Agriculture In Sri Lanka, Major Crops, Soil Types

Introduction about Agriculture in Sri Lanka

Agriculture is the most important part of the Sri Lankan economy. Rice cultivation is the most important economic activity for the majority of the people living in rural areas and it is the main crop. In Sri Lanka, the primary form of the agriculture industry is rice production. In Sri Lanka, Tea is cultivated in the central highlands and is the main source of foreign exchange.

Agriculture is the main part of Sri Lanka’s economy and more than 70% of the population in rural areas depending on agriculture. Now, this sector contributes to about 18% of the GDP and 30% of the employment. In Sri Lanka, the agricultural productivity has remained stable, except for rice which has reached near self-sufficiency in recent years.

Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean originates between 79° 50′ and 82° longitude and 6° and 9° 50′ latitude. The total area of the island is approximately 6.5 million hectares and the population is 19 million. Then, the extent of irrigable land in Sri Lanka has been increased to 4,83,000 hectares including 80,000 hectares of well-drained upland under the Mahaweli river system and other irrigation schemes. It has become nearly self-sufficient in rice production. Now, Let’s get into the details of agriculture in Sri Lanka.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Agriculture In Sri Lanka, Major Crops, Soil Types, and Climate

Paddy Crop
Paddy Crop (Image credit: pixabay)

Agriculture sector

1. Food crops

  • Rice (40%)
  • Other crops (22%) Fruits, Vegetables, Field crops

2. Plantation crops (38%)

  • Tea, Rubber, Coconut, Sugarcane, Oil palm

3. Ornamental crops

4. Livestock

5. Fisheries

6. Forestry

Sri Lanka has a rich agricultural history. Some of the organic and sustainable agricultural practices of the near past and the ancient people of Sri Lanka exemplify the interconnectedness of nature and human life. Also, it demonstrates our ability to survive and thrive harmoniously alongside nature. The major reasons for an increase in production are the increases in the cultivation area and improved productivity due to the modernization of agriculture. Then, the rehabilitation of Sri Lanka’s extensive ancient irrigation network and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure led to a large increase in the area under rice farming.

Sri Lanka’s primary food crop is rice.  Rice is cultivated during two seasons. In the central highlands in Sri Lanka Tea is majorly cultivated and is the main source of foreign exchange. Fruit, vegetables, and oilseed crops are also majorly cultivated in Sri Lanka.  The main aim is to increase productivity in the agriculture sector and there has been low adoption of mechanization in farming. Then, to increase mechanization and grow higher-value cash crops like fruit, flowers, and other export-oriented crops. Though, the lack of private investment in agriculture due to uncertain policies limits the expansion of the sector. Sri Lanka imports a different variety of agricultural products and food products like wheat, lentils, sugar, fruit, milk, and milk products. 

Goals and Objectives of Agriculture in Sri Lanka

  • To increase domestic agricultural production to ensure the food security of the nation.
  • Enhance agricultural productivity and ensure sustainable growth.
  • Adoption of farming technologies that is environmentally friendly and harmless to health.
  • Promote agro-based industries and increase employment opportunities.
  • To enhance the income and the living standard of the farming community.

Climate Conditions in Sri Lanka Geography of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is found in the tropical belt of the world. Though, the central hills of the country divide Sri Lanka into 3 major climatic zones by acting as a barrier to the monsoon winds. Then, the three major climatic zones are wet, intermediate, and dry zones which receive an average annual rainfall of more than 5000-2500 mm, 2500-1750 mm, and 1750-900 mm, respectively. Also, three main regions in the island have been identified, based on elevation. Then, they are categorized as the low country (0 – 300 m), mid-country (300 – 900 m), and upcountry about more than 900 m.

Rain-fed wetland rice cultivation are mainly practiced in the wet zone. Its position between 5 and 10 north latitudes endows the country with year-round warm weather conditions, moderated by ocean winds and considerable moisture. The average temperature levels from a low of about 16°C in Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands where frost can occur for several days in the winter season to a high of about 32°C in Trincomalee on the northeast coast (where temperatures may reach 38°C). The average yearly temperature level for Sri Lanka as a whole ranges from 28 to 30°C. Day and night temperatures change by 4 to 7°C. January is the coolest month mainly in the highlands, where overnight temperatures may fall to 5°C.

