From reductionist agriculture to holistic Road-mapping Sri Lanka’s agrarian

From reductionist agriculture to holistic Road-mapping Sri Lanka’s agrarian revolution Our kings knew that our society lived because of our

Land should be used solely for the benefit of the people in Sri Lanka. In order to do that it is important to re-activate the National Physical Plan. It is important to introduce scientific methods to improve sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry and plantation agriculture to achieve maximum financial gains while reducing the impact on the environment” (pp 62).

“Our agricultural policy would be to promote an agricultural sector in which small producers using small extents of land producing high quality outputs using modern technological methods.” (pp 34).

His Excellency Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – Vistas of Prosperity


Grow more biomass with less nutrition

Import everything

Maximize food miles

Maximize production costs


Pay more for less

Eat more or die

Waste driven consumption

A malnourished, sickened, careless nation feeding corporate interests not citizen interests


Grow less biomass with

more nutrition

Home grow everything

Minimize food miles

Minimize production costs


Pay less for more

Eat well or die

Conservation driven


A well-nourished, healthy, careful nation feeding  citizen interests not corporate interests 

The ecological costs and natural resource conflicts associated with Green Revolution were rooted in the replacement of cropping systems based on diversity and internal inputs with systems based on uniformity and external inputs. …. It also changed the structure of social and political relationships, from those based on mutual obligation within village to relations of each cultivator directly with banks, seeds and fertilizer agencies, food procurement agencies, electricity and irrigation organizations. Further since all externally supplied inputs were scarce; it set up conflicts and competition over scarce resources, between classes, and between regions. Atomized and fragmented cultivators related directly to the state and market. This generated on the one hand, an erosion of cultural norms and practices and on the other hand, it sowed seeds of violence and”.Dr. Vandana Shiva – Violence of the Green Revolution

Past mistakes that cannot be repeated

  • Input replacement while persisting with a linear economy
  • Not recognizing the addiction of most farmers to agrochemicals and the level of their reluctance to change
  • Not acknowledging, recognizing and utilizing the knowledge and massive body of work done by organic practitioners in individual enclaves
  • Not understanding that despite Sri Lanka’s soil and water being severely polluted after six decades of agro-toxins the whole of the nation can detox in just three years
  • Persisting with the present value chains and supply chains which disenfranchise the 2.4 million smallholder farmers and keep them in poverty
  • Persisting with the systems tailored for yield density when sustainable farming is tailored for nutrition density
  • Attempting nation wide change without sufficient knowledge of organic resources, input production capabilities and how to address gaps in volumes and quality
  • Inability to recognize that organic inputs are largely optimized to micro-geographies and cannot always be mass circulated
  • Non-recognition of the fact that there is no proper certification mechanism in Sri Lanka to attest to the quality of organic inputs resulting in the market being saturated with either substandard products or products that do not work for specific geographies
  • Not providing a sufficient transition window for the shift from one system to another
  • Insufficient acknowledgement of the fact that the general public has been trained to choose convenience over quality

Critical focal areas

Environmental balance:

  • Sustainable natural farming requires the entire ecosystem to be balanced and the human-environment interface to be harmonized and therefore, focusing all attention on input replacement from chemicals to organics will lead to disaster

Heirloom varieties:

  • Heirloom varieties that were evolved through the use of organic inputs are those that respond optimally to them while hybrids will fare comparatively poorly and GMOs bred specifically for chemicals will fail completely so attention on repopulating the heirloom gene pool and testing organics on hybrids must compare to the attention being paid to create and maintain organic input volumes and quality

Bioactive animal raw materials:

  • Organic inputs rely heavily on animal waste to provide the required microbial density to trigger natural processes that release soil nutrients. The most common source of it is chicken dung but once again, due to the massive dozes of antibiotics that are injected into these animals their dung is sterile so significant attention must be placed in developing organic livestock with special attention to rapidly increasing our bovine, goat and farmyard chicken stocks

Ecosystem services:

  • Holistic farming requires strong, constant, reliable ecosystem services to be obtained to optimize the food production of human beings and must form a substantial part of the total natural inputs so focus must be placed in optimizing area specific green cover with a clear recognition that any inputs from a farmer must be “friendly” to that specific ecology and would work best if those inputs whether they are fertilizers or pest repellents are at least manufactured nationally if they cannot be made at the level of each district, micro-geography or locale

Mandatory foundation principles for success

UNITE – 40+ state agencies and even more private and civil organizations have stakes and claims to these moves. At least at the state level, the unification of the work of these agencies under the president is mandatory

EVIDENCE – Lack of evidence across the sector results in policymakers forced to make ad-hoc and mostly disastrous decisions. A unified data and information upstreaming and dissemination machine is mandatory

TRANSIT – Shift to organics cannot be done overnight since the requirement is for a systemic change. Therefore, a transition period of at least 6 planting season (about 3 years) to convert the nation to holistic farming is mandatory

