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International development

Opportunities with traditional rice production in Sri Lanka

April 22, 2020

With the shift in consumer habits towards natural and traditional agricultural products around the world, traditional rice production (paddy farming) is one of Sri Lanka’s fastestgrowing sectors. Many farmers are taking the plunge, with the help of the SANASA Entrepreneur Financial Expertise Center (SEFEC) set up by DID and Sri Lanka’s SANASA cooperative network.

One of the main issues for farmers wishing to take part in traditional paddy production is the lack of reliable information about this type of farming and about the best production practices. To address this issue, the SEFEC team delivered training to agricultural leaders in the northern part of the country. Thus far 80 farmers have taken part in these sessions, and over 70 traditional paddy varieties have been introduced to participants. The farmers then had the opportunity to have their farmland certified under the organic certification system and thus market their crop to local and international markets.

The project also promotes a beneficial production method, parachute planting, whereby seeds are developed in plastic trays and then thrown into the paddy fields. The participating farmers using this method had better yields than in previous seasons.

With the support given to farmers, "we are able to introduce innovative tools to minimize labour demands and preserve traditional rice varieties for the next generation," said Ruchira Gunathilaka, SEFEC’s Value Chain Officer for the Cereal (Rice) sector.

Sri Lanka: A breadbasket for thousands of years

Rice has been grown in Sri Lanka for over 2,500 years. The country has reportedly offered over 2,000 native varieties of rice to the rest of the world. Some varieties have been passed on from generation to generation and are referred to as traditional, native or heirloom.

Since the 1980s, 90% of Sri Lanka’s agricultural land has been used to grow semi-dwarf rice, one of the most popular varieties in the world, leaving little room for local crops and reducing the genetic diversity once present in these rice fields. Nowadays, 95% of the rice produced in Sri Lanka comes from hybrid varieties such as the semi-dwarf variety. They are produced using the non-organic pesticides and fertilizers needed to ensure larger yields at lower cost.

SEFEC’s support for the value chain for traditional rice therefore represents a concrete step towards protecting the environment and contributing to food security in Sri Lanka.