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Nurturing nature using nature’s gift- A Sri Lankan Scenario

Kandiah Pakeerathan and Gunasingam Mikunthan


Concerted efforts towards creating awareness on organic agriculture with necessary training, handholding and supportive policies is pushing Srilanka towards becoming a toxic free nation.


The natural ecosystem is very well diversified, and does not need external biological inputs to sustain. When human’s tradition transformed from hunter-gather culture to agricultural societies,  anthropogenic activities collapsed the natural ecosystem, and the agroecosystem flourished. Beneficial micro and macro-organisms, such as Trichodermaspp, Pseudomonas fluorescence, Effective Micro-organisms (EM), Vesicular-Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (VAM), Basidiomycetes fungi, Entomopathogenic microbes, parasitic nematodes, earthworms etc., are nature’s gift. They play a major role in the supply of essential nutrients. In the natural ecosystem, this is done through the decomposition of plant and animal wastes, protection via secretion of secondary metabolites which are toxic to plant pathogens.

Women were provided technical and material support to adopt organic practices

Since the 1960s, the green revolution mainly focused on increasing agricultural production (crop yield) by intensive mono-cropping of elite high-yielding varieties utilizing a lavish amount of external inputs. Consequently, a less diversified modern agro-ecosystem totally relying on synthetic inorganic fertilizers and harmful pesticides emerged, which totally ignored the importance of nature and nature’s gift to develop a healthy society. In the post-publication of “Silent Spring” by Richel Carson in 1962, environmentalists raised their voice to emphasize the harmful effects of pesticides, the importance of environmental education, awareness on soil and human health, and environment-friendly farming/ecological farming to conserve our nature.

Intensive training to farmers

Training farmers on how to produce, formulate, apply and market organic inputs, such as microbial inocula (such as rhizobia), composts, manures, biochars, and several preparations like jeevamrutha, panchagavya, neem decoctions, etc. is vital for a cleaner, safer, economically viable sustainable agriculture.

Training at Thampa Model Farm

In Sri Lanka, training programs on intensive farm biological inputs production and application are being conducted by the experts in State Agricultural faculties of National Universities, and district agricultural training centers governed by the Department of Agriculture. Majority of the training programmes provide all the necessary practical skills and knowledge on how biological inputs can be produced at cottage level for their own needs as well as for commercial purposes.

Faculty of Agriculture implemented a pilot programme called “Development of sustainable integrated food production systems to enhance household food and nutritional security, economic growth and livelihoods of resource poor families in the Northern Region of Sri Lanka”through the National Thematic Research Programme (NTRP) from 2012 to 2018. The main objective is to promote organic gardens by using biological inputs of the war affected displaced and resource poor families. Selected farmers were educated through training, and were provided technical support as well as materials support, where necessary.

To train the farmers, a 2-hectare model home garden at the Faculty of Agriculture at Ariviyal Nagar, Kilinochchi, was established in 2014. The garden was developed to train the people who show interest in the establishment of a home garden, with eco-friendly technologies. A total of 284 men and women members of different farm families and women organizations were trained at the Faculty of Agriculture and in their villages on (1) establishing household level composting units, (2) mass production of organic liquid fertilizers and (3) biocontrol agents (Box 1).

Organic farms are solely dependent on the biological control agents, such as predators, parasitoids, and bio-pesticides includes entomopathogenic organisms (Beauveria bassiana, Metarhiziumanisopliae, Lecanicillium, Paecilomyces, Nomouraea, Hirsutella, etc.), Trichoderma spp, P. flourescences, to manage the pest and diseases successfully. Due to the intensive agriculture with the use of inorganic broad spectrum pesticides, these potential bio-agent’s populations have been wiped-out, more or less. The outcome of the biological control is measurable, when enough quantity is existing in the environment.That’s how continuous monitoring and timely field release/inoculation of bio-agents is highly recommended to maintain its existence. But, farmers did not have enough knowledge in identifying these bio-agents or how to produce these bio-agents at their home at a small or mass level.

