Northern Province of Sri Lanka made up of five districts is an agriculture based region consisting of mainland and a peninsula with few islands. All the agriculture related activities in the peninsula and the islands forming Jaffna District relies mainly on farmers with small holdings mostly of less than an acre. The rural areas have subsistence farming, where the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families. The output is mostly for local requirements with little or no surplus for trade. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to feed and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made principally with an eye toward what the family will need during the coming year, and secondarily toward market prices. However, despite the primacy of self-sufficiency in subsistence farming, today most of these subsistence farmers do participate in trade to some degree, may include sugar, salt, oil, clothing, and so on.
In Jaffna District alone there are over 66,000 small agricultural holdings in over 4000 hectare in extent and a similar extent of home garden. It is necessary to encourage the farmers to come out of this unplanned subsistence farming. It only produces a glut during harvest and the surplus produced without a proper marketing plan causes a sharp drop in price. As the result the producers lose their profit causing them to leave the agriculture sector and seek other opportunities to earn a living. During off season there is a scarcity of these items for consumption forcing the state to import these items. At present, there is also some commercial farming taking place on small holdings in rural areas where the main purpose of the farm is to sell agricultural products for a cash profit. Choices about what crops and how much to raise are determined by the market. These farmers produce rice, pulses, and vegetable including onions, chilies, potatoes and fruits with support from relevant authorities. To achieve any development more farmers needs to be drawn into commercial farming by forming farmer groups.
The district water needs are met by underground water reservoirs and rain fed irrigation used mainly for paddy cultivation during wet season. There is a problem in the district on availability of quality water. It is necessary to adopt a long term, economical and sustainable water management practices such as water conservation and reclamation of wastewater. These solutions of meeting water needs cost less, have low impact on the environment, move society towards more realistic environmentally sound lifestyles and water use practices. Importing water from mainland or producing water by desalination of sea water increases the cost of water supplies, than addressing the demand side of water management.
Another area of concern that hinder development is the present packaging methods used to protect the products during transport is very poor and needs to improve considerably. Packaging is a coordinated system to protect and preserve the products by preparing goods for transport, warehousing, logistics, sale, and end use. In the rural environment the producers are still using the natural materials available at the time, like leaf baskets, paper or wooden boxes and lately plastic baskets are used to form packages. The earliest use of paper for packaging goes back to the 50s, when purchasing goods in markets vegetables, spices and hardware were wrapped in paper for the customers after they were sold. The purpose of product packaging is to protect the product from damage during transit from the producer to the retailer, but it also prevents damage while the product sits on retail shelves.
Then there is at present production of over 5000 metric ton Tobacco in Maha and Yala combined utilizing over 750 hectare of productive land in Jaffna is in conflict with the national fight against smoking Tobacco. Plan to include incentives for Tobacco producers to change to alternate crops like corn, manioc or other suitable in its place. Another product that goes to waste is toddy in Jaffna Peninsula. During the toddy season starting in January each year, it was reported following the increase of tax on bottled toddy that daily 1000 bottles of toddy was dumped into the ground, that has resulted in impacting the lives of 5000 toddy tappers. It must be noted that toddy is the main basic input in the manufacture of arrack, which is in conflict with the national fight against drinking liquor. When the country is spending over Rs 60 million to import sugar it is a waste to dump toddy, instead if tapped and processed properly this toddy could produce refined juggary as substitute for sugar.
It is necessary to draw up a holistic plan for agriculture and related sectors to help producers to cultivate products that could contribute first to meet the need of the province and excess channeled for export. The plan should enable the producers to become stakeholders to execute the plan with authorities providing all the inputs and purchase the produce at a preset price; facilitate packaging and marketing the same that will benefit the stakeholders, the province and the whole country.