By Indika Sakalasooriya
Strong evidence have surfaced that Sri Lanka's agriculture sector and economy is likely to go through a rather tumultuous period marred by food and water shortages following the recent freaky climatic developments both locally and internationally, according to researchers and experts in the country.
The torrential rains poured during almost all the seven days of the last week have reportedly destroyed nearly 40 percent of the rice output due in the 'Maha' season, apart from the significant loss of lives and properties, signaling a severe rice shortage in 2011.
I am of course quite concerned about the implications of the current wave of floods internationally on our trade balance and the costs of living. The situation with respect to the crop situation in the country makes it much worse" Nimal Sanderatne, one of the top agricultural economists in the country told DM Business.
He further opined that Sri Lanka will have to face a situation where import costs of food will rise when the food availability from domestic sources is declining.
"The two significant impacts of this would be a rise in the import bill on the one hand and a rise in the costs of living"
According to Dr. Herath Manthithilaka, attached to International Water Management Institute (IWMI), about 20 to 25% of paddy fields are still under water and the country will feel the impact on paddy towards the end of Maha season.
"Last season, we had a good harvest of paddy and according to the reports, we are now producing little more than what we need for our own consumption. But we should not forget that this surplus is certainly not enough to offset 20-25% loss of area" he said.
Sharing his views with the DM Businesss, well known economist and former Central Banker Dr. W.A Wijewardena said that what we are currently seeing is only some short term effects which will be overcome by allowing a higher volume of imports during the year.
"It will have definitely a negative impact on the country's food production, but can be managed without running into a perennial problem. The danger is not that. It is the long term climatic changes that have affected Sri Lanka" he noted. In a paper presented in 2009 at an international conference by two researchers at the IWMI located in Sri Lanka it showed that Sri Lanka's climate has already changed and the expected impacts on water resources and the agriculture sector may in turn trigger serious impacts on the country's food production, livelihood and the economy.
The research paper further explained that during the period 1961-1990 the country's mean air temperature has increased by 0.016 Celsius per year.
"However, many available projections indicate that climate change impacts can be large in the dry zone, especially in the Northeast and the East, where some of the agriculturally intensive areas are located and are already experiencing water stress" it noted.
Elaborating on the possible impact on two other major export crops of the country, the report points out that the tea cultivation at low and mid elevations appear to be more vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change than those at high elevations.
"Reduction of monthly rainfall by 100 mm could reduce productivity by 30-40 kilos of 'made' tea for hectare"
According to the same research paper, the future projections on coconut yield suggest that production after 2040 may not be sufficient to cater to local consumption and in excessive dry and cloudy spells in the wet season's coconut yields could reduce, so that annual losses can range between US $ 32 and 73 million.
"The preliminary agricultural vulnerability mapping suggests that typical farming areas such as Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Moneragala, Ratnapura and Anuradhapura (many of them in the dry zone) are more sensitive to CC than the rest of the country, due to their heavy reliance on primary agriculture" the paper noted.
A recent study by the ESCAP also showed that Sri Lanka is one of the hotspots of food insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region while another report suggested that the country agricultural output will go down between up to 15 percent by 2080.