Humans have a history because they transform nature - Godelier,1986
About 12 000 years ago, the human way of life changed significantly. Humans began to grow plants and keep animals for milk and meat. They became farmers rather than hunters. This change first took place in the Middle East (1). Similar changes took place a little later in America (where potatoes and maize were being grown) and the far East (where rice was first cultivated). Almost identically, these changes took place in the Indian subcontinent as well which influenced how the native inhabitants functioned and made use of their natural resources. The origins of the Sri Lankan agricultural industry trace back to more than 2500 years when indigenous agricultural systems and traditional practises dominated the tropical island nation. Native inhabitants cultivated a multitude of crops to fulfil their daily food requirements and feed their livestock. In contemporary Sri Lanka, many household industries, small scale industries, big domestic and multinational companies are all contributing to the thriving Sri Lankan agricultural sector.
As Sri Lanka was a tropical hub for various varieties of crops from early times due to its favourable climatic and soil conditions, it was much easier for native inhabitants to cultivate their food. Thus, there was hardly any foreign agricultural food trade. Water from rivers was consistently used to irrigate the lands while the annual rainfall watered the lands. As a result, early agricultural communities were located nearby water bodies. Furthermore, due to its distinct geographical location, Sri Lanka is blessed with a range of natural resources that are favourable for agriculture. Paddy cultivation dominated both sustainable and organic agricultural practises for centuries and played a pivotal role in shaping Sri Lanka’s culture, religion, and economy. Other types of crops such as tea, fruits, vegetables, and coconut were also cultivated in different parts of the country. Presently, Sri Lanka is the world's fourth-largest producer of tea and is placed fourth in the extent of land reserved for coconut cultivation. In addition, the tropical isle is also the largest producer of coconut arrack in the world. Overall, Sri Lanka has a rich and flourishing agricultural industry and its inhabitants have been enjoying a splendid agriculture-centred lifestyle from the earliest of times.
The Sri Lankan agriculture industry produces a large range of agricultural products, processed foods, and beverages which contributes to the growing domestic and global demands. Therefore, Sri Lanka is a major exporter of a diverse range of crop varieties and a key player in the production and distribution of agricultural food products both domestically and globally, employing about 30% of Sri Lankan labour and ensuring a steady product supply while providing means of livelihood for local farmers, suppliers and manufacturers. In 2021, the agricultural sector of Sri Lanka contributed about 7.4% to the national GDP (2). Thus, it is mandatory to execute action to ensure and comply with the sanitary and phytosanitary standards established by local and international.
An inability to do so prevents local manufacturers from being able to export agriculture-based products to the international marketplace. Moreover, Sri Lanka has been practising numerous principles and regulations to ensure the safety and quality of the production, processing, and transportation of agriproducts for prolonged periods. In addition, state-of-the-art technology is being utilised to ensure the highest product quality, maintain hygienic and sanitary standards, and certify the capability of the products. Moreover, private standards have been established separately by major retailers, manufacturers, and supply chains, largely to mitigate any reputational or commercial risks that could arise.
Currently, the quality standards of organic agricultural products are assessed using a criterion that involves four primary factors:
Organisations that are involved in the processed food industry complies with a range of international standards such as the ISO 9000, ISO 22000 (an international standard that defines the requirements of a food safety management system covering all organisations in the food chain from “farm to fork”), HACCP, Halal, and Kosher to certify the quality of the products and production process so that consumers are confident and assured about the internationally accepted quality Sri Lankan products emanate. Farmers are constantly educated about Good Agricultural Practises (GAP) and encouraged to practice them at the nurseries and some farms are certified under the global GAP certification.
In addition, various improved technologies have been adapted for crop cultivation in recent years. With the widespread health-conscious eating worldwide, the global demand for wholesome, nutritional, and convenient food is increasing. To cater to these global demands manufacturers and suppliers have also been abiding by the minimum requirements and fundamental principles of health and safety regulations established by the European community. Furthermore, processing and manufacturing facilities owned by various export companies comply with standards established by local institutes such as the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI). Presently, Sri Lanka is also working on various initiatives to enhance the safety and quality of agricultural food products by adopting good practices. Moreover, food processors have been working in unison with the International Food Processors Associations and frequently participate in international trade fairs to remain shoulder to shoulder with the latest technology and standards. Thus, high quality and enhanced safety standards of agricultural products supplied to domestic and export markets can significantly contribute to increased national income, new employment opportunities, increased farm income, and enhanced nutrition and health of the consumers.
In conclusion, agriculture is the mainstay of life in Sri Lanka because it feeds the domestic and world’s populations and produces what we need to survive, strive and thrive. Presently, farmers have been practising sustainable agriculture to ensure and maintain a higher quality of production of the products. Although quality management and safety aspects of agriculture in Sri Lanka are debatable topics these days due to matters related to fertilisers, local farmers have been consistently catering to domestic and global demands.
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.