Grow More Food
Posted on June 9th, 2022

Sugath Kulatunga

It is gratifying to see that the grow more food campaign is on the move. The media has something more than the Aragalaya to talk about. But it seems to be ad hoc and not well planned as a national campaign. We have over 20 distinct agroclimatic zones with their distinctive advantages. Of course, the farmers are quite knowledgeable about them. But for optimal results a holistic view is imperative. This should take into account not only vegetables and fruits but animal husbandry and fisheries.

The urgency for addressing the whole basket of food has arisen with the detection of malnutrition in children of over 20 % at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital. This was earlier highlighted by Professor Tissa Vitharana in the Parliament. It has been disclosed that due to the high price of meat and eggs and non-availability of fish even at a high price, the problem has aggravated. If the malnutrition problem is not addressed now the country will be burdened with an unhealthy stunted population. The priority is to address the protein deficiency.

The cheapest source of protein in the island is eggs. Today eggs too affordable as there is a deep price increase. The large-scale battery type poultry industry has suffered due to short supply of poultry food, especially maize and soya. In deep litter type small scale poultry, the producers depend more on kitchen refuse. A ten-by-ten deep litter coop can house 10 hens producing an average of 7 eggs a day for household use and sale to generate some extra income. Deep litter compost is an excellent fertilizer which can support vegetable cultivation.

Just as followed in the groundbreaking campaign in 1960, the government must arrange for a well-coordinated effort of providing feasibility reports of model projects, arrange with Banks for financing, issue of day-old chicks and provision of veterinary services.

The country should focus more on inland fisheries which do not require expensive boats and fuel and are located scattered throughout the Island. It is reported that the extent of inland waters in major rivers is 375 thousand hectares and the area covered by man-made water bodies exceeds 170,000 ha. in about 10,000 tanks. All these water bodies can be used for inland fisheries. Some of these in isolated locations can be leased out to the private sector.

I do not know why catfish is not a popular in fish culture in Sri Lanka. It is a hardy fish which can survive drought conditions and is a fast breeder. ” Catfish is the king” of U.S. aquaculture in terms of pounds produced and total value. The fish is raised in earthen ponds filled with well water and fed a floating, grain-based diet. Farmers received an average price of $0.861 per pound (386.72 Sri Lankan Rupees). If properly managed, catfish should be ready for table after six months.. If they are well fed, they should reach an average of 1kg within the 6months.” In US, Annual the harvests in ponds ranged from 4,000 to 7,000 lb per acre.…/us-catfish-industry-enters-a…

A high protein vegetable that should be promoted is Murunga. Here again I am not aware of extensive cultivation in Sri Lanka of the very productive, short duration hybrid varieties which is widely grown in South India for the pods as well as for the leaves. Murunga pods have a high protein content, and the leaves have the highest protein content out of herbs. Hybrid murunga can be harvested after 160 to 170 days after planting and on average, each tree bears 200-225 fruits/year. Pods are 65 to 70 cm long with 6.3 cm girth and 150 g weight. A hybrid variety can be grown even in pots.

Food scarcities are already there and will become acute within the next few months. Planting long duration crops will not help to relieve the short-term problem. For instance, Manioc is a12 months crop. Has the Dept of Agriculture developed short term varieties? If they have not, they should consult the International Cassava Center in Nigeria and obtain seeds of recently improved varieties.

Another product which is rich in minerals and could be produced in a few weeks is straw mushroom. In fact, this button type of delicacy can be grown in any farm waste with a high cellulose content like mung or soya husks.

In all these products marketing can become a problem and should be taken care of.

It is estimated that due to poor packaging and transport there is a loss up to 40 percent in perishable products. This should be reduced by packing in crates and improved post-harvest practices.

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