Lanka.

Panabokke, C.R. et. al. 1987. Status research report, Sri Lanka. p. 171-196. In Irrigation management for diversified cropping, International Irrigation Management Institute, Digana, Sri Lanka.

Panabokke, C.R. 1989. Irrigation management for crop diversification in Sri Lanka, country paper, Sri Lanka, No. 3, International Irrigation Management Institute, Digana, Sri Lanka.

Panabokke, C.R. 1996. Soils and agro-ecological environments of Sri Lanka. P. 220. Natural resource service No. 2. Natural Resource and Science Authority of Sri Lanka. 47/5, Maitland place, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka.

Upali, U. 2000. Crops grown in upcountry intermediate zone. Unpublished.

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