A six-member Indian agriculture expert team led by S.P. Tiwari, Deputy Director General of Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR), is on a four-day visit to the island nation. Its mission is to help the renewal of agriculture in Northern Sri Lanka as part of the Rs. 500 crore package announced by India for relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the three-lakh war displaced.
The mission is a follow-up to the visit of eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan in the second week of June. During his visit Prof. Swaminathan called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and met a wide range of people to study the role India could play in accelerating the progress in livelihood rehabilitation of the farm and fisher families in the conflict zone.
On Thursday, the team called on Basil Rajapaksa, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Northern Development and discussed the broad contours of its agenda. It also met with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Plantation.
In the short-term, besides giving basic inputs for the use of seeds and fertilizers to the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who are in the process of being re-settled, the team also proposes to support the institutional development of agriculture in Sri Lanka.
On September 19, the team will travel to Vavuniya town in the north to get information on the existing infrastructure.
At the end of his visit, Prof. Swaminathan was of the view that India could provide necessary seeds, biofertilizers and biopesticides, farm equipment and post-harvest infrastructure. For strengthening location-specific research, he said an existing centre in Vavuniya could be strengthened.
For fishermen, he suggested development of an existing centre in Mannar as a “Fish For All” Training Centre on the model of the one set up in Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.
“Over 80 per cent of the population of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, comprising the districts of Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya, depend on farm enterprises from their work and income security. Prior to the conflict, the Province had a cultivable area of about 300,000 ha., of which over 100,000 ha. was under rice.
“The remaining area was planted with onion, chillies, mung bean, sesame, groundnut, yam, fruits, vegetables and coconut. At the moment, it is not known how much area can be farmed, since there has been much damage to agriculture due to mines, protective structures and security measures,” Prof. Swaminathan had said.