Reaping a better harvest
The role of academic institutes towards agricultural
The results of scientific research need to reach the farming
community for which there has to be a close working environment between
the two. Agricultural development is of prime importance to attain
self-sufficiency in our food requirement, with lowering production cost
while noting that demands and aspirations, as well as social values and
farmers’ attitudes are changing, this golden opportunity should be
embraced by the staff and students of all the universities to mobilize
themselves to introduce scientific agriculture (especially to the areas
of the North and East), for which we will require the following.
* Enrichment of the soils of large areas of arable land in the North
and East that have been neglected and had deteriorated due to the
conflict and due to natural disasters such as tsunami.
* seed material adapted to various local environments, especially
those tolerant to drought and saline conditions.
* Biofertilizer and biopesticides to reduce the use of chemicals and
ensure safe food for people.
* Irrigation methods, water resource management, pure drinking water,
different sources of water for animals.
*New crop production units/methods, animal production programs
* Pest and disease control systems.
* Methods for quick consultations between the farming community and
Role of the academic community
Scientific research can increase the agricultural produce. File
The quality of a university depends on the contribution that
institute makes to the economic and cultural development of the country.
There are many examples all over the world of such institutes such as
the land-grant universities (also called land-grant colleges or land
grant institutions) in the USA, whose mission is to focus on teaching
agriculture, science and engineering as a response to the industrial
revolution and changing social class, rather than higher education’s
historic core of classical studies.
The Tamil Nadu University works closely with the farming community
making its extension system ‘Farmer-driven’, and ‘Market-led’ for
augmenting production, productivity and income of the farming community
of that region.
Our universities have many academic staff members who are well-known
scientists of international repute
* They are consultants, members of national and international
committees and national and international award winners.
* They are authors of excellent research work and have many
innovative ideas and suggestions.
* University students come from all regions of the country and are
well-versed with the local situations in their villages. They can
provide valuable information as to the requirements of their folk and
form strong interactions with the people of their villages and the
* University students will be excellent coordinators for work in the
The role of the PGIA
Hundreds of the best resource persons in the country carry out study
programs which also include research components. The academics of the
Agriculture Faculty of the Peradeniya University play a dominant role in
The PGIA has to play a significant role in developing the country in
this new era, especially in the Uthura Vasanthaya and Negenahira udanaya
programs. Here are suggestions.
The P5 Project - Petrol from Straw - a gift to our people.
This project initiated by the UICIC (University Industry Community
Interaction Cell) of the PGIA produced Butanol (equivalent to Petrol)
from paddy straw.
The pilot project established at the Agriculture Faculty produces
approximately one litre of Butanol from two kilo of straw at an
approximate price of Rs. 25 per litre.
Any petrol engine (vehicle or other) can be run on this product alone
or as a mixture with petrol without making any alteration to the engine.
We have already run a vehicle using this product alone. We require
only 25 percent of the straw produced in Sri Lanka to meet the total
petrol demand of our country.
This project was carried out solely by our scientists, using local
material. There is no pollution of any kind, no chemicals used and the
digested straw is an ideal animal feed or can be used as compost.
We are planning to set up commercial units in several parts of the
country including Polonnaruwa, Hambantota, Ampara and other rice
This will also provide employment to a large number of youth.
The PGIA has established a National Centre for Organic Agriculture (NCOA)
supported by the Agriculture Ministry. We propose to set up organic
farms in the war-damaged areas and other areas so that youth, especially
women, can be employed in a very profitable venture. Marketing aspects
of the products have been planned. Training of youth at appropriate
levels, will be provided by the PGIA.
Local seed material of crops suitable for the appropriate villages
are available both as recommended seed of the Agriculture Department and
seeds of superior varieties produced by research program of the PGIA. In
the North and East region, this will be carried out jointly with the
Eastern University, Jaffna University and South-Eastern University
together with scientists of the Agriculture Research Stations (of the
Agriculture Ministry) in these areas. Both hybrid as well as pure
varieties of crops are available for cultivation. Production of specific
new varieties such as those resistant to saline conditions will be
carried out in a collaborative program with all stakeholders.
