Farmers in Sri Lanka are moving out of their occupation. Todays youth are not interested in farming as a career for multiple reasons. Employment in the Agriculture sector has declined from 33.1% in 2011 to 27.1% in 2016 (Economic Statistics of Sri Lanka, 2017). It is interesting that this happens in a traditional economy where in the past agriculture accounted for more than 50% of the total GDP. The percentage contribution of Agriculture sector (cumulative of agriculture, livestock and fisheries) to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has gradually declined in the recent past (Central Bank Annual Report, 2017). Industrial and service sector growth are higher when compared with the agriculture sector.
LIRNEasia is conducting a research program to promote participatory knowledge-sharing processes and social integration among fruit and vegetable farmers who are willing to connect to export value chains in the North and South. This work is conducted with financial support Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT).
The objective of this research is to uplift the livelihood of farmers by linking them with the export value chain. We also hope that it may rebuild the pre-conflict link between North and South of the island.
As a part of the research program, a baseline survey was conducted during July-September 2018. We aimed to understand the barriers faced by Sri Lankan farmers in joining the fruit and vegetable export value chain. This survey is important as literature on export agriculture (particularly fruits and vegetables) is limited.
On the 1st of November, the LIRNEasia team travelled to Jaffna with some southern farmers (who already sell their products to the export market), exporters and experts in agriculture. For some of them, this was their first visit to Jaffna. It was interesting to see how the two teams interacted and exchanged ideas. The event, held at Tilko City Hotel, attracted more than 30 farmers from Jaffna, who have the potential to join the export value chain.
Prof. S. J. Yogarajah, University of Kelaniya, addressed the gathering about current lifestyle and the self-satisfaction of farmers. He also spoke about becoming a successful export-oriented farmer. Mr Kulendran Sivaram, Ministry of Agriculture, explained the issues of agriculture at large. He highlighted the opportunities and the key challenges for the North and East. Dr Uthayashanker Thayasivum, University of Moratuwa, moderated the event.
Mr Naguleshwaran from Nutri Food Packers discussed the “Transformation of Agricultural Produce into Diversified Value-Added Products”. Mr Somakanthan, Post-harvest Agriculture Institute, delivered a momentous speech for farmers on post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables and opportunities in the export market. A leading Sri Lankan exporter in Ghana, Mr G. Satheesan, too addressed the gathering. He shared his extensive knowledge on farming with new technologies.
A documentary video on the bond between Sinhala traders and Tamil farmers, before the ethnic conflict, was shown to inspire trust between participants from the North and the South.
The Southern farmers also encouraged Jaffna farmers by sharing their knowledge on export-oriented farming and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
Our next step will be to take farmers of North to South to see export-oriented farming and strengthen the bond between North and South.