June 19, Colombo: The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has agreed to provide necessary technical assistance to Sri Lanka to reduce the impact of climate change on the island's rice production utilizing satellite technology and to restore self-sufficiency in rice.
The IRRI offered its assistance to Sri Lanka when a delegation of the institute led by its Director General Dr. Matthew Morell met with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena at the President's Official Residence in Colombo, today (19).
During the meeting with President Sirisena, the Director General emphasized the importance of being self-sufficient to meet the demand for rice consumption nationally amid the climatic changes faced by the countries in the region.
The Director General said the IRRI is keen to work with Sri Lanka's Department of Agriculture to increase the quality of rice production in Sri Lanka and to provide technical assistance to reduce post-harvest losses. He also said that it is expected to introduce new techniques to promote the value addition of rice.
President Sirisena noting that the country's rice production has suffered due to climatic changes experienced in the recent past said the objective of the Government is to transform Sri Lanka into a nation self-sufficient in food while facing such challenges.
Extending his gratitude to the IRRI Director General, the President said Sri Lanka is looking forward to exchange the new technical knowledge and experiences with the other countries in the region.
As a first step to begin restoring the country's rice self-sufficiency, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Agriculture and the IRRI signed an agreement today to identify priority areas for Sri Lanka's agriculture and outline broad areas for collaboration.
Dr. WMW Weerakoon, Director General of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, on behalf of Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera and Director General for IRRI Dr. Matthew Morell signed the agreement, which will guide the planning and implementation of strategic initiatives in the country to re-invigorate Sri Lanka's rice sector and support the government in achieving their key goal of self-sufficiency in rice.
“Sri Lanka's drive to restore rice self-sufficiency aligns with our goal in ensuring food and nutrition security in the region,” said Dr. Morell. “The Heads of Agreement that has been formalized now will help the Institute coordinate its efforts in supporting the Government of Sri Lanka as it strengthens the resilience of its rice and rice-based agri-food systems against climate change,” he added.
Rice is the staple food in Sri Lanka and, until recently, the country had achieved self-sufficiency in rice production. In recent years, however, rice production in the country has been constantly challenged by the increasing impacts of climate change and last year, the country was forced to import 700,000 tons of rice due to untimely flooding and its worst drought after 37 years.
In addition, stagnation in yield growth; high costs of production, particularly labor costs; low private sector investment/engagement in rice-based agri-food systems; and weakening national rice research capacity all challenged the rice production.
These recent challenges highlight the requirement for innovative solutions and partnerships to maintain Sri Lanka's rice self-sufficiency, the IRRI noted.
The 50-year long partnership between the IRRI and Sri Lanka has contributed to the country's rice self-sufficiency. Supported by IRRI's research, Sri Lanka currently cultivates 95% of the land that is available for rice cultivation with rice varieties that produce stable yields, require fewer inputs, and are climate resilient. The institute also helps the conservation of genetic diversity of Sri Lanka's rice varieties through its rice gene bank
The IRRI-Sri Lanka partnership is keen to prioritize opportunities in: improving the exchange of rice varieties and germplasm; developing hybrid rice; ensuring efficiency in rice-based agri-food systems, water use, mechanization, and climate change resilient rice production systems; as well as strengthening national agriculture leadership capacity.
An official work plan is also expected to be signed by the two parties in the near future, to outline a precise plan of action for furthering food and nutrition security via rice-based agri-food systems in Sri Lanka, the IRRI said.