Since ancient times traditional upland farming system, or chena system as it is popularly known was the most prominent farming system in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The extents dwindled with the development of irrigation systems. As the development of irrigation systems in South East Dry Zone is much less compared to the systems in north central areas, farmers in the South East Dry Zone area engage in upland farming which mainly depends on the rainfall. Although shifting cultivation, multiple cropping and crop rotation are major characteristics of chena cultivation, those practices specially shifting cultivation has diminished over time due to increase of farmer population and with the government intervention to the conservation of forest areas. Therefore, at present upland farmers have to limit their farming activities to a specific land plots.
As per the farmers in the SEDZ area, the decreasing pattern of rainfall has led farmers to shift from crops such as vegetables and chillie to crops which can tolerate drought conditions like green gram, black gram and gingelly. Green gram is one of the main crop among various crops grown in SEDZ and is mainly grown as a third season crop in paddy lands. Further the crop is grown in isolated areas of Uddagandara and Ranakeliya in Hambantota district, Wandama and Gonaganara in Monaragal district, Damana in Ampara district where the geographical and climatic conditions and also cultural practices are similar. As rainfall is insufficient during the Yala season, green gram is mainly cultivated in Maha season in all the above mentioned areas and most of the cultivation lands are far away from their homes.
With the onset of rainy season, lands were cleared and burnt and prepared for planting with the use of tractors where this is the only mechanized operation in green gram farming. Green gram cultivation is characterized by minimum use of external inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides with compared to other OFCs. Crop protection from wild animals is an essential practice resulting in more labour consumption. Majority of farmers in the region use local varieties.
Green gram has been grown in with the intention of increasing soil fertility. Farmers are aware that the crop adds fertility to the soil and therefore saving on the cost of fertilizer. In the present day green gram is cultivated as a primary source of income by only a very few farmers in remote areas and for most farmers it is an additional income source. A crop still mostly cultivated manually impacts very minimally on the environment. However, there is a decreasing trend in green gram cultivation in upland areas with compared to other cropping systems in the region.