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Bumper paddy production in Sri Lanka’s former conflict areas has averted an expected national rice shortage, experts say.
Twin floods in January and February inundated more than 200,000 hectares of paddy land in the eastern and central regions of the island nation, destroying more than 700,000MT of the primary harvest estimated at 2.75 million tons. The main cultivation season runs from October to March.
But now provincial agriculture departments are reporting a bumper secondary harvest 15 percent higher than that of 2010. The secondary cultivation period is between April and September.
“The northern production [boosting] the national supply makes a huge difference,” Nimal Disssnanayke, director of the Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI), told IRIN. He said the production from the conflict-affected north began supplementing national stocks in mid-2010 after the 26-year-long civil war ended in May 2009, “But it is this year that we have seen the full impact of that supply.”
More than 40,500ha of paddy land was cultivated in the former conflict zone, providing a yield of more than 110,000MT, said Sithaparapillai Gnanachandran, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) northern area coordinator.
Since the middle of 2010, donors and the Sri Lankan government have invested more than US$20 million in assisting paddy farming in the north. Of that, $8 million paid for about 19,000MT of fertilizer for 2010 and 2011.
FAO officials said the northern harvest would have been even better if some areas in the north had not suffered flood damage. “There was around 30 percent complete [flood] damage, but in the rest of the area the harvest was good even though we could not achieve the best yield figure,” said Ramanathan Pararajasingam, FAO programme officer.
Farmers in the former conflict zone said before the end of the war, the harvest was mainly sold locally. Yields were reduced because chemicals and fertilizer could not be transported into the conflict areas due to security restrictions.
“Now we get fertilizer, pesticides and other supplies without interruption,” said Christine Gurukularajah, a resident of Kilinochchi District, who has farmed 12ha of paddy for three decades. She said more paddy farmers in the former conflict zone were now able to sell at rates comparable to the rest of the nation. “We have buyers now coming from Vavuniya [just south of the former conflict zone] to buy the paddy. Now we have a sure market.”
The latest heavy rains worked in favour of the secondary harvest, helping irrigation. “The yield is more compared to previous years as minor tanks were full with water from rains,” FAO’s Gnanachandran said.
The increased secondary harvest of 1.92 million tons, thanks also to other high yields nationwide due to fertilizer subsidies from the government, is likely to increase the annual paddy yield to more than four million tons, 2 percent less than the total harvest in 2010, according to the FAO’s latest country brief.