The 1960’s “Green Revolution” And Its Impact On Rice Production In Sri Lanka
By V. C. B. Unantenne.
With the change of government in 1965, Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister with M. D. Banda as his Minister of Agriculture.
With Dudley, the shadow of his father loomed large before him. The first multi-purpose reservoir damming the Gal-Oya at Inginiyagala, then the largest of its kind and the vast extent of irrigated paddy was to him, the greatest achievement of his father. It drew him to Amparai like a magnet once in three months or so. In the numerous hours, this writer spent in his company mingling with colonists, walking the canal bunds inspecting paddy fields as well as having breakfast or dinner or chatting away seated on the cement bench of the vast Gal-Oya Reservoir bund till late at night hearing the distant trumpeting of elephants, many were the fascinating events and anecdotes he related. Often it was a monologue drawn from his memory with me a captive audience held spellbound with their range and variety. I feel I should share them with the reader, hopefully in a separate article.
In one such visit, he related how from a young age (whenever the opportunity arose) he would accompany his father during his circuits to the colonisation schemes, learning first hand the numerous complex tasks involved in clearing jungle, restoring ancient tanks and reservoirs, developing land, constructing the network of canals and roads, building type-plan houses and, finally, setting the colonists in their new homes far away from their villages of origin. Similarly, M. D. Banda having begun his public career as a Divisional Revenue Officer had years of experience working closely with the people encouraging the farmers to grow food crops such as rice, vegetables, manioc, yams and pulses during war time when there was an acute shortage of food as the Japanese had invaded Burma and cut off supplies.
The mid 1960’s saw the launch of the Green Revolution in Ceylon. The Catalyst which gave the impetus to paddy production was the new hybrid, high yielding varieties of seed developed by the Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Research Stations such as Batalagoda in the country. The political leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister, in my view, was crucial to the success of the Green Revolution. Soon after he became Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake summoned a meeting of Government Agents, at which this writer too was present, where he informed them of two decisions he had taken – both of which had a far reaching impact in food production. Firstly, he pointed out, as a young member of Parliament he settled the problems of his constituents by meeting the Government Agents (GA’s), while now, instead, the people had to travel all the way to Colombo at great expense and hardship to meet officials in their head offices who took decisions on such parochial matters. He said he would vest these powers back again with the GA’s as they knew the local conditions well.
Secondly, he said he would give the GA’s the necessary authority to coordinate and spearhead a food production drive giving leadership to the local staff in the agricultural sector, who would be involved in the Programme. He also said the District Agricultural Committee should meet regularly, giving the Members of Parliament and officials the opportunity to participate in decision making and also sorting out any problems which may arise in implementation.
As a first step to implementing the programme, the total extent of asweddumised paddy land had to be estimated for each district. The information available in this regard in the divisional offices of the Agrarian Services Department was updated with the assistance of the Cultivation Committees which had tract by tract records. With regard to the colonisation schemes, the Land Branch of the Kachcheri had the record of the total acreage cultivated under each such scheme. This was so, in regard to the Left Bank units under the Gal Oya scheme which were selected as a special project to implement the programme. This area was under the Kachcheri administration while the Right Bank of the Gal Oya scheme was still being developed by the River Valleys Development Board, based on the total acreages cultivated with paddy of quantitative inputs of seed paddy fertiliser and agro chemicals were calculated for each season and finalised by a sub committee of the District Agricultural Committee chaired by the GA. These were then published as the Annual Indicative Targets for the District. The Annual Indicative Targets were the information on which the implementation, monitoring and any mid course corrections were carried out season by season. The sub committee of the DAC met as often as needed for this purpose.
Being an island-wide programme, there had to be a nodal centre which liaised with the districts and published National Indicative Targets annually collating all the District Indicative Targets for this purpose. A Development Division was set up in the Ministry of Agriculture with a Director and several Deputies of senior rank who had experience of District Administration, knew the GA’s personally and so could interact with them and the local staff with ease. They travelled regularly to the districts holding discussions with the GA and the staff in regard to the progress of implementation of the District level Indicative Targets. For this purpose they also participated when possible at DAC sub-committee meetings. It is noteworthy, as far as this writer is aware, neither before nor after, had there been such a close liaison between the Ministry and the District Staff headed by the GA since the Development Division served as the linkage for this purpose. Further to this, quarterly meetings of the Government Agents were held, chaired by the Ministry/Secretary which studies in depth the implementation of the programme and agree on any mid course corrections.
While these institutional arrangements were being put in place, it was essential that the farmers who toiled in the fields to produce paddy were motivated to realise the benefits the Green Revolution would bring them in terms of increased production and incomes. Their participation was mobilised at two levels. The Prime Minister/Minister travelled extensively in the districts – particularly in the rice bowls of Amparai, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa and Anuradhapura – moving freely with farmers, meeting them in the field and the threshing floor, sorting out their problems on the spot with the field staff and encouraging them to adopt the package of cultural practices that would enhance production and help in reaching the goal of self sufficiency in rice. Seeing the Prime Minister seated on the threshing floor, enjoying farmer’s hospitality of Kamatha Bath with rice, kurakkan pittu and a variety of dishes, sweat poring down his cheeks while beaming with smiles all round, is an unforgettable memory. This was home to him – the world he enjoyed living in away from the hustle and bustle of politics.
At the second level, the GA and his staff had to work hard to put in place strategies to introduce the new high yielding seed and popularise the new package of cultural practices to the farmers. Cultivation committees had already being set up island-wide. Being a grass-roots organisation working directly with the farmers it was ideally suited as a link for promoting group participation. The CC members were brought in groups, to a central venue and given intensive awareness training by the agricultural extension staff in the new practices. They, in turn, arranged for groups of farmers to participate in field demonstrations of sowing/transplanting the new high yielding varieties of paddy; applying fertiliser at the three stages of plant growth; identifying pests and diseases and demonstrating pesticides to be used to control and eliminate them. Within a matter of a few seasons the farmers adopted the new seed varieties and the cultural practices which were required to boost production and in the result spectacular results.
In retrospect, one sees the Green Revolution and its impact on paddy production as ‘period history’ encapsulated in time never again repeated in this form. Although the input/output model still appears to be followed in the districts in planning paddy production, the linkage of the Development Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Districts has been dismantled and what remains seem to be departmental functions carried out by the related agencies which are now distributed among several ministries with little or no inter agency contacts. Neither does one sees the single minded purposeful focus of the political leadership and it’s close interaction with the people and the officials as in the mid 1960’s when the Green Revolution saw its Golden Years.
The writer is a member of the former Ceylon Civil Service who served as a GA in several districts and also held office in Divisions in the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs and other Government Agencies.