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Changing trends

Encroacher-chena farmers in the Walawe Ganga Left Bank are expected to enhance their income by adopting a strategic formula of using 60% of the land to grow crops like cauliflower, red union and capsicum and 40% for paddy cultivation

Story and pictures by Ravi Ladduwahetty in
Embilipitiya and Sooriyawewa

Fifty- year old Wijesena Hettiarachchi wiped the perspiration off his brow. He greeted us at the gate of his cadjan house at Mahawelikada-ara Grama Sevaka Division at the Naababadagaswewa Unit at Sooriyawewa.
His wife Sriyani was busy attending to the weeds among the chilli plants. His home garden was a very verdant and productive outfit. A rope network buttresses the vines of ripe passion fruit and cushions the scorching March sunrays.

The rear of the house thrives with green chilli plants flanked by banana trees. In addition, he has two sons who have two and a half acres of paddy. He has to eke out an existence from here as his family inheritance at Walasmulla is insufficient to keep the home fires burning.
Shantha Manamperi also adopts a similar lifestyle. His home garden was full of bitter gourd (karawila) vines. There is banana and papaw in his two and a half acres as he believes that fruits are more economical than paddy. He is a native of Matara.

Sixty four year-old Hettiarachchige Saradiyas, a father of four and grandfather of two believes that cultivating fruits is much more lucrative than paddy cultivation. Afterall, he is growing bananas intercropped with pineapple based on the ridge and furrow system and through drip irrigation. This disproves the age-old theory that pineapples could be grown only in the Coconut Triangle. He said that albeit the availability of water, the closure of it by officials due to the paddy harvest has impacted his banana and pineapples. During his chena days, he grew green gram and cowpea.

There is also the success story of a tomato farmer who netted in Rs. 427,000 from three fourths of an acre in one season. However, he has been was shunning the media for the last three months due to abject fears of ‘evil eye’ and ‘evil mouth’ which in typical pithy village mythology is eswaha and katawaha.
Breaking even
The bottom line is that most of these farmers, who harvest three crops, will be gradually breaking even from the loan funding and they will be economically thriving with the passage of time, Piyatilleke told The Nation.
The burning sun had not yet reached its highest point when The Nation accompanied by Senior Assistant Secretary, Mahaweli Ministry, Ananda Dharmapriya and Agriculture Specialist, Walawe Left Bank Project, Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, M.D. Piyatilleke were motoring down the newly laid out carpeted highway from Embilipitiya to Sooriyawewa.

The road was similar from Ratnapura almost up to Hambantota; broad, carpeted and sparingly used. Luscious paddy fields, palm fringed banks in the backdrop of a plethora of banana trees were panorama which caught our eyes. A dramatic transformation from dense wild elephant infested jungle until recent years.
Harvesting
The temperature at 35 degrees celsius was burning though not irritatingly humid as in Colombo. A hive of activity pervaded that part of the south where farmers were harvesting their crops, be it paddy, vegetables or fruits.
This is a diametric shift from paddy cultivation to a group designated as Other Field Crops (OFC) ranging from banana, papaw, oranges and others, which to the surprise of many, also includes pineapple!
This is through a system of drip irrigation. After all, they are found to be economically lucrative. The south east of Sri Lanka is now seeing an economic and social rejuvenation.

This is all about farmers who engage in chena cultivation in encroached lands under rain fed irrigation. Now the cause is legitimised with the provision of land and water. Each one of these families has been given two acres for paddy cultivation and another three fourths of an acre to build their houses on where they are engaged in vegetable cultivation to meet economic demands.
The Walawe Left Bank Project has also a pioneering irrigation system which is the role model for the rest of the country. This has been introduced to suit the soil types. There is a unique water management devise comprising night storage tanks which provide water through specifically designed canals one for paddy and the other for other field crops, which uses water more effectively.
No waterways

However, the waterways are closed due to the paddy harvest much to the consternation of some papaw farmers, who have ripening fruits but the trees, have wilted due to no water. “We have spent Rs. 14,000 on the seed material alone and may heaven help us,” an indignant Dharmadasa Gunaratne said.
In sharp contrast to the existing system where paddy is sowed in rows in the paddy field, there is a unique system known as parachute farming. This is where paddy is planted in a nursery which is a plastic cover known as parachute trays in holes and where the young plants are strewn into the paddy field.
It has been revealed that this system has enabled paddy production to be doubled in these areas from 100 bushels per acre to 200. Measures are afoot where the system will be popularised in other parts of Sri Lanka as well.
At the entrance to Sooriyawewa is a paddy farmer’s plot which houses a unique paddy storage outfit which has been made out of ferro-cement. This was developed by the National Engineering Research and Development (NERD) Centre and installed on June 14, 2004.

The advantage is that it is air resistant and protects the paddy from fungi and pests. Protection from post harvest losses is also assured. Storage costs are minimal enabling farmers to sell their harvests when prices stabilise. “This is indeed a very effective mechanism unlike before where 50% of the harvest was eaten by rats,” said Ibrahim Kodituwakku who has arrived at the venue from Beliatte with six brothers. He is also appreciative that there is bathing water as well now under this irrigation system.

Development
Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka’s Project Director, Walawe Left Bank Phase 2, N.C.M. Navaratne told The Nation that the gross project area was 12,000 hectares where 5,100 acres have been brought under cultivation where there will also be the development of 12 villages. There were also 3,000 other families who were to provide ancillary services such as trading and other support services.
“The new villages will include Andarawewa, Vediwewa, Andiyangamawewa, Bollindawewa, Katuwewa and Karuwalagaswewa. There is construction and extension of 19 kilometres of main canal which will provide the irrigation facilities,” he said.

He explained that the long term objective of the project was to accomplish and create a new breed of commercial farmers and to enhance their lifestyles by adopting the strategic formula of 60% for other field crops such as cauliflower, red onion, capsicum and beetroot and only 40% for paddy. It also transpired that a farmer when the crops are in full bloom could net in around Rs. 600,000 per year.

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