A monumental project | Daily News

A monumental project

Sri Lanka is primarily an agricultural nation with a proud irrigation-based civilization. In fact, some of the reservoirs (tanks) built by ancient kings still work perfectly, leaving modern engineers astonished at the level of precision and engineering. When foreign and local engineers selected a site for one of the Mahaweli project dams after aerial surveys, satellite geosensing surveys, soil and water flow tests, they found the remnants of an ancient dam at the exactly the same location – which goes on to show the ingenuity and knowledge of our ancient engineers.

The Mahaweli project is the very embodiment of this proud heritage. It was originally planned as a 30-year venture, but the Government of President J.R. Jayewardene accelerated it, given the multitude of benefits to the country’s rice-growing hinterland. There were two objectives of the project – irrigation and power generation. Paddy being a crop which thrives in water, a good supply is needed to ensure a healthy harvest. As the population increased, the demand for power generation also went up. Most, if not all, of the country’s hydroelectricity supply comes from the Mahaweli project. The supply of drinking water was another component.

Given the scale and ambition of the Mahaweli project, it was simply not possible to complete all components of the project within the original seven-year time frame. Moragahakanda, the last in line, was put on the backburner for quite some time and the powers that be were not in a hurry to give the green light to the project. But when Maithripala Sirisena, who hails from the agricultural heartland of Polonnaruwa, was given the Mahaweli Ministry, he lost no time in going ahead with the project, despite the lukewarm attitude of his political superiors. His ascension to the Presidency in January 2015 helped clear all these hurdles and the project was expedited.

On Monday (July 23), the project will mark a major milestone when President Sirisena, in the presence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, inaugurates the process of filling water to the Kalu Ganga reservoir being built in parallel to the Moragahakanda reservoir under the Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga multi-purpose irrigation project. A canal will link the two reservoirs. The unveiling of the new granite Buddha Statue built opposite the Moragahakanda Reservoir and renaming the Moragahakanda Reservoir as the ‘Kulasinghe Reservoir’ after the legendary engineer Dr. A.N. S. Kulasinghe will also be carried out on this occasion. The entire nation must be grateful to the hundreds of people who sacrificed their ancestral lands and houses for the project to go ahead. The foreign donors who stepped into finance the project, including the Saudi Fund for Development, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and OPEC Fund for International Development also deserve our gratitude.

The Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga multi-purpose irrigation project being built at a cost of US$ 1.2 billion involves the construction of the Moragahakanda Dam and Reservoir, along with the separate Kalu Ganga Dam and Reservoir, for irrigation and power generation purposes. The construction of the Moragahakanda Reservoir was completed last year and it was opened on the 42nd anniversary of the commissioning of the first Mahaweli Project at Polgolla in the Central Province by the then PM, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

The Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga project will provide irrigation facilities to 81,422 hectares in the Dry Zone, potable and industrial water supply to Anuradhapura and Trincomalee towns and generate 25 MW of electricity by hydropower while opening up more than 5,000 hectares of new land for agriculture development in Northern, North Central, Eastern and North Western provinces. This happens to be the biggest of the Mahaweli projects. The additional flow of water would increase rice production in the region by 81 per cent or 109,000 tonnes, amounting to an estimated monetary benefit of Rs.267 million annually.

The entire Mahaweli project has rejuvenated the country’s agricultural regions, making them productive again. The long droughts will no longer pose a huge problem to the farmers from now on as water will be available year round. This will benefit not only paddy farmers but also cultivators of other crops. In the light of bumper paddy harvests recorded in recent years, the authorities must formulate proper storage and export strategies. Officials are forecasting 1.08 million tonnes of paddy to be produced in the ‘Yala’ minor cultivation season, up 18 per cent from last year’s output of 909,000 metric tonnes.

Sri Lanka has a limited market of just 21 million people and it is vital to find a way to dispose of any excess stocks in the event of a bumper harvest. It is important to grow a few rice varieties that can be marketed overseas, through the research expertise of the Rice Research Institute, with the assistance of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila. Incidentally, a delegation from the IRRI was in Colombo recently to discuss more research and cooperation efforts. Such collaborative efforts must be intensified with a view to offering better rice varieties for both local and export markets. Rice is a global crop and we must think globally to take rice cultivation forward. 


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