Ground nut is one of the major oil crops grown in Sri Lanka is categorized as Other Field Crop (OFC). Further, it is among the prominent crops cultivated in our area of concern for this study i.e. South-East Dry Zone (SEDZ). Ideal climatic conditions suitable for OFC cultivation is a characteristic of the SEDZ Ground nut, is a prominent OFC in two districts i.e. Monaragala and Ampara, which belong to the SEDZ. However, it is not a major OFC in Hambantota, the other district in the SEDZ. Ground Nut has been cultivated over a long period of time (more than 20 years by the majority of farmers) and it has the potential for obtaining a higher profit over many other crops grown in those areas. Further it has become one of the most important farming/cropping systems that the farmers of SEDZ areas are used to.
Although, the both Ampara and Monaragala districts are more or less similar in conditions, there are few remarkable changes which can be seen among the Ground nut farming systems prevailing in those two districts with respect to the characters such as agronomic practices, variety planted and marketing system. Not only the cultivation pattern related changes, but also the socio-economic characters of the Ground nut farmers in each districts show some differences.
In Ampara district, Thirukkovil, Komari and Panama ASC division areas were the areas which recorded highest extent of Ground nut. All these three areas were in close proximity to the sea and thereby characterized by sandy and saline soils and high drainage conditions. More often, farmers cultivated pink coloured seed variety (locally called as “Tissa”) and the larger size seed variety (locally called as “Walawe” or “Jumbo”) was the next popular variety among the farmers in Ampara area.
Majority of lands were rain fed and only very few had irrigation facilities through agro wells. Due to the lack of rain in Yala season, Ground nut is mainly cultivated in Maha season. With respect to the marketing system, farmers in Thirukkovil and Komari areas used to sell a significant portion of their harvest as fresh pods (un dried) to sell as boiled peanuts along the road sides. The remaining harvest is dried and sold to the wholesale collectors to be taken to outside areas for use in value added product in confectionary industry.
Majority of land holdings/extent varied from ½ ac to 2 ac where, about 20% of farmers had 2-5ac large scale lands. Most of these lands were adjoining to their homesteads. Majority of farmers in these areas are using family labour for their cultivation operations except for harvesting.
In case of Monaragala district, Ground nut cultivation has spread throughout the district. However, highest extent was recorded in Thanamalvila, Thelulla and Kudaoya ASC areas. Unlike in Ampara, farmers in these areas had larger land holdings vary from 2-5 acres. Water scarcity in Yala season is same as Ampara so that, Ground Nut is mainly cultivated in Maha season. Most common variety was red colour small seed variety locally called as “Indi”. Soil conditions differ from Ampara, where Monaragala has reddish brown earth with less sandy nature together with less drainage. Similar as Ampara, rain fed lands are prominent in Monaragala where about 5% of farmers had agro well facilities. Due to the larger land holdings, Monaragala farmers had to use hired labour for their cultivation operation than Ampara.
In contrast to Ampara, most of the Ground nut lands in Monaragala area are away from their homesteads; maintain as chena lands; and lands of a group of farmers are situated adjoining to each other as a cluster where, this arrangement is locally called as “Yaya arrangement”. This arrangement allows farmers to operate/work as a group specially in operations such as crop production. Monaragala farmers sell their production as dried pods and they also sell to wholesale collectors.
In addition to the above mentioned changes, there are quite and few similarities in Ground nut farming systems in SEDZ. Minimum use of external inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides is an iconic character in Ground Nut farming compared to other OFCs. Most troublesome operation was weed control since they had to control weeds manually during the cultivation period. So that weed controlling and earthning-up was the highest labour consuming operation after harvesting
Threat for cultivations from wild animals specially, from elephant, peacock and wild boar is another common feature in SEDZ. So that, farmers need to spend considerable time for crop protection both in day and night time. This has resulted temporary migration of farmers from their households during the cultivation period. Lack of quality seeds at the planting time is a common shortage faced by the ground farmers in SEDZ. High fluctuations in price is another common problem faced by these farmers. This has even resulted farmers to more away from Ground nut cultivations in some areas as recorded during the farmer survey.
In addition, banning of a total killer weedicide which farmers were used to use in their cultivation has resulted in reduction of cultivating extent in past recent years. Furthermore, it has also resulted the increase of cost of weed control and there by total cost of production.
Compared to most of other crops in SEDZ, Ground nut cultivation has higher potential for obtaining a higher profit for the farmers in those areas. So that, with proper solutions for prevailing problems in the system, Ground nut cultivation could be a sustainable livelihood option for the farming community in SEDZ.