Sorghum thrives in dry zone | Daily News

Sorghum thrives in dry zone

The National Food Production Programme (NFPP) launched by President Maithripala Sirisena has been a method to seek solutions to the grave economic issues faced by the farming community in Sri Lanka.

Its aim was to increase agricultural production in the midst of low farmer incomes. In the last few years, drought, floods and other natural disasters have ravaged farmlands in the country. Last year, floods had a drastic impact on paddy cultivation and thus the NFPP recommended that sorghum be planted instead. Today the sorghum cultivation is thriving.

Sorghum farming

The national programme conducted under the Presidential Secretariat’s ‘Thirasara Samwardanaya’ (Sustainable Development) unit focuses on reaching agricultural self-sufficiency in potatoes, big onions, chillies, sorghum and soya bean.

The Nawagaththegama Divisional Secretariat and Anamaduwa Divisional Secretariat in the Puttalam District, Agriculture Department, Agrarian Services Development Department and Ceylon Agro Industries (CAI) (Prima company) have come together to conduct a programme to increase sorghum production.

H.M. Gunawardana, a farmer in Maha Ussawa, said he planted groundnut and sorghum on 1.5 acres of land.

“Sorghum can be cultivated on the uplands during the Maha season, both in the dry and arid zones as well as in the intermediate zones of the country. In the Yala season, supplementary irrigation may be needed, depending on the rainfall received. The Inginimitiya Reservoir supplies water for production and there is also the potential to fit in sorghum soon after the Maha crop is harvested, on the upland chena lands as an ‘intermediary’ crop, to catch the inter-monsoonal rains. After reaping the harvest, the Prima company purchases our harvest for Rs. 7.50 per kilogramme of sorghum. The government gives us Rs. 10,000 for fertilizer. The dried sorghum seeds in the meantime can be sold for Rs. 45 per kilogramme. We receive many benefits from the sorghum cultivation,” said Gunawardana.

R.M. Keerthirathne who farmed on three acres of land said some of his lands were cultivated as divisional systems (bethmakramaya).

‘We received Rs. 15,000 in subsidies for fertilizer. It was deposited in my bank account,” he said.

“A lot of effort was put in to prepare the ground and we paid Rs. 7,000 for the tractors to loosen the soil. The Irrigation Department officers, Prima company officers and Agriculture Department officers instructed us on the best methods to cultivate sorghum. We harvested the crop 70 days later,” he explained.

Crop insurance support

Given the series of natural disasters faced by farmers over the last few years, the government in 2016 introduced a crop insurance scheme for paddy. In 2017, this was further expanded to cover five other crops.

Agriculture research officer R.M.P. Ranatunga said most agricultural lands by now have come under the insurance scheme. “We pay compensation up to Rs. 10,000 per acre. So in total, an insurance of Rs. 40,000 would be given to each farmer. In the event of a natural disaster, an additional Rs. 500 will be given, he said.

Water issues

The Chairman of the Farmers Association in the area, K.A.B. Abeykeerthi said that earlier some private companies introduced different plants which had resulted in many farmers suffering losses.

“At first we were reluctant, but then with time we were able to grow sorghum. I request the authorities to inquire into the Deduru Oya irrigation project. We don’t have drinking water. We purchase bottled water for drinking and I request you to provide one water tank for each village. In addition, we would also appreciate if duty on imported machinery was reduced.”

He also brought up the issue of a lack of local seeds for farming.

Divisional Irrigation Engineer Pushpakumara, in the meantime, explained that the water capacity of the Inginimitiya reservoir was about 10,700 acre feet and that they last released water from the reservoir in May 2016.

At present, however, the water capacity of the reservoir stood at 8,000 acre feet. The water supply for the reservoir comes from Deduru Oya and at the start of the sorghum cultivation project, the water was at 11,700 acre feet and over the cultivation period, 5,000 acre feet water had been released for cultivation.

Resident project manager Jayantha Kumara said the Inginimitiya reservoir project was the largest project in Puttalam. Its water capacity was about 58,000 acre feet and this was supplied to the Anamaduwa, Karuwalagaswewa, Nawagaththegama and Kotavihara divisions.

“There are 8,000 acres of crop lands and we faced many issues over the last three seasons due to the change in weather. The Presidential Secretariat introduced sorghum seeds to farmers and the farmers have cultivated 900 acres of land. This includes vegetables and groundnut,” explained Kumara.

He further explained that sorghum was a sun-loving plant and many farmers preferred to grow it since it was a hardy crop, able to thrive under diverse climatic and soil conditions.

More importantly, it was most suited to the hot, dry and arid districts of the country and required less water than even maize.

It is better able to survive drought conditions where it remains dormant for some time and grows when moisture is available. Due to the vigorous and deep root system it develops, it is able to extract water from deep soils. With good management, most varieties can be harvested in as little as 70 days.

Private sector involvement

The CAI has supported chena farmers with a package including high-quality seeds, fertilizer, farming advice and, most importantly, a buy back guarantee for the crop. The company has also provided assistance through facilitating credit to farmers at low interest through banks and a crop insurance scheme.

The sorghum farmers who took advantage of the CAI farmer programmes over the years are now enjoying a better standard of living while simultaneously contributing to the increased sorghum production in the country.

With these facilities and other support, including improved technology provided by company field extension staff, farmers have been able to double their yields of sorghum. Average yields have been reported to have reached over 5 metric tonnes per hectare. Over the following years, the technology introduced by the CAI was adopted by farmers in all the dry zone districts of Sri Lanka. Last year, more than 50,000 hectares of sorghum were grown by over 60,000 farmer families with seeds supplied by the company during the last Maha season alone, constituting 80 percent of the entire crop grown in the country.

Recently the NFPP organised an exhibition on agricultural machinery at the Puttalam Maha Ussawa with machinery and implements also distributed to farmers at the event.

Additional Secretary at the Presidential Secretariat, Jayanatha Wijerathne, former provincial council member Ananda Sarath Kumara, district secretaries, Irrigation Department officers, Agriculture Department officers, Agrarian Services Development Department officers, members of the Prima Company and farmers participated in the event. 


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