World Soil Day was celebrated in Sri Lanka and the main program was held on 06 December in Welimada in the Badulla district. The program was organised by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Rehabilitation of Degraded Agricultural Land Project (RDALP) of the World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Soil degradation reduces food production capacity
Dr.Ajantha De Silva
Director of the Natural Resource Management Centre of the DoA
Delivering welcome speech Dr.Ajantha De Silva said that since soil pollution is a major challenge in Sri Lanka this year World Soil Day theme is timely important to Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka is a small country and therefore the land extent available for agriculture is limited. It is further decreasing with the increasing population posing two major challenges; decreasing arable lands and food production capacity and increasing demand for food”, he said.
RDALP a combined approach for SLM
Project Manager, RDALP,
Project Manager, RDALP, NimalGunasena explained RDALP objectives and various programs and activities carried out by the project to promote Sustainable Land Management (SLM). RDALP has four major objectives;
• Strengthening policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks for SLM
• Implementation of the identified land restoration technologies in the Kandy, Badulla and NuwaraEliya districts
• Support to developand implementinnovative funding systems to promote SLM
• Knowledge management, awareness raising and dissemination of SLM best practices
Our objectives in SLM are beyond soil conservation and we broadly consider about conservation of whole ecosystem;
We have a combined approach in the implementation of the project in the national and provincial levels and have engaged with all the relevant government organistions such as DoA, Agrarian Service Department, Tea Smallholdings Authority, Provincial Councils, district secretariats and divisional secretariats, Department of Land Use Planning (DLUSP), he said.
RDALP provides financial support, knowledge, technologies and site specific consultation for the farmers to implement SLM best practices in their lands. Provide knowledge, experience and best practices of SLM to the officers of the partner organisation is another aspect of the project.
RDALP develops demonstration models for SLM in all three districts to scale up education and training in SLM. The project is implemented in selected micro watersheds or GN divisions. Coordination is done under two mechanisms; district committees under the District Secretaries and Divisional Committees under Divisional Secretaries. Renovation plans of the degraded lands are prepared with community participation using data provides by DLUSP. Apply SLM best practices in home gardens, tea smallholdings, introduce best suit crop to the land to minimise soil degradation, soil testing and land specific fertilizer recommendation and promote compost production and usage are some of the RDALP’s SLM initiatives, Gunaseana said.
Kalubululanda, a model in SLM
Development Officer, Kalubululanda GN division
RavindraSampath is one of the best field officers who achieved outstanding performance in the implementation of SLM best practices in rural areas under RDALP.
“Kalubululanda in Welimada DS Division is farming village. The terrain of the area is steep slope but the main crops cultivate in the area are vegetables and potatoes which are highly contributing soil erosion and degradation.
We recognised soil degradation issues in the village and under RDALP we prepared a SLM plan for the village with the participation of government officials and the community and now it is being implemented. Seasonal crop such as vegetable cultivated in steep slope lands cause soil erosion and landslides. As a SLM solution we have converted ten vegetable farm lands to tea smallholdings. Also we have introduced compost in the tea cultivation” he said.
Conservation of Kalubululanda micro watershed is another initiative. This project was launched with the support of the youth organisation of the village. The watershed was encroached and boundaries of the forest were not clear. Under the project the boundaries of the forest were demarcated and conservation and replanting of the forest was started. Restoration of this watershed will help to restore Kalubululanda tank,he said.
Soil degradation, a result of human activities
Director, Horticultural Crop Research and Development Institute of the DoA
Scientific research have proven that over useof chemical fertilizer or use chemical fertilizer alone cannot increase crop yield or farmer income. Excess use of chemical fertilizer is one of the main factors that contribute to soil pollution in Sri Lanka, Dr.Weerasinghe said.
Land degradation is mainly a result of human activities and agriculture is one of the main source of soil pollution and land degradation.
Soil contains minerals, organic and inorganic materials and microorganism and it is the top layer of the earth. It takes 400-700 years to create one inch of soil. But in human activities it can be destroyed within few seconds. Therefore we have to cautious in using soil. Agriculture is not the only function that soil is used. Soil provides lot of ecological services. For instance, soil is the best natural water filter and soil pollution leads to water pollution, he said.
