Need for Commercial Development of ‘Saubhagya’ Crops – Dutch Study

By Paneetha Ameresekere | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 22 2021
FT Need for Commercial Development of ‘Saubhagya’ Crops – Dutch Study

By Paneetha Ameresekere 

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is currently encouraging the cultivation of ‘16 soubhagya crops’ – mostly import substitution crops such as maize, chillei, green gram, cowpea, black gram, soya bean, big onion, red onion, gingelly, potato, groundnut, finger millet, horse gram, turmeric, ginger and garlic, a recent study commissioned by the Dutch Embassy in Sri Lanka said. 

The report titled ‘Opportunities in the Horticulture Sector in Sri Lanka’ and released on the Embassy’s website recently said that the GoSL has already banned imports of turmeric and ginger and in the future the rest of the 14 identified crops will be restricted or banned. 

Therefore, based on survey results, farmers, growers and horticultural crop processors see a strong need for agronomical and technological support for the commercial development of these crops, the report said. Meanwhile, at present in Sri Lanka, appropriate irrigation systems and drainage technologies are required due to unpredictable rainfall patterns and climatic changes which have an adverse impact on horticultural crops, the study added. 

Furthermore, water saving irrigation methods such as drip, sprinkler, and precision surface irrigation, aided with mulching are used minimally. ‘Based on discussion conducted with farmer groups and key horticulture sector players, except for the intensive open field continued cropping systems used in Kalpitya and Nuwara Eliya, micro irrigation is limited in vegetable and fruit crop cultivation due to its high initial cost. 

Therefore, sprinkler irrigation is currently popular in these areas due to cost efficiency and low water retention properties of the soils, it said. With the recent focus on organic cultivation and the ban on chemical fertilisers and crop protection agents, attention has been drawn to the need for remediation of soils in different parts of Sri Lanka, the report said. Nonetheless, hydroponic is one of the main strategies, where the plant can be grown in nonsoil media by maintaining a great deal of precision in plant nutrient management, the study said. 

Post-harvest losses

 Meanwhile, post-harvest fruit crops losses in Sri Lanka are estimated at around 30 per cent to 40 per cent, it added. The study further said that it was reported by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) that 270,000 metric tons of fruits and vegetables are wasted annually, emphasising the importance of preserving fruit employing agrocold chain warehousing, canning and dehydration. Nonetheless, key challenges in introducing post-harvest technology products would be the capital costs, financing instruments and cost-benefit analysis, it said. 

There is also an emphasis on the need for the use of low cost and appropriate cold chain storages including solar based village level systems, the report said. In order to disseminate the required knowledge, training and village level systems, cohorts of farmer groups would need to be formed who would be able to receive the benefits as a single collective organisation thus ensuring the effectiveness of the activities carried out, the study advised. Sri Lanka has seven major supermarket chains and growers and exporters handling fresh fruit and vegetable products and these are serviced through supply chain linked to growers, collecting centres and logistics intermediaries. 

However, scope exists for improving the cold chain across these businesses, the study said. The report said that currently there are no major cold chain systems being operated on a commercial scale in the country for the use of farmers which has led to significant post-harvest losses. There is a need to maintain forward and backward collaboration with stakeholders and nucleus farms-contract farming modules in order to stimulate fruit production, it said. Furthermore, vegetable prices have increased due to seasonal price patterns, crop damages and insufficiencies in supply.

 Therefore, price vulnerabilities and supply issues will necessitate the needs of increasing cold storage facilities, improve supply chain management, absorb current best practices and techniques such as crop cultivation, enhance post-harvest processes with the intent of leveraging efficiency in the vegetable industry, the study advised.

 Access to markets for horticultural products is another major challenge faced by growers and processors in the horticulture sector, it said. Seventy point five per cent of survey responses carried out for the purpose of compiling this report from the agri business sector and startup companies shows that there is a huge gap between market demand locally and globally and the supply of horticultural products available in Sri Lanka, the study said. Thus it is clear that the absence of market-driven value chains for commercial horticultural crops is a serious constraint to development of the sector. 

The poor state of post-harvest technologies including cold chain management and warehousing also affects the development of the horticultural sector, it said. “In Sri Lanka, the agriculture sector in recent years, the productivity level has stagnated due to several factors such as low technology use, poor agricultural extension and phytosanitary and other procedures for import of good quality seeds and fertilizer/ plant nutrition products,” the report also said.

 Furthermore, this has been exacerbated by the global COVID19 Pandemic, raising concerns on food security and income of farmers. An immediate impact of the Pandemic is the disruption to the local agri food supply chain from which the opportunity has arisen to provide logistics services mainly in the areas of cold chain and storage systems, the study said. 

Technology 

A positive trend in Sri Lanka’s agro landscape is the increasing availability of agriculture ‘apps’ both as online marketing and technology platforms, a recent Dutch Embassy in Sri Lanka commissioned study on the country’s horticulture sector said. In this connection, a report titled ‘Opportunities in the Horticulture Sector in Sri Lanka’, released on the Embassy’s website recently said that long distance training of farmers is required, including the use of IT in agriculture and agri -entrepreneurial training.

 Therefore, opportunities exist in using satellite, drone, sensor driven technologies identifying specific geographical and targeted farms, farmer landholdings for soil management via appropriate nutrition and other remediation measures, the study said. 

“Since Sri Lanka is now in the early stages of using drone based technologies for mapping crop cultivation, fertilisation and pest management, products and solutions for soil analysis and other diagnostic needs, provision of such products and services by Dutch companies offer interesting opportunities,” it said.

 Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan seed market is expected to achieve a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.1 per cent in the next five years, the report further said. Hence, Dutch companies which already possess adapted hybrid seeds or have such products in the pipeline have a strong case for introducing such varieties to Sri Lanka, the study said. 

And, consequent to Sri Lanka going organic, huge opportunities present themselves for organic fertilisers and plant protection products, it said. “Also some interest has been shown for use of botanicals and soil/plant pathogen based products, but these are at an early stage. Hence, the scope exists for Dutch companies to trial such non-chemical products if these are available in their portfolio (those that have been developed and tested in tropical markets) or to conduct research on use of such organic products, the report said.

Specifically, it is possible to prioritise the following areas for immediate entry or expansion by Dutch horticulture companies. 1) Seeds and planting materials specifically selected hybrid and high yielding varieties 2) Non – chemical liquid and solid plant nutrition products. 3) Post harvest technologies that would help reduce approximately 40 per cent of the post-harvest crop losses in Sri Lanka. 4) Greenhouse systems and protected agriculture inputs. 5) Biological pest control products and systems 6) Provision of agri education and extension services and 7) Provision of soil management services, the study said.

 (Next Monday: Balance of Organic, Inorganic Products Best For Horticulture Sector) 

By Paneetha Ameresekere | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 22 2021

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