The “biovillage” concept is the integration of recent advances in
biotechnologies with the best in traditional technologies found in the
villages to improve the livelihood of rural people. It is a joint
venture between the village community and the scientists, whereas much
of the resources come from the village itself. It is a holistic system
to use and manage resources and enable the village community to
translate their skills into production and income generating activities.
The fundamental features of this concept are:
* Scientists join with the people of the village to identify the
existing resources and production outputs in a village
* Use the resources of the village as much as possible
* Together with the village folk, plan out how and which
biotechnologies could be introduced to enhance production
* Introduce new products that can be produced in the village
* Provide employment, especially to the womenfolk and unemployed
youth of the village in a sustainable manner
Two examples, amongst many, as proposed by PGIA students are given
here to illustrate this concept. Each proposal was made after conducting
extensive consultations with the people of the respective villages. Some
are urban areas and cities. In all cases, suggestions were proposed
after carefully studying the infrastructure and other types of resources
available and deciding as to what types of new technology can be
introduced to these villages to improve the economic standing of the
village and its people. It is, therefore, a result of living with the
people, discussing and planning with them and building on what they
already know and have. It is a constructive ‘bottom to top’ approach as
shown by the following proposals given in a summarized form.
Example 1. Puttur (Jaffna)
In this village, there are about 45 farmer families making their
livelihood by using traditional methods of farming including livestock
keeping. This project proposes to establish a dairy-based biovillage
implemented in two phases.
Phase 1 - Livestock farm
Every household will be encouraged and support to begin a dairy
dominated, crop-integrated, small scale livestock farm including a
biogas unit, involving the provincial livestock officials, livestock
development instructors and gramasevakas of the village. Locally
available resources will be used by the community.
The cropping land will be developed into an organic crop farm
producing coconuts, vegetables and bananas, as well as glyricidia as
part of the feed for cattle.
Phase 2 Dairy biocentre
In the second phase, a farmer milk cooperative society will be formed
that will function as the biocentre. A small scale dairy factory will be
established to purchase surplus milk which will be converted to
Example 2 Galle
Galle has three very important income generating trades as it had
been a hub of the Sri Lankan economy for over centuries in the past.
These three are tourism, fishing and tea. In this project it is proposed
to introduce novel concepts using modern technology as follows.
(i) The e-Tea concept proposes an islandwide electronic network for
the tea industry covering all kinds of tea-based requirements such as
markets, soil and plant-based trouble shooting mechanisms, trend
analysis and distribution of good quality planting material. It will
also include a website which will be directly linked with the Central
Stock Exchange and the Colombo Tea Auctions.
(ii) The e-Fishing concept, as an information centre with a website
to cover the whole fishing industry, will provide all the necessary
information including fish markets, wholesale dealers and communication
facilities. Training will be provided to the women to make products such
as Maldive fish, jadi sauce and dried fish products.
(iii) The tourist industry will be modified with a central management
plan for the eco-tourism sites available such as Hiyare, Biodiversity
Village, Kottawa forest, Hiniduma conservation area, Rumassala,
Bonavista coral reef and Galle Fort. The central canal system will be
upgraded into a new transport facility.
The biovillage consists of the people of the village, the plants and
animals of the village. It is a people-oriented, pro-nature, pro-women
and pro-job-oriented bottom-to-top approach. This will be an ideal
starting point to initiate development in villages of the Eastern and
* Planning to meet hazards due to impending climate change such as
rise in the sea level (causes salinization), increase in land
temperatures (causes increase in water requirements, change in life
cycles of pests; effect on quality of product such as tea) and increase
in precipitation (resulting in floods, landslides etc.)
* Aquaculture (fresh water and marine)
* Milk and milk-based products
* Ornamental crop production; production of medicinal plants
* Business management
In all of the above, we will be using the “Biovillage” concept where
the people of the relevant village will be taking an active part right
from planning to the implementation and marketing stages.
The PGIA will identify training needs of the youth of the specific
areas and carry out training programs at different levels of
requirement. Special training program will be carried out for extension
workers of all regions.
The writer is Director, PGIA, University of Peradeniya.