Sri Lanka has a strong agricultural heritage that spans back to nearly three thousand heritage. Sri Lankan farmers have cultivated a diverse range of crops and have been actively breeding plant varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases and have more nutritious and delicious yield.
Over 80 different fruit and vegetable varieties with unique taste and nutrition qualities are grown in Sri Lanka for local and global markets. Moreover, the country has more than 100 indigenous and wildly grown fruit and vegetables, which is little known in the global markets and are not in general consumption.
The natural geography and weather conditions of the island support agriculture with its fertile environment. The cool climatic condition in the Sri Lankan highland is ideal for the cultivation of vegetables such as carrot, leaks, cabbage, cauliflower, salad leaves, beetroot, bean, bell pepper, and salad cucumber as well as fruits like pears, strawberries, and herbs, which are exported and consumed locally.
The dry zone of the country produces a range of vegetables including pumpkins, brinjals, butternut squash, green chilli, red onion, bitter gourd, Thai eggplant, okra, melon, sweet and sour banana types, queen pineapple, papaya, mango, lime and lemon.
Moreover, the dry and intermediate zones of the country is also a treasure trove of vegetables, nuts and fruits unique to Sri Lanka including long beans, drumstick, snake gourd, ridge gourd as well as fruits like sugar apple, custard apple, sapodilla, carambola, soursop, various types of bell fruits including rose apple and water apple, coffee plum, Palu (Manilkara hexandra), and native berries like Embilla are fast becoming favourites with the global travellers arriving in Sri Lanka.
A series of corporate entities in Sri Lanka play the role of integrators who provide a wide range of products and production-related inputs and services to fresh vegetable and fruit growers.
They are involved in the production and also retail marketing offering a series of services including the production of paddy, vegetable seeds, and planting materials and the sale of agrochemicals and fertilisers as well as soil plant and water analytical services.
Commercially grown fruits and vegetables face a long journey until it reaches the consumer’s table travelling through an entire supply chain linked with various stakeholders.
Although Sri Lanka produces 710,000 t of vegetables and 540,000 t of fruits annually, most of these products are organically grown in home gardens that are below the size of a hectare. Farms larger than one hectare are owned by large scale farmers and private organisations who use a range of farming methods including hydroponics, organic farming and general chemical-based cultivation.
Technological advancements made in the agricultural sector targeting the export market include polytunnel cultivation, application of drip irrigation systems, optimum input applications, and pest and disease control.
The agricultural supply chain in Sri Lanka consists of eight main stages involving various stakeholders. The recent change made to the fruit and vegetable supply chain of Sri Lanka includes the establishment of a formal out-grower system and village level collection centres which are mainly managed by the private sector buyers to reduce the number of stakeholder within the supply chain and improve the quality of the final product. Village level micro-finance institutions such as the SANASA bank network have also linked with certain associations to provide short term credit facilities to farmers and to facilitate direct sourcing.
Wastage of fresh vegetables and fruits during the transportation is a common problem faced by many farmers in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, a large portion of the harvest was wasted due to inefficient transportation. As a solution, local supermarkets have introduced a new solution which has reduced the wastage by 5%. Under the new process, the fruits and vegetables are packed in gunny bags and transported in ordinary lorries and each truck is paid a fixed amount based on the distance, encouraging them to transport a feasible amount of vegetables and fruit.
Direct sourcing from the farmers and quality guaranteed warehousing has also been vital in reducing wastage of agriculture produce in Sri Lanka.
A warehousing process that involves sorting, grading, weighing, and packing the product before being dispatched to individual supermarket outlets has proactively reduced the wastage of agricultural produce and has enabled the local retailers to provide consumers vegetables at a low pricing.
Sri Lankan large scale farmers, wholesale retailers and exports follow a stringent process of quality standards to meet global standards including ISO 22000 series, health and safety regulations.
Sri Lankan export processing and manufacturing facilities also comply with international standards such as ISO, HACCP, and EU standards. The products are also traced and monitored to guarantee a safe product to the consumer.
Exporters drive quality assurance in the fruits and vegetable industry in Sri Lanka. The fruit and vegetable exports of Sri Lanka have been increasing gradually over the years as a result of the increasing demand from the EU, Canada. Western Asian and South Asian countries.
The Department of Commerce and EDB Sri Lanka play a significant role to enhance the export operations of these products. In the year 2018 Sri Lanka earned export revenue of USD 75.6 Million from the export of fruits and vegetables.
Agriculture Research and Development centres situated across the island including the Department of Agriculture in Peradeniya, Agrarian Research Centres in Kundasale, and Angunakolapelessa, the Agrarian Research Centre in Matara are some of the prominent institutions established to support the local agriculture through R&D.
The expanding infrastructure of the country is also an important factor that supports the development of agriculture exports. Today, fruits and vegetables grown in Sri Lanka can reach the two airports in Sri Lanka within a few hours through a network of highways and railways. The cargo village at Colombo international airport houses cold room facilities and other equipment catering, especially to the fruit and vegetable sector.