Paddy Cultivation: Pressure on the field to yield | Daily News

Paddy Cultivation: Pressure on the field to yield

Farmers play a major role in the country’s food production drive.
Farmers play a major role in the country’s food production drive.

Food systems are at the nexus of food security, nutritional health, ecosystems, Climate Change, and rural prosperity. With countries in South Asia struggling with their economies in this post-pandemic era, the strains are now visible in agriculture and farming communities. Sri Lanka still views paddy as a strategic commodity due to its importance in the diet of the population and remains the sole value-generating activity among a major segment of farmers. Rice is the most important crop in Sri Lanka and this sector received utmost attention from Governments since it involves the majority of farmers on one hand and most citizens are rice consumers.

The rice industry is vital for food security and the economic development of Sri Lanka as its economy relies heavily on the agricultural sector. Food security issue obviously relates to national security and human security. Interestingly European consumers are now interested in special rice varieties such as organic rice, jasmine rice and wild rice. Rice is the dominant cereal in India. Rice is being cultivated in three different seasons in diverse ecologies by nearly 67 million of Indian farming families. Rice is considered as the second most important food crop in Pakistan. For decades Pakistan has been popular for Basmati rice and other kinds of long grain rice. The second most exportable commodity in Pakistan is also rice.

Sri Lankan Paddy is cultivated in two main seasons: Maha under North-East monsoon and Yala under South-West monsoon. Maha (October to March) usually accounts for about 65 per cent of the annual rice production and the remaining 35 per cent comes from the Yala crop (April to September). Polonnaruwa District has been associated with paddy cultivation since the time of our ancient kings, and today holds the position of the largest milling zone in the country. Millers add a higher percentage in value chains. Value is added for cleaning paddy stocks, storing and packing rice and transportation of rice to the major cities. Key factors that affect the demand for rice in different ways are income, prices, population growth, and urbanization.


Water is one of the important inputs in agriculture. Rice is typically grown in bunded fields that are continuously flooded up to 14-21 days before harvest. On average, it takes 1,400 L (370 gal) of water to produce 1 kg of rice in an irrigated production system. The main issue of concern faced by the farmers who cultivated under major irrigation schemes was scarcity of water. In 1968, FAO (UN) formulated a master plan to provide irrigation from the Mahaweli Ganga (Sri Lanka's largest river) to develop 360 000 hectares of new and existing agricultural land. Water is a scarce resource input in rice production, so it is very important that irrigation water is used wisely and efficiently. Due to its semi-aquatic ancestry, rice is extremely sensitive to water shortages. Rice is extremely sensitive to water shortage at the flowering stage. Drought at flowering results in yield loss. FAO (UN) has conducted rehabilitation and renovation of irrigation tanks in Sri Lanka for many years and has forged a strong partnership with the Department of Irrigation, Department of Agrarian Services Development and the farmer communities.

Labour availability for cultivation purposes was at a reasonable level according to the farmers. However, farmers stressed that labour availability in their respective regions are decreasing at an increasing rate since the younger generation is moving towards non-agricultural activities. This is an issue in all cultivation sectors in Sri Lanka. Harvesting is mainly done using mechanical methods. Combined harvester is the most popular machinery used by the farmers across Sri Lanka. Farmers need infrastructure facilities to dry paddy in order to add value to their harvest. For this purpose, standard concrete threshing floors are needed. Rice millers are the next important player in the rice value chain by adding value to the paddy. They add the most value to the rice value chain. The important utilities in a rice mill are water, air, steam, electricity and labour. In most of the large scale rice mills the process of paddy being converted to rice is fully automated. Electricity is the main energy source for these rice mills and is imported from the State Electricity Board grids. Electricity is used to run motors, pumps, blowers, conveyor and fans. Village collectors and local millers are the central actors who purchased paddy from the farmers. Other entities such as private companies are also engaged in the paddy purchasing.

Crop raiders

The world's growing population is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050, which poses a critical challenge to the conservation of global biodiversity while maintaining food security. A research conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture has revealed that wild animals destroyed 144,989 metric tons of 28 food crop varieties, including paddy in the first half of 2022. The main crop raiders are herds of hungry wild elephants. Many intensively farmed rice landscapes are located within biodiversity hotspots, posing a threat to wildlife conservation and subsequently threatening the maintenance of ecosystem balance. Today paddy farmers failed to see wildlife management as a cost to their production, the way they saw weeds and pests. Experts opine that enhanced-ecosystem services associated with farmland biodiversity may enable wildlife-friendly farming to be more sustainable compared with conventional agriculture. With a population expected to grow and leading to changing consumption patterns for food, water and energy, the sustainable management of the natural resources and fragile ecosystems of Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly challenging.

Rice Research and Development Institute

The Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI) was established in 1952 as the Central Rice Breeding Station under the Department of Agriculture with a mandate to develop high yielding rice varieties with multiple resistance to major biotic and abiotic stresses. The Central Rice Breeding Station was upgraded as the Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI) and entrusted with the multidisciplinary approach in all aspects of rice research and development with special emphasis on variety development, with the restructuring of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) in 1994. The main research and administration unit of RRDI is located at Batalagoda in Kurunegala district. The seven satellite stations of RRDI are Regional Rice Research and Development Centre (RRRDC) Bombuwela, Rice Research Stations (RRS) at Bentota, Ambalantota, Labuduwa, Sammanthurai, Paranthan and Murunkan.


Principal Agriculturist of the Rice Research Institute, Rohana Thilakasiri shared some insight on issues related to paddy cultivation. He explained “In the process of planting and growing paddy Sri Lankan farmers are used to three kinds of fertilizer. For the ongoing period the cost of the MOP fertilizer is high and many farmers can’t afford it. They have not purchased. This in turn will affect the paddy yield. There are other paddy related problems like nematodes, which hinder the growth of paddy. Farmers can overcome the nematode issue by turning the soil- using tractors. Another method is to use poultry based natural fertilizer as the uric acid controls the growth of the nematodes”. Plant-parasitic nematodes rank as one of the most important soil-borne pests of rice and may account for annual yield losses. Yellowing, stunting, and hook-like galls on the roots of rice plants are the characteristic symptoms caused by Meloidogyne graminicola. Severely infected plants flower and mature earlier than healthy plants. Distortion along the margins of the newly emerged leaves may also indicate infection.

Rohana Thilakasiri further added “There is another issue, which is Yellowing Disorder. I wish to emphasize this is not a disease. It’s a nutrition deficiency. We can notice the leaves turning yellow. We advise farmers not to panic. Don’t spray fungicides or pesticides. If detected within the period of three and half months (depending on eight paddy varieties) you can spray the MOP fertilizer. After passing four and half months you can try to control the spread by spraying for the next two months. Also last year the cold weather spell in December had affected and stunted the growth of the paddy plants.

They need sunlight to absorb the required nutrition and unfortunately we had to face this unexpected cold and windy phase. This has disturbed the nutrition intake and the yield will not be at its full potential. Our RRI field staffs are dedicatedly monitoring these present issues working with the farming communities”. Soil solarization is a nonchemical method for controlling soil-borne pests using high temperatures produced by capturing radiant energy from the sun.

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