Sri Lanka’s agriculture is mainly categorized by a non-plantation sector and a plantation sector. Of the country’s 2.3 million hectares of agricultural land, 80% is used for non-plantation food crops, comprising rice, maize, fruits, vegetables, and other crops. Agriculture has been an important driver of poverty reduction and also accounted for about one-third of the decline in poverty over the past decade.

Major Soil Types in Sri Lanka

Major Soil Types available in Sri Lanka are Reddish Brown Earth Soil, Non-calcic Brown Soil, Red-Yellow Podzolic Soil, Reddish Brown Lateritic Soil, Red-Yellow Latosols, Immature Brown Loamy Soil, Rendzina Soil, Grumosols Soil, Solodized Solonetz Soil, Low-Humic Glay Soil, Meadow Podzolic Soil, Alluvial Soil, and Regosols Vidarsha Prathibha.

Variations of soil within Sri Lanka reflect the effects of climate conditions, lithology, and terrain on the soil-forming processes. Soil types change depending on the location. The most abundant soil types in Sri Lanka are Reddish Brown Earths (RBE), Red Yellow Podzolic (RYP), and Low Humic Gley (LHG) soils.

Soil characteristics have a key impact on crop selection. The major soil types in the regions are described as follows;

Reddish Brown Earth Soils – These soils are reddish to reddish-brown and also found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscape in the dry zone. The normal depth is about 1.0 to 1.2 m. and the water holding capacity ranges from 100 to 140 mm/meter depth of soil. The steady infiltration rate ranges from about 1 to 5 cm/hr. The percolation rates of the wet puddled soils for the first time exceed about 100 mm/d and remains at a higher value of about 10-20 mm/d even after 6 years of continuous puddling. Then, these soils are reddish to reddish-brown and found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscape in the dry zone.

Non-Calcic Brown Soils – Non-Calcic Brown Soils are found in the upper and mid slopes of the landscape and also well to imperfectly drained areas. Percolation rate change varies from 1 to 20 mm/hr. Then, there is a high potential for crop diversification in these soils during the dry season. Though, coarse-textured members of this group are low in productivity. This soil can be found in the dry zone.

Old Alluvial Soils – These Old Alluvial soils occur in old river terraces and they are imperfectly to poorly drain with high infiltration rates of about 5-40 cm/hr. The water holding capacity is low as 40 to 80 mm for a meter depth of soil and these soils are low in productivity.

Alluvial Soils – Alluvial soils are reddish to brownish, moderately fine-textured, and imperfectly to poorly drained. The majority of these soils occur in flood plains and these soils are deep. These soils are more suitable for rice cultivation. Crops that can grow in Alluvial Soil are Paddy, Sugarcane, and corn, etc. They are deep and variable in drainage and texture. The structure is variable, ranging from well-developed to weak.

Red Yellow Podzolic Soils – Red Yellow Podzolic Soils are the most widely spread great soil groups found in the wet zone. Then, they occur in diverse landforms and are normally deep. Predominant textural classes of surface soils are sandy loam, sandy clay loam or loam and the structure is weak or moderate with a crumb or granular structure.

Reddish Brown Latosolic Soils – Most of these soils occur on terrains that have been incised by ecological erosion and these soils are relatively young. The texture is mostly sandy clay loam soil and the structure is strong crumb to granular under natural vegetation.

Immature Brown Loams – These are young soils occurring in close association with Reddish-brown latosolic soils. Soil texture is predominantly sandy loam or loam soil. The structure is often weak crumb or subangular blocky. Soil reaction is acidic in the wet zone.

What Is Traditional Agriculture in Sri Lanka

1. Rainfall and its variation in Sri Lanka is a tropical country, but the climate of the country shows variation across the Island due to differences in rainfall, elevation, and soil factors. Also, the central hill masses surrounding the Island influence the climate conditions of Sri Lanka.

