Posted on March 6th, 2021


Philip took a deep interest in paddy production and studied it from all angles. He complained repeatedly about the paucity of statistics on paddy cultivation. There was no information on the size of holdings, yield, ownership and so on. Thanks to Philip, in 1962, Department of Census and Statistics started an agricultural census.

There was the problem of low paddy yields. The basic principles of land use in ancient Ceylon were sound and in accordance with modern principles of land utilization, said Philip, quoting Ernest Abeyratne. Therefore all what was needed now was the introduction of modern techniques adapted to the Dry Zone environment.

The soil conditions and fertilizer needed In the Dry Zone, was known from ancient times, said Philip. But knowledge of soil conditions and fertilizer needs for paddy production in the Wet Zone was lacking.  Philip found that experimental plots and private individual farms in the Wet Zone had shown good yields where soil had been analyzed and correct fertilizer used. ‘They have obtained as high as 60 to 110 bushels per acres.’ In Kegalle, the Food Production Department had managed to increase yields by providing fertilizer, credit, high yielding seeds and adopting transplanting instead of the traditional   method of sowing. Philip had drawn attention to government’s neglect of paddy cultivation in the wet zone, with focus on Dry Zone.

Philip encouraged agricultural research. He wanted the research scientists in the Department of Agriculture and elsewhere to concentrate on research and not administration. He appointed administration officers for the 24 districts and relived the scientific officers of this work. Technical officers should be left to do technical work, not promoted to do administrative work, such as petitions, he said. 

 Philip wanted Gannoruwa to do research on rice.  He set up other research units. Rahangala for potato and citrus,    Hambantota for cotton, sugar in Kantalai,   and paddy at Batalegoda. Under him, the Department of Agriculture started a soil survey.

Philip said that J.R. Jayawardene had in 1953 and 1954 disposed of very valuable state farms.  If JR had waited for a year or two most of these farms would have paid. Some of these farms were for research not to make a profit, observed Philip.  

Philip contested the existing notion that it was cheaper to import rice than produce it.  He said that it was not necessary to open up more and more land for paddy cultivation. It was better to increase production in the existing paddy fields in purana villages and colonization schemes. He strongly urged investment in already asweddumised land through higher use of fertilizer, high yielding seed, use of mechanization for ploughing and sowing. This would give greater returns.

Philip Gunawardena was very critical of the colonization schemes of D.S Senanayake.  The independent peasant small holder as dreamt by DS Senanayake   does not exist said Philip. The majority of the owner cultivators  held less than one acre and that  one acre could not provide a living for a family. Many small holders were wage laborers as well.

 In a recent Patha Dumbara survey 45 % neither owned paddy nor had anything to do with paddy production. The remaining 55 % also did not depend wholly on paddy cultivation.  A pauperized peasantry has been created. . This is the picture, of the much idolized ‘peasant proprietor,’ said Philip in 1957.  Many had become tenant farmers in these schemes.  There was indebtedness and wage laborers   confirmed others.

Increasing the peasant ownership of small lots of paddy would not solve anything, said Philip. Paddy cannot be grown in small un-economic units. You cannot offer land divided up into five acres and three acres, as high land and low land  and ask the farmer to cultivate, because he cannot get a good return. Also the fertility of the land varies.

It was not possible to apply modern techniques of farming to small holdings of 5 or 3 or 2 acre farms either.  You need large units.   The land had to be worked in large units to be productive.  What was needed was collective farming, not small scale units. Philip thought the future lay in some sort of cooperative endeavor.  (Continued)

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