Part of Sri Lanka’s irresistible charm lies in its biodiversity that nurtures a great variety of native and non-native fruits and vegetables. As a small island nation located just north of the equator, Sri Lanka is blessed with the ideal climatic conditions of relatively hot weather and ample annual rainfall. Thus, the tropical island paradise packs an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables all year round. It is estimated that around eighty different fruit and vegetable varieties are cultivated in various agro‐climatic areas of the country (1). Furthermore, it is estimated that more than 900,000 metric tons of fruit and vegetables are produced by local farmers annually. Due to their higher quality, distinct taste that cannot be found anywhere, medical properties and nutritional value, there is a growing demand for Sri Lankan fruits and vegetables from consumers all over the world. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s fruit and vegetable sector possess great export potential. To cater to this demand, Sri Lanka has been exporting an array of fruit and vegetable varieties for decades contributing to a large portion of the national GPA.
Tropical fruits cultivated in Sri Lanka contain a range of nutrients and other beneficial compositions that are pivotal for balanced and healthy diets. They ensure enhanced nutritional security of the body and provide key nutritional elements such as vitamins, minerals, essential micronutrients, fibre, vegetable proteins, carbohydrates and bio-functional components that are crucial for healthy living. Since Sri Lanka is home to a rich and diverse culture, locals prioritise the consumption of fruits due to nutritional properties, religious values, and medical purposes attached to them. Fruits are an integral part of Sri Lanka’s livelihood. It also plays a significant role in the diet and cuisine of Sri Lankan households where fruits are consumed both raw and cooked. From curries to juices, jams, jellies, desserts, pickles, fried chips and many more, the variety of consumption is endless. The most popular and commonly consumed fruits varieties include mango, pineapple, banana and papaya. Presently, there are twenty-nine banana varieties and fourteen mango varieties grown locally. Furthermore, lesser-known fruit varieties include mangosteen, rambutan, wood apple, and the Bael fruit (referred to as Beli by locals). In addition, hundreds of locally cultivated wild fruits varieties offer an array of sensational tastes and other benefits. Furthermore, various fruit varieties are commonly used in traditional ayurvedic medicine for skincare, haircare, oral care, and the treatment of a range of physiological conditions.
Each year, local farmers cultivate an array of vegetable varieties that are both distributed domestically and exported to cater to international demand. The availability of a large variety of vegetables highlights that the local diet is rich and healthy due to its high nutritional value. They serve wholesome, nourishing diets that elevate the healthy growth of Sri Lankans. The diverse agro-ecological regions have proven to be ideal for the cultivation of different kinds of vegetable crops. Generally, different species are cultivated in both the hilly areas (upcountry) and the plains (Lowcountry) depending on the agro-ecological adaptability of the specific vegetable varieties. Varieties such as cabbage, carrot, beetroot, cauliflower, Knol Khol (turnip cabbage), bean, tomato, and capsicum are usually cultivated in the hilly areas while brinjal, bitter gourd, pumpkin, luffa, cucumber and snake gourd are commonly cultivated in the plains. Most vegetable varieties grown are improved local selections or imported hybrids. Therefore, many indigenous varieties (which includes a variety of leafy vegetables, gourds, and legumes) are nearly disappearing. Presently, certain indigenous yams such as Innala (Plectranthus) and Kiri ala (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), underwater stems of Kohila (Lasia Spinosa) and Nelum ala (Nymphaea lotus) are major foreign exchange earners for the country.
It is estimated that local farmers produce roughly 540,000 metric tons of fruits and around 710,000 metric tons of vegetables annually. This is largely correlated to the immense domestic and global demand for Sri Lankan fruits and vegetables. Both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables are marketed to the international market. The supply chain includes a diverse range of sources from small farms and home gardens, cluster organisations, commercial farms, agro zone projects, integrated agriculture projects, central collecting centres in villages, provincial wholesale markets and economic centres. The most common export destinations are the Middle East, Maldives, Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, the United Kingdom (UK), Kuwait, Germany and Pakistan.
Advanced technology is utilised for crop cultivation. Techniques such as polytunnels, the drip irrigation system, optimum input applications, pest and disease control, postharvest management, quality packaging and improved transportation methods are commonly utilised during the export process. The expanded local infrastructure which is a result of the colonial and post-colonial era played a major role in the development of the export sector. It has proven to be extremely beneficial because fruits and vegetables grown locally can reach the airport within a few hours through a network of highways and railways saving time, money and effort. The global demand for Sri Lankan fruits has been rising steadily over the years. In 2018, Sri Lanka earned export revenue of USD 75.6 Million from solely the export of fruits and vegetables. Presently, the exportation of fruits and vegetables is governed and monitored by the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLEDB) following the growth policy developed by the Sri Lankan government.
Furthermore, local farmers, suppliers and manufacturers abide by the stringent ISO 22000 series to ensure the safety and well-being of its global consumer base. The Sri Lankan government also took necessary procedures to ensure that local farmers are educated and well aware of Good Agricultural Practises (GAP) which, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations (FAO), guarantees the safety and quality of production, processing and food transport. Certain farms are also certified under the Global GAP certification and thus have created safe, socially and environmentally responsible farming environments marking remarkable success in terms of innovation, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and technology. Moreover, the manufacturing facilities owned by major export companies in Sri Lanka comply with the local safety and quality standards set by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), especially for export marketing, in addition to various international quality standards such as the ISO, HACCP, and EU Standards.
Sri Lanka is rapidly transforming into an emerging economic hub in Southeast Asia that utilises state-of-art technology in agricultural practices. This is quite apparent in fruit and vegetable production has been a leader in revenue generation because it is a principal factor that has been boosting the national GPA over the years. Thus, there is high potential for further expansion of the cultivation of Sri Lankan fruits and vegetables for both domestic global consumption
Due to the country’s diverse climatic regions, Sri Lanka produces a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The manufacturing and exporting of more than 9000 tonnes of produce annually solidify Sri Lanka as a major exporter of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.