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Is Year Round Vegetable Production in Poly-tunnels Possible at Sri Lanka ? (Up Country)

Every day around the world, there are more people who need food on their plate and the world’s population has increased by 1 billion since the turn of the millennium, and it keeps increasing by 3 million every year. At the same time, living standards have improved noticeably for many around the world, leading to increased demand for better quality and healthy food. Vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. The WHO states, including vegetables as a part of the daily diet can reduce the risk of some noncommunicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. Vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber and a host of beneficial non-nutrient substances including plant sterols, flavoring and other antioxidants. In Sri Lanka, vegetable cultivation is one of the most important sectors in agriculture. Diverse agro-ecological regions of Sri Lanka are well suited for the cultivation of different kinds of vegetable crops. Moreover, it is considered as an important component in the daily diet of people of Sri Lanka and so that, there is a constant demand for vegetables in local market. Sri Lanka produces around 710,000 metric tons of vegetables annually. At present, national vegetable production meets nearly 60 % of the vegetable requirement. Vegetable farming is an important source of livelihood for many farmers because it gives income in between short intervals, e.g., every week. The climate in the upcountry is ideal for temperate crops such as carrot, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, salad, beans, bell pepper and tomato. Due to significant contribution to the vegetable production, Nuwara Eliya is one of the important districts of the country and it is one of the major production areas of upcountry vegetables such as carrot, beet, leek, cabbage, bean, potato, tomato etc.

Though the cooler temperature and plenty amount of rain water available in the upcountry suits the cultivation of vegetable cultivation, higher rainfalls associated with higher disease incidences have become common problems which lead to seasonal vegetable production and higher pesticide usage. This challenge has to be overcome using some kind of technology. Globally protected agriculture has been adopted as it protects the crops from adverse factors, extends the growing season and encourages conservation and preservation of the environment. From the mid-90s protected agriculture has been gradually adopted in Sri Lanka by growers of vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants. Protected agriculture includes Green houses, Poly-tunnels, Net houses and rain shelters. There are high tech poly-tunnels and low cost poly-tunnels. Poly-tunnels are the most popular protected agriculture structures among the farmers in Nuwara Eliya district. The promotion and adoption of poly-tunnels have been encouraged by the Department of Agriculture, National Agribusiness Center, Export Development Board and various projects and funding agencies. Enhance the income and living standard of farming communities, adoption of technologies in farming that are environmentally friendly and harmless to health, facilitate the production of high quality products acceptable to international markets, increasing the local food production to self-sufficient level, promote active participation of youth in agriculture are some of the objectives of the National food Production Programme launched in 2016. This poly-tunnel project satisfies the many goals and objectives of various national agricultural policies.

Lets' take a look around  Highest Rain fall Aria in Upcountry in Sri lanka. (Ambagamuwa Koralaya)

Ambagamuwa koralaya is situated in the Nuwara Eliya district which belongs to the upcountry. The total area is 47,844 hectares with a total population of 247,948 and is the largest D.S. division in the country. There are 67 gramaniladari divisions. Next to tea, vegetable cultivation is Vegetable cultivation is done as an only income earning  in around 50 G.N. divisions. The cooler temperature and the plenty of rain water favor the vegetable cultivation in this area. However, extreme rains over prolonged period have been causing vegetable farmers who depend only on the income from vegetable sale to struggle for continuous production and uninterrupted income earning. The upcountry receives the highest rains in the country due to the south west monsoon rains during May to November. In recent years the rainfall pattern seems to be often unpredictable and irregular and prevails sometimes almost throughout the year. Therefore vegetable farming in open fields are liable to be damaged by rain. Excessive rain cause a variety of problems for producers. Too much rain leads to bacteria, fungi and mold growth in the soil. Too much wet conditions due to continuous heavy rain encourages fungal organisms that live in soil to attack the roots or crown of the plant. These disease organisms cause wilting, scorched or brown leaves, leaf drop, die back and can even kill plants. The spores of most fungi that infect leaves need a film of water to sprout and cause an infection. The more leaves stay dry, the less opportunity exists for fungal infections to occur. The more leaves stay wet, as in during periods of frequent rains, the more likely fungal spores will land on the leaves, sprout and cause infections. Abnormally high amounts of rain can leach nutrients from soil. In such cases farmers either have to incur the additional cost of reapplying fertilizer or experience the reduction in crop yield associated with nutrient deficiency. Young plants die by heavy direct showers. Flowers and foliage of plant fall heavily causing severe yield losses.

Due to higher disease incidences associated with higher rainfalls, the use of pesticides has become inevitable in vegetable cultivation. Upcountry vegetable farming is one of the intensive cultivated farming systems which consumes a high volume of pesticides and fertilizers, especially due to short duration crops and highly favorable humid conditions for rapid spread of pest and diseases. According to the findings of a research on pesticide usage in upcountry vegetable farming in Sri Lanka, published in 2014 by Hector Kobbekoduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, about 5% of the active ingredients of pesticides used in upcountry vegetable farming belong to not permitted class type and 34% belong to the category of restricted use. 47% of the farmers prefer to use organophosphate group of insecticides, as they believe these pesticides give quick results and are cheaper despite their toxicity and harmful nature on the environment. Green pesticides and integrated pest management methods are not popular as they do not bring quick results. The number of pesticide overdosing farmers is 41% in Nuwara Eliya district as they believe that recommendations and prescription given in the label are insufficient.

Hence, some kind of protected agriculture technology is extremely required for the commercial level vegetable cultivation in Ambagamuwa area to secure from income loss and to promote high quality and healthier vegetables. As a protected agriculture technology, poly-tunnels are exceptionally beneficial for growing a variety of vegetables. This project will use low tech or low cost poly-tunnels which are made of galvanized iron frames with UV treated polythene cover on the top and a space for ventilation and an insect proof netting around the sides of the frame. These poly-tunnels are relatively cheap and the return on investment on these structures is fast. Short period vegetables are mostly cultivated here which could be cultivated and harvested 4-5 times in a year. But the higher rainfalls that prevails in most of the months of the year often cause to obtain only 2 harvests per year. By growing vegetables in poly-tunnels, multiple vegetable production is possible in a single year leading to more income and higher living standard of the vegetable farm families.

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