Box 1: Technical Note 1: Training content of various training events

1. All types of compost production training: where and how to collect different wastes such as garden wastes, agro-industries by-products, urban wastes, animal farm wastes, slaughterhouse wastes, distillery spent wastes, etc., and demonstration on how to set up and convert the waste into compost in heap method and pit method; on hand training on how to set up the vermicomposting units for small and large scale vermicompost production, how to select waste material for earthworms, how to set up beds for vermicomposting in bin based, pit based, and open type vermicomposting process, how to select the suitable earthworms species for quick vermicompost production, how to identify the compost ready for collection, how to collect the vermicompost without damaging earthworms, how farmers can enrich traditional garden compost and vermicompost by adding additional nutrients and biocontrol agents to make it super compost. How to store the composts for long term use, how to pack and marketing techniques, different types of compost application techniques, are mainly focused.

2. Training on liquid fertilizer production and application: Vermi-tea, vermi-wash, five-leaf solution, panchacowia, Gliricidia leaf solution, fermented cow urine decoction, fish emulsion, etc., are an excellent source of plant essential nutrients, antimicrobial compounds, secondary metabolites of beneficial microbes. This training mainly focused to provide technical and practical skills to farmers regarding how to set up each and every organic liquid fertilizer production unit, inputs needed, how to preprocess the inputs, in which ratio each and every input need to be mixed, how to and how often collect and apply to crops.

3. Mass production and field application of bio-control agents and bio-pesticides:Farmers from five districts Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya are invited by the respective district agriculture training centers where invited field-related experts from universities gave demonstration and techniques on how to identify, produce bio-agents at a small level and mass level, mode of applications, how to monitor the working performance of bio-agents, how to preserve the mother cultures, where they can get pure cultures or stock cultures if lost, how to pack and market if they produce in mass level, registration and label information, etc.

The households in five districts (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, and Vavuniya) established their ecological gardens through the active participation of their family members. Farmers set up their own compost unit at their homes. The sustainability of the home gardens was subsequently monitored. Later,  the trained farmers who have set up their own units, were selected and honored by higher authorities, and invited as resource persons for the training of trainers.

Access to information and knowledge transfer

A member of vocational training opportunities exist for young farmers

Readily available knowledge and information sources are really important to eliminate practical difficulties in agriculture. In the science and technology advanced era, digital agriculture is being promoted. Through this NTR projects, dissemination of information regarding organic gardening, understanding the nature and ecosystem, medicinal plants, role of microbes in maintaining the healthy life of plants, microbes to control diseases in crops, vermicomposting, recycling of organic wastes, minimize the use of inorganic pesticides and fertilizers, etc.,were transferred to public through journal publications, conference proceedings, popular talks and theme seminars. Moreover, the information related to recommended biological inputs, new biological inputs invented and innovated, how to get this inputs, how to use these inputs, success and failure of the inputs, how to market these inputs if produced in mass level, how to get the certificate for the products produced organically using these biological inputs, how to get better price etc.,is available in national and local languages in department of Agriculture websites (https://www.doa.gov.lk/ETC/index.php/en/programme, state agriculture faculties’ extension websites, business websites (https://www.srilankabusiness.com/blog/organic-farming-sri-lanka.html) national and international television programme (PonVilaiyum Bhoomi), local radio programme (Kalamumvalamum, Yarl FM), local newspapers (Valampuri and Uthayan), monthly or yearly magazines released by the agriculture faculties (Pasunthokai, Ulavan), department of agriculture extension departments, well organized frequent meetings with farmers and agriculture instructors.

Advanced training opportunities to farmers

There are a lot of vocational training opportunities available in national agricultural faculties, private institutes, college of agriculture, department of agriculture, for young farmers who are below 45 years, in Sri Lanka. In these vocational training institutes (Eg: School of Agriculture, Vavuniya, Kundasale, Kandy; Institute of Agro-technology and Rural Sciences, University of Colombo), all kinds of training is given over a period of one-three years.After completion of diploma or graduation courses, they will become fully skilled entrepreneurs. They will be able to produce all varieties of biological inputs without others help and can act as consultants to other farms.

