Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lets talk about the weather again

I referred many times in 2008 to the fact that the heavy rainfall of that year affected my business in most areas from production to sales. I am afraid the wise old farmers warned me that, a year of heavy rainfall is followed by one with much less rain, bordering on drought conditions. We have barely entered the first month in the year and this saying is proving to be correct, with all forecasts of a severe drought this year looking correct.

In my farm in Godagama I did not require any watering in 2008, that is not one day of water, while this year I have had to water the vegetable beds everyday. That is how the weather pattern has changed from one extreme to the other. It is farmers who notice this immediately. Urban dwellers only realize it when some form of water rationing is imposed.

Other affects of drought conditions mean that there is less grass for the cows, directly affecting milk production. A more costly exercise in cutting grass from any place one can find is the rule. There is lower yield from coconut and king coconut trees, which are large users of water.

I have taken advantage of the drought to clear some land from weeds and brush that grow quickly with rain, I have also had a better attendance from the workforce, as there is less work around. However as I am suffering a lower yield meeting payroll then becomes a squeeze. I can only imagine how the larger plantations must be affected, as I am reliably informed that tea production in some of the low country districts has suffered, and this is a double whammy as they have also been affected by the economic downturn that has resulted in lower prices as well.

The only option I have is to increase my irrigation expenditure to cope with this drought and improve my yield. A farmer has to face all circumstances and make the best of any situation. In that respect I always have and always will maintain that this is a vocation, with the most amount of risk, and the lowest overall reward of any form of business. It is only once the risk assessment is made that one can understand why rural agrarian populations all over the world are the most disadvantaged. Their lower level of education does not allow them to measure risk and insure against it, when underwriters are reluctant to cover weather risk as it relates to farm output and income. Farming in Sri Lanka should therefore not depend on the smallholder who remains in subsistence. He is least able to survive a flood or drought.

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