2. The four precipitation rainfall seasons that are clear in Sri Lanka are southwest monsoon from mid-May to September call Yala season, northeast monsoon from December to February call Maha season, and two inter-monsoon periods, the first and second inter-monsoons last from March to mid-May, and from October to November months respectively. Cropping patterns, farming practices and genetic resource utilization are markedly different based on these rainfall distribution patterns along with the other factors.

3. Agro-ecological zones Agricultural land use and land management necessities at a given location mainly depend on the climatic conditions together with soil properties and conditions. The areas with similar climatic and soil conditions are identified as agro-ecological regions. Agroecological classification is useful it provides basic climatic and edaphic differences of the country for various agricultural productions and farming practices.

The agricultural landscape of the country consists cultivation of rice (7,80,000 ha), plantation crops like tea, rubber, coconut, sugarcane, spices (7,72,000 ha), vegetables (1,10,000 ha), other field crops (1,28,000 ha), and home gardens (98,000 ha). Also, many farmers have selected local landraces. The long history of cultivation, presence of cultural diversity present in the country has resulted in a wide variety of practices in Sri Lanka.

Major Crops Cultivated in Sri Lanka

The agriculture sector in Sri Lanka always acts as a main economic strength to the national economy. It involves crop cultivations such as Paddy, Tea, Rubber, Coconut, vegetables, fruits, export crops, and sugar while also livestock and fisheries sectors provide a substantial contribution simultaneously.

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Tea Garden
Tea Garden (pic credit: pixabay)

Oilseed crops in Sri Lanka

Oilseed crops cultivated in Sri Lanka are groundnut, sesame, sunflower, and mustard. Groundnut is grown mainly in Moneragala, Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Ratnapura and Puttalam districts in Sri Lanka. Some food crops cultivated in Sri Lanka include yams, pulses, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Sugar cane is cultivated in the dry zone.

Major spices found in Sri Lanka are Curry Leaves, Turmeric, Clove, Cinnamon, Pepper, Cardamom, Lemongrass and Citronella, Nutmeg and Mace, and Ginger.

The major plantation crops in Sri Lanka are tea, rubber, and coconuts cultivated in the economy of Sri Lanka.

Major Field Crops in Sri Lanka are Chilli, Big-onion, Red-onion, Potato, Maize, Finger millet, Sesame, Green gram, Black gram, Groundnut, Soybean, and Sweet potato.

Major Fruit Crops in Sri Lanka are Banana, Cashew, Lime, Mango, Orange, Papaya, Passion fruit, Pineapple, and Grapes.

Low country and dry or wet areas are suitable for exotic tropical fruits and vegetables such as Gherkins, Green Chilli, Red Onion, Pumpkin, Bitter-gourd, Melon, Papaya, Mango, and Lemon.

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Maize Crop
Maize Crop (pic source: pixabay)

Irrigation and Water Management in Sri Lanka

  • Encourage the use of efficient water management and moisture retention methods to achieve high productivity in agriculture.
  • It conserves the existing water resources for sustainable agricultural development.
  • To improve the efficiency of rain-fed agriculture through water harvesting, mulching, and some appropriate methods.
  • Promote participatory irrigation management in maintaining and improving irrigation systems.
  • It promotes the conservation of rainwater and groundwater.
  • It promotes modern and intensive irrigation technologies for water conservation.

Promoting Agricultural Practices in Sri Lanka

  • Implement a technically sound, economically viable, environmentally friendly, and socially acceptable program to promote sustainable agricultural development with effective and efficient utilization of resources.
  • Increase water productivity and land by enhancing crop production through sustainable cultivation practices.
  • Promote good agricultural practices like Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for sustainable agricultural development. Also, promoting income generation from integrated agriculture through livestock and aquaculture, etc.
  • Crops cultivation based on agro-climatic conditions and promoting agro-based industries.
  • Introduce improved and modern methods to the village whenever and wherever possible.