Site specific fertilizer recommendation to reduce chemical fertilizer usage
D N Sirisena,
National Consultant, FAO
Sirisena said that over/excess use of fertilizer has been recognised as a major issue. DoA has introduced and encouraged use of chemical fertilizer from 1970s. Fertilizer recommendations for rice have been introduced in 1956, 1959, 1964, 1971, 1980, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2001 and 2013. The objective is increase yield and ensure food security. Fertilizer subsidy has also being given since 1962 and today urea is supplied at Rs.10/kg subsidised price.
As a result of these motivations by the government, fertilizer over use has emerged as a serious threat and cause for soil pollution. According to statistics, in the NuwaraEliyadistrict fertilizer use is three times higher than recommended amount while it is twice higher in Welimada in the vegetable cultivation.
Site-specific Fertilizer Recommendation Project (SFRP) implemented by the DoA and FAO introduced portable soil test kits that can be used in the field and test the nutrient contents in the soil and determine the exact need of the fertilizer. Inadequate fertilizer use cause low yield and low profitability. Over use causes accumulation in soil and toxic to plant, eutrophication of water bodies, enhances global warming through production of Nitrogen gasses, enhances susceptibility of plants to pests and diseases and enhance weed population, Sirisena said.
He said that the SFRP project has successfully implemented site-specific fertilizer recommendation and achieved impressive results. With the success of the project now the Ministry of Agriculture has decided to expand and promote site specific fertilizer usage all over the country and provide soil test kits to regions, he said.
Soil pollution, a global issue
Assistant Country Representative (Program) of the FAO
Dr.Wijerathne said that soli pollution is a global issue and one third of the arable lands in the world are already polluted. Unsustainable land use and agricultural practices, pollutants emit by industries and garbage dumping mainly contribute to soil pollutants. Global attention has been drawn on this issue and UN Millennium Development Goals 3, 12 and 15 are related to reduce soil pollution.
FAO supports Sri Lanka to reduce soil pollution and promote SLM best practices and implements two projects; RDALP and SFRP. Site specific fertilizer recommendation can reduce chemical fertilizer usage significantly and with the success of this project SFRP has become flagship project in Sri Lanka. FAO is only facilitating RDALP and SFRP and implementation is done by state agencies, he said.
Our responsibility is to ensure food security
Additional Director General of the DoA
AmalAnurapriya said that FAO has been supporting DoA since long years. We highly appreciate the policy of the FAO that provides its technical and financial assistance on the requirement of the DoA and not on its own agenda, he said.
The DoA is working based on its policies that are formulated according to a scientific basis. We do not change our policies according to popular slogans emerging time to time. Last few years there was a popular campaign to promote old traditional farming practices for pure organic food production. However, we did not change our stances which are based on scientific basis. Because our responsibility is increase the productivity of agriculture, increase farmer income and provide food commodities to the consumers at affordable price
Reduce chemical fertiliser usage is beneficial to the farmers and national economy
Divisional Secretary – Welimada,
Soil degradation is visible everywhere in the central highlands. You can see muddy water flows in Umaoya even in the dry season. Thousands of empty vessels of agrochemicals are in Umaoya and other water streams. All these shows bad agricultural practices of the farmers in this area. They dump empty agrochemical bottles with poisons into water streams and their cultivation methods lead to soil erosion. Agriculture has become major source of soil and water pollution, Weerasinghe said.
Sri Lanka spend large amount of money to import chemical fertilizer and it is increasingly becoming a burden with rapid depreciation of Sri Lankan rupee over the last few months. Therefore reduce chemical fertiliser usage will help the budget and economy of the individual farmer as well as the country.
Divisional Secretary – Bandarawela,
Bandarawela and Welimada areas are main vegetable and potatoes farming areas that supply food to the entire country. But today it has become the area where supply poisons to the entire nation due to unsustainable agricultural practices. We extend our fullest cooperation to the DoA and RDALP to reduce excess use of chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals and introduce SLM practices in Bandarawela Division,Gunarathne said.
Legislations available against soil degradation
Secretary to the Uva Province Ministry of Agriculture
“We are responsible for soil degradation because it has been intensified during our life time. Not only agriculture all other unplanned development activities such as construction of houses and roads lead to soil erosion.
Sri Lanka has legislations to arrest soil degradation but the issue is that they are not implemented. All the legal provisions required to stop activities causing soil degradation are available in the Soil Conservation Act. But there is no mechanism to implement the Act. Therefore I request to educate the relevant officers on their duties, responsibilities and powers they have in the implementation of the Soil Conservation Act and stop further degradation of agricultural and non-agricultural lands” he said.