Thursday, February 19, 2009

The looming crisis of the year, and none of you know what it is

Bamboo split in two is used to make a temporary water aqueduct

The world is fixated on the worldwide recession, and Sri Lanka is fixated on winning the war, but there is a more sinister problem in Sri Lanka that is hidden from the public.

I am at present at a unique organic estate in Kithulgala of about 90 acres in extent. I periodically come here at least once a month to review progress and advise on action to take. I have been completely taken aback this visit with the extent of damage that the current drought has done to this extensive multi crop property.

As night follows day, we should realize that a rainy year is followed by a dry year. A wet 2008 seems to have given rise to a very dry 2009. Usually this area has one of the highest rainfall figures in the nation. I have never known my previous visits to be without a rain shower at least once. With no rainfall for two months the place is bone dry and the farm is in a panic mode to try and save its trees and tea bushes from being destroyed.

They have stopped plucking tea this month, laid off half its staff, using the existing staff to water the whole estate. The young tender new tea plants are being watered to save them from dying. The 200+ well grown Rambuttan trees full of fruit are reduced to about 100 that still have some life though all the fruit are now diseased. The Mangostine, Durian, and other fruit trees are struggling to survive, and even the Gliricidia, which was used to make compost is affected.

They are currently using the two swimming pools at the top of the hill to store water and then water the tea and other crops below the pool level. The water that comes from the streams above is gradually slowing to a trickle and I have asked them to prepare for a emergency if rains fail to arrive in a month to partially arrest the decline. Illegal felling of trees in the neighborhood has also affected the water retention properties of the hills exacerbating the problem, and no attention has been drawn to this either.

It is ironic that I reported earlier that due to the drop in tea prices and the closure of factories, people did not cut their tea-leaf. Now there is a demand for tea, and prices have risen with no tea available to be cut, this change in events taking place in a space of two months. Such are the vagaries of agriculture, which further enhances my opinion that it is the most difficult field to be in with a greater level of knowledge than any other field.

Following on from this, the drought is nationwide with no rain in the forecast anywhere in the Island. It is surprising that newspapers have not mentioned this issue, and it seems to be generally not a hot topic, with Provincial Council elections being the latest. It goes to show that even journalists appear to be urban folk, well educated but with little knowledge of the hinterland and the needs of the agricultural sector. I am therefore convinced that my blog is the only medium where any current and important information regarding agriculture can be obtained from for anyone interested in this field in Sri Lanka or overseas. I would invite my readers to comment on the above, as it affects the country in many areas when this whole sector suffers, but due to the delayed nature of the information flow it is too late once the news comes through to do anything about it.


George said...


I own a 20-acre coconut plot in Chilaw and we have been watering it weekly over the past two months, pumping from a well and using a network of S-lon pipes. Of course, Chilaw is on the dry zone and the sandy soil dries up quickly. The cost of watering is an added burden because the wholesale price of coconuts has hit rock bottom.

Hong Kong, where I live, hasn't had rain in four or five months, and China is also facing a drought.


sbarrkum said...

The El-Nina conditions in the Pacific are in the process of changing to El-Nino.

El-Nina, increased rainfall for South west Monsoon.

El-Nina 2008

Summary of Research

Current state of Pacific

Anonymous said...

Very interesting simple lifestyle, for a man who had the luxury of a western life. I had the pleasure of reading your blog which was very interesting. May be I'll be able to meet you in person and learn about your work when I come to Sri lanka on a holiday. Pl's drop a line when you have time to