Plant Breeding Programs in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is well-distributed rainfall throughout the year. Many agriculturally important crops are grown in Sri Lanka but the main crops are Rice, Tea, Rubber, and Coconut. No university, private sector organization is involved in plant breeding. Then, this dispersal of mandates poses a serious challenge to the general coordination of research activities.

In Sri Lanka, genetic improvement has been the backbone of the increase in crop yields. Environmental breeding priorities are biotic and abiotic stresses. Though, the limited human resource capacity poses severe constraints in satisfying each organization’s mandates.

Livestock Production in Sri Lanka

Livestock species are domesticated animals like cattle, swine, sheep, goats, poultry, and horses being reared for food purposes.  Farm size, the productive capacity of the land, the technology used, a financial resource available, knowledge and experiences of the operator, labor availability, location of the farm with respect to the market, and the cost of inputs and its availability is the main determinant factors when choosing a livestock enterprise in general. Livestock mainly provides quality food and well-balanced nutrition directly to humans by converting the natural vegetation, crop residues, by-products from food manufacturing, and different organic wastes whereas it ensures indirectly food security by increasing crop harvest and stabilize the food supply by acting as a buffer during any fluctuation.

Although the demand for livestock products is stable in developed countries, the global livestock sector shows a dynamic nature hence there is a continuously increasing demand being performed by developing countries as a consequence of the population growth, income growth, and developments of animal health care facilities. Livestock production systems tend to increase their output efficiently in a sustainable manner with the aid of advanced technologies. Most of the people on the earth engage in livestock production even at a small scale as livestock integration is a source of income diversification while soil fertility improving for crop production and also providing draught power and transportation.

Government Policies and Strategies for Crop Diversification in Sri Lanka

Government policy was to reach self-sufficiency in most of the important food crops after independence. Therefore, the government set strategies to fulfil the above policy was;

  • To increase the extent under cultivation during the last 4 decades, the government planned and commissioned several irrigation schemes and increased the irrigable land extent to 483,000 hectares.
  • Seed and planting material production was handled by the government institutions and seed farms were operated to meet the national demand for seed and other planting materials. Importation of seed potato was handled by the government.
  • Subsidy schemes were formulated to encourage high input usage particularly fertilizer which was provided under the subsidy.
  • Crop insurance was introduced to minimize risks.
  • Guaranteed prices were set and marketing was sufficiently intervened to activate the pricing policy. Government institutions like the Paddy Marketing Board and the Marketing Department were established to purchase agricultural produce.

Fertilizer subsidy was reduced and the private sector was mainly responsible for marketing the agricultural produce. The government institutions for marketing were not functioning efficiently. Though there was a minimum price for most of the commodities, the government could not maintain it as the state institutions responsible for marketing were ineffective. The cost of crop production increased as the fertilizer subsidy and most of the direct and indirect subsidies were reduced. Though, these measures were not sufficient to avoid the decline in the local production of Chillies, Onion, Pulses, and Potato to a significant extent.

Currently, the government adopts the trade liberalization policy where GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and other regional trade agreements promote free trade. Then, this makes most of the crop production at the existing level of technology under the present wage rate comparatively disadvantageous. Therefore, the imported produce competes with the local commodities and deprives the local farmer of his self-employment. Though, the production area of condiments such as Pepper and Cinnamon has increased as Sri Lanka has a significant comparative advantage in condiment production.

Fruits and Vegetables Grown in Sri Lanka

The well-demarcated low country and dry wet areas are suitable for a different variety of tropical fruits and vegetables ranging from Green Chilli, Red Onion, Pumpkin, Bitter Gourd, Melon, Sour, and Sweet Banana Types, Queen Pineapple, Papaya, Mango, Lemon, and Gherkins. 90% of the fresh product is targeted to the Middle East and the Maldives and almost about 75% of the processed products go to the European market. Sri Lanka is looking to get arid-climate-resistant fruit species from Egypt to develop agriculture in the dry zones. Then, they collectively produce more than 9,00,000 metric tons of fruit and vegetable annually and export both fresh and processed varieties to many destinations in the world.

