Sri Lanka boasts a rich agricultural history and a self-sufficient economy based on agriculture. For centuries, our ancestors depended on sustainable agriculture practices while agriculture remained one of the most important sectors of the economy.
In a country where the majority fared well in agriculture in the past, the population depending on agriculture at present has dropped to around 28% accounting for only 7% contribution to the GDP. These numbers reflect the recent decline in the agriculture industry and demands the need for a quick turnaround in its capacity to develop the country’s economy.
One major concern related to agriculture industry is the dearth in agriculture exports which can be addressed by motivating the farmers to produce value added agriculture exports while discouraging agriculture imports. “The value of agriculture exports as of today is around 20% of total exports which needs to be increased by initiating measures to increase local production and value-added products from crop yields. At present, the average harvest yielded from a paddy hectare is around 4 Tons which could be maximized to around 9 to 10 Tons with a well-planned mechanism and the right investments. Sri Lanka is enriched with ample resources which are viable for agriculture such as a suitable climate, fertile soil and resources, hence it is a matter of initiating a proper mechanism which creates entrepreneurship opportunities and develop the industry to a level where it can thrive in both global and domestic markets” stated Priyanga Dematawa, Chief Operating Officer of DIMO Agribusinesses.
In this background, it is vital to promote agri entrepreneurship and encourage Sri Lankans, especially the youth, to engage in agri businesses. In promoting agri entrepreneurship, a collective effort is required from all sectors including both the government and private sector stakeholders to ensure that new technology and resources are available and knowledge about new farming techniques is shared among the farmers across the country. Streamlining agriculture through new technologies helps in improving productivity and reducing cost of production which will encourage more people to turn towards agriculture as a business, leaving behind the shadows of the ‘white collar job’ concept. The role of the private sector in developing the agriculture industry is vital with its potential to strengthen the supply and value chains, promote value additions, help in commercial and large-scale production and use new and existing resources to innovate new farming techniques.
“When talking about the role of the private sector, DIMO as a socially responsible corporate, has come to the fore in developing the agriculture industry with their agriculture arm DIMO Agribusinesses, having understood the importance of the agriculture industry for the development of the country’s economy. DIMO Agribusinesses is committed to support the industry in multiple ways and is in the process of bringing the latest agri technologies to Sri Lanka, sharing knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices among local farmers, introducing new crop care solutions, seeds, fertilizers, greenhouse farming and micro irrigation systems. DIMO’s Agri Techno parks engage in agriculture research and development, seed production, farmer education and training initiatives to support the growth of the industry.” he further added.
In the journey to develop the agriculture industry, there are three key pillars which need to be looked at and closely followed. The first being farmers to be encouraged to view agriculture as a business and not as a mere mode of piling up the harvest. This approach to agriculture will ensure that farmers pay more attention to their agri businesses and will look forward to expand their businesses with additional care. All farmers have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs and contribute to the economic development while fulfilling their aspirations. The second important aspect is to focus on SMART farming which enables the farmers to increase crop production and reduce the cost of production through innovative farming techniques. SMART farming includes using new technology in all possible areas of the industry, new farming techniques, space and environment management, etc. The third aspect is sustainable agriculture which helps to protect the existing resources for the future generations. It is vital to sustain the soil by minimizing the usage of harmful fertilizers and firmly adhering to the recommended farming techniques.
New technologies such as Greenhouse cultivation, indoor vertical farming, farm automation, precision agriculture, Blockchain and AI can play a pivotal role in the development of the agriculture industry. Greenhouse cultivation is a technique that helps to manage the crop in a set of optimum conditions, while indoor vertical farming can be used to increase crop yields, overcome the challenge of limited land area and farm automation can be used to automate crop or livestock production cycle. Precision agriculture helps farmers to maximize yields by controlling every variable of crop farming such as moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions and micro climates which ultimately increase production efficiency and reduce costs. Industry leading technologies such as Blockchain can be used to trace ownership records, ensure safety in supply chains, minimize food frauds and engage in the business with full transparency. AI powered remote sensors and satellites can monitor plant health, soil condition temperature and humidity while assisting the farmers in decision making. These new technologies, if utilized to their fullest capacity, bode well for the agriculture industry and ensure that the industry is elevated to a level where more agri entrepreneurship opportunities are constantly generated.
Technology is a key factor in developing the agriculture industry and supporting agri entrepreneurship. Innovative technological solutions are already being used globally which have proved that it can be utilized to maximize the crop yield, thereby stepping the foundation to several other economical and industrial benefits. On the other hand, access to technology will definitely contribute in increasing the youth participation in this field whilst allowing them to push past the boundaries and innovate constantly. Hence, it is paramount that the country understand the need for improved technology and make necessary arrangements to ensure that the latest technological solutions are available to farmers along with adequate technical knowledge, in order for the agricultural industry to sustain and survive.