SAPSRI’s Experiment on Bio Intensive Farming for Achieving Food Security in the Dry Zone

M U A Tennakoon, Executive Director,
South Asia Partnership Sri Lanka

K M M Sasik Konara,
Project Officer, South Asia Partnership Sri Lanka  

“The world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. But climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25%. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, food security, especially for the world’s poorest, will be at risk” – (World Bank -2014)

The causes of the food crisis are complex and interlocking, as drought, floods, numerous animal diseases, high fuel prices, growing global demand (particularly from the large, emerging economies of China and India), unfair world trade rules and climate change are all playing a part each. Food prices have risen 83% since 2005, and the world’s poorest people are struggling to cope with. The present situation in the food producing countries indicates that there is a shortage of food production. Years of under-investment in agriculture in poorer countries, and unfair trade rules and farming policies, are also having a huge impact on the world food crisis.

Climate Change & Food Security

Climate change is already happening and will pose great economic, social and environmental threats to the world. Climate change affects all physical aspects, making rainfall vagaries less unpredictable, changing the character of the seasons and increasing occurrence of floods, drought and gale, wind forces, including tsunami. Some climate change projections have been made by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientific evidence from numerous sources indicates that global climate change is taking place rapidly. This implies that the present generation, as well as the future generations, will have to face the impact of climate change. Most Scientists are almost unanimous now that pending changes in climate patterns would be global in scope and scale. It is widely agreed that developing countries would face greater hardships and within them also, poorer communities in particular are more vulnerable. Various studies have underscored the importance of effective mitigation measures ‘to cope with climate change’ and the necessity of appropriate adjustments to cope with pending changes.

Sri Lanka is exposed to a variety of climate-related hazards, including floods,landslides,  drought, and storms. Extreme climate events can have detrimental effects on people’s  livelihoods in terms of  destruction of assets and incomes of the poorest households, particularly in drought sensitive dry zone, as well as in the coastal areas. The dry zone which covers about 2/3 of the country’s land area is important in future agricultural development because it is where the land is available for agricultural expansion. This area receives a mean annual rainfall of less than 1,900 mm. Sri Lanka has been making a concerted effort to improve its agricultural sector over the past several decades since independence in 1948. The nagging question is why it has not given the desired outcome despite the large investments made to develop the agriculture sector.

A Tank Based Biodiversity Improvement and Protection Project

The keenness shown to increase food production has been a cause for deterioration of the physical environment including biodiversity in the dry zone. With the support of the UNDP Global Environment Facility (GEF), South Asia Partnership Sri Lanka (SAPSRI) selected Alisthana, a tank village in the Thirappane Divisional Secretariat in  Anuradhapura District and started a tank-based biodiversity improvement and protection project as a pilot project in June 2014. This project mainly focuses on protecting the tank eco-system and promoting organic paddy farming and home gardening as income generation in this tank-based village settlement. A cascade-based tank village has 37 components already identified (Tennakoon, 2012).  Of these six components in the Alisthana tank village have been identified for the implementation of this project, namely,  the reforestation of the tree girdle around the tank to minimize the tank water evaporation; development of a part of a reed-bed the silt trap to minimize silt accumulation in the tank; development of the murky meadow locally known as ‘kattakaduwa’ at the outer toe of the tank bund to arrest salt/alkali water freely flowing into the paddy field further downstream and planting salt succulent trees to minimize the salt content in that water body;  increase of fish density in the tank;  promotion of organic paddy cultivation and development of home gardens to increase the villagers’ economic returns with an effective garden vegetation cover, improving the micro climate around the settlement all round.  A home garden has food and money.

Why bio intensive farming for the dry zone  

In consultation with  Mr. Hemantha Abeywaradhana, a bio-intensive farming practitioner of Ecology Action, SAPSRI has introduced a new home gardening culture to the Alisthana village. Bio intensive farming is a self-help food raising method based on building and maintaining soil fertility without using chemicals. Bio intensive farming method dating back to 4000 years in China, 200 years in Greece, and 300 years in Europe. It was synthesized and brought to the U.S by the English master horticulturist, Alan Chadwick, then further developed and documented by Ecology Action. According to the Ecology Action, bio-intensive farming advantages are 67% to 80% less water, 50% to 100% less fertilizer and 99% less energy use than in commercial agriculture, which is appropriate for the dry zone agricultural communities to adapt. As a result of introducing bio-intensive farming technics, approximately 300 direct and indirect project beneficiaries have been benefited from organic home garden activities. SAPSRI has been able to train project beneficiaries to take them to zero chemical use in their home gardens. The most significant achievement is that the Alisthana community is engaging in home gardening throughout the year using less water than earlier.

The effort of SAPSRI team has achieved significant result in Alisthana in biodiversity improvement and protection and achieving food security with best farming practices. Alisthana community is growing its gardens organically, which improve their food practices. This community has gained an economic benefit through cutting down food expenses.  More than 20 families are meeting their family vegetable needs from their own home gardens benefiting economically.

Throughout the Tank-based pilot project in Alisthana, SAPSRI has evolved a new development strategy around the tank based settlements in the dry zone, with social, economic and environmental concerns. Moreover, this pilot project will be a lesson to the future climate change adaptations in the dry zone.