Subjects related to advanced agricultural technologies are proposed by the authorities to bridge the glaring lack of knowledge in technology use in agricultural activities and to promote its adoption, which will eventually result in precision in application of inputs, increase in agricultural output and quality of agri-products.
In a research and policy advocacy paper on ‘Adoption of Modern Technologies in Agriculture’, the Central Bank made this recommendation to the policymakers, aimed at achieving further progress towards technology-oriented agriculture, which directly aides in enhancing agricultural value chains, which is crucial in the country’s next level of development and tackling the challenges in the agricultural sector.
“In the medium to long run, introducing subjects related to advanced agriculture technologies to curricula of technical and tertiary education programmes is also essential to promote technology adoption in the agriculture sector,” said the authors to the paper.
The proposal could not have come at a more fitting time, as the national policy and state patronage have disproportionately skewed towards agriculture and farming, specially aimed at achieving the dual objectives of domestic food security and enhancing export-oriented value-added agricultural produce.
Given the limited resources available for agriculture and rising demand for agri-products, precision or smart agricultural techniques have emerged, suggesting the application of a precise amount of agricultural inputs based on the crop and field condition, determined using modern information and telecommunication technologies.
The authors of the paper do not however suggest for complete decoupling of Sri Lanka’s historical agricultural systems, which could be more eco-friendly and therefore says such could be integrated with the modern technology for better and sustained results.
“At the same time, it is appropriate to revisit Sri Lanka’s historical agriculture systems, in view of integrating the best practices of such systems with modern technology as far as possible, in order to enhance the resilience and eco-friendliness of the agriculture practices,” they added.
The proposal to incorporate subjects on advanced agricultural technologies in curricula will also indirectly provide redress to one of the biggest structural imbalances plaguing the economy, as a quarter of the country’s workforce being stuck in agriculture, which creates less than one-tenth of the economic output.
“As countries develop and when farmers shift to stable, high-paying jobs, equipment and technology has taken over the role of the farmers in the developed countries,” says Waruna Singappuli, an economic analyst in his book ‘A Simple Plan for Sri Lanka’.
“That is why the number of workers needed to produce the same harvest in a developed country would be far less compared to that of a developing country such as Sri Lanka. The fact that the USA employs less than 2 percent of employed population in the agricultural sector, despite being the global leader in producing wheat and corn, underlines this point.”
While Sri Lanka’s politicians over the years have manipulated the agricultural sector using subsidies and other concessions as baits as it consists of a significant voter base, Singappuli says while such support is required in the interim, they should at the same time create higher income employment opportunities for farmers in other sectors of the economy, while technology and equipment is introduced into the sector to drive its growth to fill the vacuum left by the manpower.
Therefore, policy reforms are also proposed to the effect of capital allocation for technology transformation, technical education and strengthening digital infrastructure aimed at addressing persistent structural obstacles, deterring technology adoption in the agricultural sector.
Further, public investments in fostering research and development on smart tech-based agricultural practices and creating a conducive environment for the private sector to invest in such activities, are also proposed as part of creating a well-functioning eco-system, surrounding the tech-based agricultural practices.
“In addition, increasing the awareness on the available services and enhancing access to concessional loans to support farmer level investments, are also critical to address the constraints for technological adoption at the grassroots level,” the authors of the paper noted.