The cooler climes of the central hill regions are excellent for temperate crops like Carrot, Leek, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Salad Leaves, Beet, Bean, Bell Pepper, and Salad Cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables. Sri Lanka also produces tropical fruit such as Pineapple, Mangos, Avocado, Rambutan, Star Fruit, and Passion Fruit, etc. Also, they are known to contain plenty of nutrients and entail significant health benefits.

Sri Lanka also exports various endogenous yams, underwater stems, and fruit and pods of perennial crops such as Bread Fruit, Young Jackfruit, and Drumstick which are local and international favorites. The fruits and vegetables exports are a result of the efforts of semi-commercialized small farmers whose individual extent of land does not exceed a hectare.

Commercial Agri Loans for Professionals in Sri Lanka

The Essentials for Loans for Professionals in Sri Lanka;

  • Purchase agriculture estates for agriculture development
  • Loans with a lower interest rate
  • Flexible repayment programs to suit your capacity

Benefits of Commercial Agri Loans for professionals

  • Longer repayment period (Maxi. 7 years)
  • Minimum documents
  • Link Agriculture asperities with required advisory service
  • Obtain an Agriculture Loan for different purposes

Loan amount – The loan amount will be decided based on requirement and repayment capacity.

Eligibility – You can apply for a loan if you are aged between 23 to 55 years and a professional or employed as an executive officer who has served for a period not less than 3 years in a reputed private sector or a government institute.

Some qualified professionals over 55 years of age and have an assured monthly income can apply jointly with the spouse or immediate family member who should be below 55 years of age.

Obtain Special Project Loans in Sri Lanka

Krushi Navodaya Loan Scheme

Objective – To facilitate the small farmers to purchase agricultural equipment, services, and other inputs for enhancement of their income level while generating new employment opportunities in the agriculture sector and related fields. To open avenues for small farmers to move towards new technology, methods, and market opportunities.

New Comprehensive Rural Credit Scheme (NCRCS)

A special loan scheme introduced for small farmers to ensure a market with a better price for paddy cultivate and subsidiary food crops as approved by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and pre cultivation (production of seed and planting materials) and post cultivation activities (purchase and storage of paddy and other agricultural products.

Objective – The main objective is to ensure a market with a better price for small farmers.

Loan Scheme to SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises) in the Mahaweli Area

In Mahaweli areas, it is applicable for small and medium entrepreneurs under the Mahaweli Authority Act.

Objective – To facilitate the Mahaweli settlers to obtain modern technology and increase business and employment opportunities. To expand the potential for value addition of the agricultural products in the Mahaweli area.

Marketing of Agricultural Products in Sri Lanka

  • Minimize problems associated with the marketing of agricultural products through interventions by cooperatives and state institutions as and when necessary for price stabilization.
  • Support private sector investment to improve infrastructure facilities necessary for marketing agricultural products.
  • Explore and encourage foreign markets for crops with high export potential.
  • Encourage product branding, certification, and use of geographical indicators to enter competitive markets.
  • Appropriately align the agricultural sector based on the current multi and bilateral trade agreements.
  • It encourages farmers to produce high-quality primary products.
  • Recognize the opportunities for agro-enterprises that may cater to the needs of small farmers and promote public and private investments in such ventures.
  • Encourage the participation of producers in agricultural processing and marketing.
  • Also, strengthen the supply chain management to ensure an efficient agricultural marketing system.

Agriculture Problems in Sri Lanka

  • Food demand increase with population growth
  • Imports of local food
  • Some farmers face diseases due to excessive use of chemicals
  • Environmental degradation
  • Competition for land resource
  • Inadequate use of suitable technology

The country faces many challenges in the area of agriculture. Some of the issues and challenges identified include;

  • Due to the increase in population continuous rise in demand for food.
  • Farmers increasingly becoming economically weak.
  • Inadequate utilization of appropriate methods for crop production for local food production.
  • Younger generation moving away from agriculture.
  • Issues of food safety and food security.
  • Low-quality food products


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