Main season paddy output in Sri Lanka expected to partially recover

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says the 2018 main season paddy output in Sri Lanka is expected to partially recover from last year’s severely reduced level, but will still be below average.

Harvesting of the 2018 main season maha paddy crop, accounting for about 65 percent of the annual production, began in mid-January, with the bulk to be collected between February and March.

Below-average rains throughout October 2017, coupled with low water levels in major reservoirs, delayed sowing operations in North Central, North Western, Central and Uwa provinces.

Official information from mid-December 2017 indicated that, while planting progress for the 2018 main season surpassed last year’s drought-reduced level, it lagged well behind normal years.

As a result, the 2018 main season paddy output is expected to partially recover from last year’s severely reduced level but still be below average, FOA said.

It also said that latest official estimates put the 2017 aggregate rice output at 2.5 million tonnes (1.7 million tonnes, milled basis), 43 percent less than the output in 2016 and 41 percent lower than the average of the previous five years.

The decrease is the result of a severe drought at the end of 2016 and early 2017, which compromised water availabilities for irrigation for the 2017 main maha and secondary yala season crops, resulting in a considerable decrease in plantings, widespread crop losses and reduced yields.

Other cereals, including maize, various pulses, chillies and onions, mainly grown under rainfed conditions, were also heavily damaged by the dry weather.

The cereal import requirements in 2018 are forecast at about 1.6 million tonnes, 13 percent below last year’s high level but remain well-above the five-year average. It comprises about 1 million tonnes of wheat and 100 000 tonnes of maize. For rice, the import requirements in 2018 are preliminarily forecast at about 500 000 tonnes, slightly below last year’s exceptionally high level, but still well above the five-year average, given the expectations of the continuing supply tightness following last year’s sharply reduced output.

In January, domestic prices of rice continued the upward trend of the previous months and were well above their year-earlier levels as market supplies were generally tight following the sharp reduction in the 2017 output. Wheat prices remained overall stable in recent months reflecting adequate market availabilities following high level of imports.

According to the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission report, released in June 2017, the prolonged drought in the first part of 2017 has impacted the food consumption scores of households in the affected areas, with approximately 900 000 people estimated to face food insecurity, mostly concentrated in the districts of Kurunegala, Moneragale, Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna. In addition, over 630 000 people were affected by floods in May 2017 mostly in the districts of Kalutara, Matara and Galle and Ratnapura.

A below-average 2018 main season paddy output is expected to affect food security conditions of large numbers of people, due to loss of income and reduced purchasing power, resulting from the reduced production of paddy for sale and poor agricultural labour opportunities. In addition, the persistent high prices for rice, the country’s main staple, continue to negatively affect the access to food of the most vulnerable households. (Colombo Gazette)