TEST AND PROVE – The agro-eco complexity of Sri Lanka makes system change complex. Therefore, system level testing within micro-ecosystems or geographies and proving effectiveness before nationwide replication is mandatory

CERTIFY – Whatever production mechanism is utilized at the local levels, for produce and value-added products to be recognized and accepted by the general public, a strong quality certification mechanism is mandatory

VALIDATE – The proof of success of the process will be when there is mass espousal of natural foods, a rejection of toxic fresh produce and processed foods and for that, a strong citizen awareness marketing campaign is mandatory

Setting up must be slow and careful; replication must be nationwide and quick


Create strategy, Implement pilot, acquire deep data, fine-tune final response


Nationwide replication of pilot-proven methods across river basins


River basin based pilot across 22 agro-climatic zones:

As part of the preparatory plan to create the enabling environment for optimal success, it is recommended strongly that a pilot be conducted across the 22 main agro-climatic zones of the country. Given the fact that Sri Lanka achieved food sovereignty and optimal social wellbeing for its citizens by development food production along river basins bolstered by either natural or manmade still water bodies (tanks) a similar approach is recommended. Here, it is observed that the regions containing the main agro-climatic zones are selected in order to cover the terrains of at least 10 selected rivers radiating across the country and that the pilot is conducted over a period of 18 months (3 planting seasons) and utilize the time to fine-tine the process and implement adjustments and any checks and balances required.

Whole-of-nation approach to food production:

It is also recommended that the program ultimately ensure that both rural and urban farming mindsets are established among citizens so that every consumer becomes also a producer and helps the nation reduce production and consumption costs through the zero distance argument.

Paradigm shifting in sustainable food patterns:

In addition to the above keys, it is also recommended that a strong campaign is created through which to position waste-free, guilt-free, toxin-free, nutrition rich foods within the primary aspiration cloud of needs of all citizens leveraging emerging sustainable marketing campaigns across all social stratums.


  1. Provides crucial field data on effectiveness of such processes and proof that fears of a “drop in productivity”, “increase in cost of inputs” etc. are misguided and unfounded
  • Gives time to implement deterrents to the use of agrochemicals (bans, need asphyxiation, enforcement of controls etc.) in a gradual, less alarming way to increasing buy-in
  • Gives time to acquire crucial agrarian and farming data and information
  • Gives time to ensure interagency cooperation
  • Gives time to optimize ecological sustainability, green cover, agroforestry, dark forest cover
  • Gives time to create strong strategies for
    • Improving knowledge of heirloom crops
    • Improving capabilities to produce inputs
    • Establish whole-of-nation approach to food production
    • Develop livestock and bioactive raw materials
    • Establish a strong M&E system
  • Gives time to run a strong, nationwide public awareness marketing campaign

To plan for a year grow grains,

To plan for a year, grow trees,

To plan for a century, educate people.

The strategic roadmap for converting Sri Lanka to organic farming must accomplish all of the above non-negotiables

Activities (Policy side)

  • With HE the President driving it, create a mechanism for interagency cooperation
  • Create stakeholder network of agencies tasked with data gathering  (HARTI APEX)
  • Establish multi-stakeholder agrarian data and information clearinghouse
  •  Establish M&E mechanism leveraging interagency cooperation (HARTI APEX)
  • Improve national nutrition policy to encourage nutrition through natural foods
  • Create a strategy to improve knowledge of heirloom crops optimized for organics
  • Strategy to improve nation capabilities to produce organic inputs
  • Strategy to have a whole-of-nation approach to food production
  • Strategy to optimize ecological sustainability, green cover, agroforestry
  • Strategy to develop agrarian livestock and ensure bioactive manure
  • Strategy for create organic input standards, output certification, pricing formulae

Activities (Supply side)PILOT PHASE

  • water toxicity
  • Plan and prepare the strategy for each of the target colonies
  • Educate farmers on their heritage farming methods and encourage a return to these with guarantees of fair trade for their efforts with certified products
  • Build sufficient stocks of mandatory inputs for maximizing outputs of organic processes and subsidize nutrition over yield
    • Seed stocks
    • Livestock (bovines, goats, free-range chicken)
    • Organic fertilizer and pest repellants
  • Reduce the effects of human-wildlife conflicts on both sides of the divide

Activities (Demand side)

  • Design and implement a consumer education and awareness program
  • Reduce cost of organic foods and increase purchase touch points


Policy side

  1. Obtain interagency cooperation
  2. Improve existing networks between data agencies
  3. Establish data and information clearinghouse
  4. Establish an M&E mechanism
  5. Improve the national nutrition policy
  6. Strategy to improve knowledge of heirloom crops
  7. Strategy to improve capabilities to produce organic inputs
  8. Strategy to have a whole-of-nation approach to production
  9. Strategy to optimize ecological sustainability
  10. Strategy to develop agrarian livestock

Supply side (Pilot Phase)

  1. Map and audit community resources
  2. Plan and prepare strategy for each of the target colonies
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