Many export companies buy organic produce at farm gates itself, thus escalating demand for production of bio-inputs by farmers

Gender role in production and use of biological inputs

The majority of the women labor force (58%) in Sri Lanka are unfit for heavy physical work. Therefore, women workers are being hired for soft works such as weeding, harvesting, collection of input materials for the compost production, maintenance of compost units, collection and packing of vermicompost with minimum wages. This earning helpsthem to support the family partially, and is a source ofsole income for many women-headed families. Through this NTR project and NGOs (Eg: womens organization, ZOA, Sevalanka) funding,more than 500 women farmers, who were heading their households were selected, trained and financially supported to setup commercial vermi-compost production unit by providing exotic earth worms and necessary technical skills.

Agro-based institutions support

In Sri Lanka, women-headed farming families are higher in northern and eastern provinces. Governments, non-governmental organizations such as ZOA, IOM, UNDP, FAO, OXFAM, Servalanka, etc. financially support organising workshops, and also provide low-interest soft loans to establish own units, either small or on commercial scale.

In the north, Thampa model farm plays a key role in motivating organic floriculture, and vegetable production. A private organization called “Thampa model farm” executed a project with the aim of poverty alleviation from rural community with the technical support of faculty of Agriculture, University of Jaffna. They financially supported few selected farmers who are getting Samurthi (financial livelihood support by the government from poverty alleviation) benefit from governments, to establish pure organic gardens. In this project, they have selected more than 1000 Samurthi beneficiaries in different villages, through rigorous screening process, and supported them financially and technically, to produce mass level of organic inputs and organic products. Farms are closely monitored by frequent visits.

Once the organic products are ready for marketing, the financial supporter, Thampa model farm, purchases all the products from the farmers and exports it to Europe. By doing so, farmers are receiving better returns on a regular basis. Consequently, many farmers are opting out from Samurthi scheme of the government.

Impact and way to go

There is a perceptible change in the farmers mind set owing to continuous intensive training programmes, brain storming, sessions, health awareness programs regarding increasing cancer and CKDU in Sri Lanka due to toxic pesticide and ferilizers. Many farmers have fully stopped using inorganic farm inputs and started pure organic agriculture by using local inputs. Moreover, with growing demand for organic farm products (Eg: fruits and vegetables), many export companies are buying the organic products at farm gates itself. This has motivated many farmers to produce organic inputs in bulk, which the commercial growers are ready to purchase at a higher price. COVID-19 pandemic has further pushed the organic input producers to expand their production.The “Thampa model farm” project, mentioned earlier, will be a huge success, and very soon Sri Lankan agriculture will be converted to organic agriculture with the aim of government’s agriculture policy called “toxin free nation”. Development of successful organic input production and marketing model (Diagram 1) with supportive policies will help in its success and sustainability.

References:

  1. Vakeesan, A., Tharshani N. and Mikunthan, G. (2008) Green manures: nature’s gift to improve soil fertility, LEISA-LEUSDEN, 24(2), pp16.
  2. Pakeerathan, K., Mikunthan, G. and Tharshini. N (2009) Eco-Friendly Management of Root-knot Nematode Meloidogyne incognita (Kofid and White) Chitwood Using Different Green Leaf Manures on Tomato under Field Conditions. American-Eurasian J. Agric. & Environ. Sci., 6 (5): 494-497.

 

Dr. Kandiah Pakeerathan

Head and Senior Lecturer

Corresponding Email: pakeerathank@univ.jfn.ac.lk

 Professor GunasingamMikunthan

Professor in Agricultural Biology

Department of Agricultural Biology, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Jaffna, 44000, Ariviyal Nagar, Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka