Saturday, January 6, 2018

Letter sent to a budding farmer showing enthusiasm - on some of the pitfalls and what to be mindful of!


Before embarking on a serious Agricultural Project – approach with all eyes open wide, and all senses at their peak, ready to handle all unforeseen circumstances.

The Agricultural Environment and Falsehoods

IF you thought you knew something about Risk, taking risks, and handling risk, you have not really faced the truth on what true risk really is. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being negative, I am being a realist and in the same breadth, can confirm that rewards can equally be stunning, over thousand percent on investment. However, along with it one must over time, be able to add pluses and minuses over a period of time to achieve a credible return on investment, the biggest one that is not taken account of is the investment of time and effort that cannot be quantified.

I have maintained then, and continue to maintain now, that to be a successful producer of any type of agricultural product, your knowledge needs to be greater than any medical doctor. Therefore the best brains of the country must venture into this field in order to engage in a productive and profitable venture.

We currently only think that this field is only for failures in other fields, or those who have left school before O levels to do. That is wrong. That is why our agriculture is arguably the most inefficient and highest cost in the world.

I am attempting to give you a realistic picture based on my personal experience, so you avoid the pitfalls and learn from what I have to say, as I wish anyone going into agriculture, my sincere admiration and wishes for a successful outcome as there is MORE THAN ENOUGH room for everyone, and we must not fear fellow farmers and competition, a very narrow island mentality that still drags our brethren unwilling to share their experiences and help each other out.

The Critical Foundation to a successful venture in Agriculture

1                   Don’t rely on any advice given by your local Agricultural Adviser, chances he had never had any real experience in this field.

2                   You have to do all your research yourself, there is no reliable source for advice or information and where one can go for help. You have to learn the hard way.

3                   Remember the most important item, that most farmers stint on is, ensuring you have the BEST seeds or seedlings or plating material to work with and it is like chasing the devil to get hold of it, as no one can give the right answer as to what is best for your local conditions and soil! Often this is with other farmers who are reluctant to part with it for fear of competition.

4                   By way of example just take ‘NIVITHI’ a simple, very nutritious green that we must all take. Look around it is hard to buy, its nutritious quality is not known and good planting material is impossible to find. Ironically it can be grown vertically, so little space is required and if grown properly people can earn a good living on one perch of this, if supplied to the right place.

5                   Multi-cropping is more advisable than Mono-cropping, so you are NOT dependent on one crop, that can be lost due to disease or weather related issues. Also crop rotation is the advisable route as it is better for soil fertility and prevents the spread of disease.

6                   If you can, grow items that have a high value, where demand exceeds supply and is not easily available in wholesale markets. This is because the Chain of Food City and Keells is expanding fast, a new Keells and Food City are opening near me in Godagama within the next week and both are competing to be the first to open! What I am implying is that with the growth of the supermarkets into the all areas, the increase in consumer spending in the Western Province, the demand for high value foods is rising.

7                   Consider the benefits of building a greenhouse even in the Western Province, to grow high value items. Unlike in the West it is not to grow items you cannot grow in cold weather, it is to protect the cultivation from all those that can affect their growth. You can control pests, you can control moisture and heat, you can prevent diseases spreading, (they can often devastate the crop in a week, before a solution is found) Bell Peppers are usually grown this way, at retail price of yellow, Rs2,

8                   On the question of Ginger, I don’t know if you are referring to the old genuine Ginger of the past or to the present larger ginger using hybrid planting materials. I used to grow the local ginger here in Godagama, which is not far at all from Horana. I wish I grew more of it, now called ‘Beheth Inguru’ which is so hard to find and now is more than Rs500/kg for the real stuff. I know that Elephant House has an out-grower system where this is grown for their Ginger Beer where they guarantee price etc. It is so hard to find anywhere. I will advise that is the way to go and try and find GOOD planting material to test out how it performs.

9                   Remember the soil conditions are important for the type of crop. So for Ginger you need a good humus mix of soil that drains and does not retain moisture that will spoil the crop. If there is rain the water has to drain out not flood the root. So the beds have to be well prepared and if you intend on concentrating on this you must go and speak with a farmer who specializes in this or has specific knowledge of the problems, diseases and resulting fixes etc.

10              My advice always is to test everything you want to do in a large scale, first under the same conditions you want to grow. So try a test bed, and see how it grows, and learn the patterns, before spending a fortune straight away on a large cultivation. If testing is the way to go, I would test different crops at the same time, to choose what is the best that suits your own area and your soil conditions. Sri Lanka is a unique place where even the soil in one field can differ from one point to the other! In other countries for thousands of square kilometers you have the same soil!

11              From 10 above therefore know the type of soil in every part of your land and get it tested if you feel the need to ascertain what is best for the conditions. You will be surprised or disappointed when the results come out. You will then know what nutrients are short and what are in abundance, a necessary basic for a good harvest.

12              Patience, and emergency action when warranted is part and parcel here!

13              At present I am going through a patch where it has not rained here for 10 days. The wells are already dry in the West Zone, an unheard of situation in the past, but now common. We are NOT replenishing our water table and instead allowing rain water to flow into drains and finally to the sea, instead of retaining in our property to go down to the water table. If you have an area where you can direct rain water to say a small lake made by damning then that is good, it will seep down depending on the soil, or create a lake from where emergency water can be pumped. Rajarata has lakes specifically for this dual purpose, however in the Western Province no one thought our wells will run dry! Now they do and no one has yet suggested basins to allow for ground water refilling.

14              Intercropping is another use for land, especially for coconut land. In my property, I have had Cocoa Trees under King Coconut and Coconut. I have had Pineapple, and I am now putting Pepper on Glyricidia Trees. Each has their pros and cons and you have to do it properly, whatever is attempted.

15              PESTS is the biggest problem at the moment for me, with the Monkeys being cornered in small green patches like mine, and I have a lot of Porcupines that are destroying everything in their wake. I also have rabbit, and parrots that are also a problem, but they can destroy plants overnight if you are not careful and have taken adequate precautions.

16              Theft of produce is the next cost I have after Pests, as today’s price of coconuts mean I lose about a third of my crop to people illegally plucking and taking, and unless I have CCTV cameras it is difficult. I know a friend who had completely covered his WHOLE land with a high wall where NO ONE can see into to protect his agriculture, especially in an urban setting like mine it is a huge problem. This can stop pest like porcupines invading also.

So my friend, I can give you all the advice, but the simple truth is experience has no equal, and so just start small, now, immediately, don’t delay thinking about it, to see what grows and take it from there. You can drop into my place for a chat if you need to at any time, but most of all my SINCERE GOOD LUCK! In the venture you have just started on and it will feel like Bond Trading is simply a piece of cake compared to this. However the satisfaction you get in your heart in growing food to feed other people, NO AMOUNT OF MONEY can give you the sense of achievement and pleasure.

Best Regards


Anonymous said...

I cant stress more the importance of good planting material for a good harvest. After all the rest of the expense is the same and the harvest can vary enormously if good seeds, seedlings and cuttings are used in planting.

Sadly even here there is NO means to choose the best as there is NO source of information to the farmer. We only have Departments of Government catering to people with desks and paychecks, not work as part of their brief

Anonymous said...

The science of Agriculture can only be understood by the cleverest of people. We must raise the status of food production to the highest in pecking order in Sri Lanka, then more good people will follow this noble profession that the Kings of the past held in higher esteem than even the Clergy or Religion.

They had their priorities right, today we have it all wrong