An older man examining crops protected by a wire mesh.

Introducing Innovative Agricultural Methods in Sri Lanka .

New technologies and training are helping farmers in northern and eastern Sri Lanka apply innovative agricultural methods to increase their productivity and market competitiveness.

Agriculture is an important part of the Sri Lankan economy, engaging one-third of the working population. However, most farm households have limited knowledge of modern production methods and struggle to access commercial markets. These obstacles constrain their ability to compete in the market and increase their incomes. In response to these challenges, USAID and Chemonics are partnering on the Supporting Opportunities in Livelihoods Development (SOLID) project, which trains farm households in the northern and eastern regions of the country on improved agricultural practices and new technologies. The project focuses on providing training for value chains in the dairy and horticulture sectors.

Project interventions in the dairy sector have had a sustainable impact on the rural economy. In the 1970s, local milk production covered 80 percent of Sri Lanka’s consumption needs, but an open economic policy and growing demand resulted in a sharp increase in imports of dairy products, especially milk powder. Presently, domestic milk production covers only 20 percent of national consumption.

One constraint to production has been low-quality cattle feed, which led to low milk output and thus low income for small-scale dairy farmers in northern Sri Lanka. To increase local dairy farms’ milk production, SOLID introduced proper feeding methods and has helped full-time commercial dairy farmers establish strong milk collection networks. Project staff are now working with 460 dairy farmers in six districts to improve milk production and increase output.

Punnathurai Sivanesan, a dairy farmer in Northern Province, has reared cattle most of his life using traditional techniques he learned from his parents. As a result of SOLID’s extensive training, he learned how to produce highly nutritious silage — green fodder that is compacted and stored in airtight conditions to ferment and feed animals in the dry season — for his 35 cows. Mr. Sivanesan is the first farmer to produce and sell silage in this province.

“Before I started (using silage), I used to get a milk output of around 5 liters a day from two cows. Now I get around 25 liters a day from four cows,” he explained.


dairy and horticulture farmers have benefited from new farming methods and technology

Furthermore, Mr. Sivanesan can now sell the extra silage to bring in additional income, due to increased market access. “I realize now that I was not reaching my full potential. I can see that traditional methods alone won’t help me to become a commercial dairy farmer. I am ready and eager to grow.”

The project has also gone a long way in helping farmers incorporate new farming methods and technology in the horticulture sector. For example, chili production had hit an all-time low in the north-central Anuradhapura District — a traditional chili growing area — due to difficulties in marketing and cultivation. To combat some of the cultivation obstacles, SOLID project staff brought sprinkler systems to Anuradhapura and helped 62 chili farmers install and implement the new tools.

“We had a high cost of production and low yields because of pest attacks and it became difficult to make a profit from chili,” said Lasantha Wickramasinghe, a farmer from the district who comes from a long line of chili farmers. “Even so, people here have been farming for generations, so we were very skeptical about these new sprinkler systems.”

The sprinklers, which cover one-quarter acre of land, minimize the damage to plants during the watering process and reduce pest attacks by washing away insects. Like many farmers in the area, Mr. Wickramasinghe had never seen sprinklers, but noticed a change as soon as two months after installation. “The sprinklers have made a world of difference to us, and it has really reduced our cost of production,” he said.

“Before I started (using silage), I used to get a milk output of around 5 liters a day from two cows. Now I get around 25 liters a day from four cows.”

Punnathurai Sivanesan, a dairy farmer in Northern Province

Already, more than 2,100 dairy and horticulture farmers have benefited from this type of assistance, earning more income from their agricultural activities. These interventions have particularly benefitted young farmers, who have been a vulnerable population in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

“Many young people were moving away from farming, but now they believe they can actually make a profit from it,” said Mr. Wickramasinghe. “Initiatives like this will help the young move back to the farm.”