Rice production is one of the main productions and staple foods in Sri Lanka. Rice is the staple
food of 21.8 million Sri Lankans and is the livelihood of more than 1.8 million farmers. More
than 30 percent of the total labour force is directly or indirectly involved in the rice sector. It
cultivates as wetland crop in all districts of Sri Lanka during two monsoon seasons namely;
Maha and Yala season (Literally, Sinhala word Maha means bigger and Yala means lesser). The
Maha season falls during the “North-east monsoon” from September to March in the following
year, while the Yala season is effective during the period from May to end of August during the
The beginning of rice cultivation in Sri Lanka, traces its root back to the proud history between
161 B.C. and 1017 A.D. Ideal climatic conditions of Sri Lanka yielded a thriving crop, which
encouraged many Sri Lankans to make rice cultivation their way of life. Thus it became a focal
point of Sri Lankan lives, uniting a beautiful pattern including the society, culture and religious
beliefs in the country. The governing royal minds of Sri Lanka saw the enriching importance of
rice cultivation, prompting them to construct tanks of extraordinary size and numbers to irrigate
the mass scale rice production. At Present much of the human and animal labour is replaced with
technology, adding greater deal of efficiency towards the production process.
Inorganic fertilizers were introduced to Sri Lanka in 1950 before which only organic sources
were used. The main objective of the fertilizer subsidy programme is to encourage farmers to
adopt high-yielding varieties with a view to attaining self-sufficiency in rice and also to ease the
burden on the farmers’ budget. On the other hand, the subsidy scheme was initiated to make
fertilizer more affordable to encourage its wider use for increasing agriculture productivity.
Currently, most of the country’s required inorganic fertilizer is imported.
In 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa campaigned to eliminate artificial pesticides. In April
2021 he declared that the entire country would immediately switch to organic farming, yet as of
February 2022, still a majority of farmers say they received no training in organic
techniques. The 2021 rice harvest failed, leading to a $1.2 billion emergency food aid program, a
$200 million income-support program, and huge sums to import hundreds of thousands of tonnes
The sown extent under rice cultivation during 2021/2022 Maha season was 775,846 hectares.
The largest extent of rice cultivated was reported in Anuradhapura district, which is 15.1%
(116,969 hectares) of the total extent of rice cultivated in the country. The highest average yield
of 3,969kg per net hectare was reported during this season from Hambantota District. The
highest production of rice was estimated from Anuradhapura District (260,448 Metric tons). The
highest rice production of the country was accounted for 13% from both Anuradhapura District
and Kurunegala District. The next higher contribution to the total rice production of the country
from Ampara, Polonnaruwa, Hambanthota and Monaragala Districts were estimated 11% , 9%,
6% and 5% respectively during the 2021/2022 Maha season.
The sown extent under rice cultivation during 2022 Yala season was 481,669 hectares. The
largest extent of rice cultivated was reported in Ampara district, which is 13% (62,686 hectares)
of the total extent of rice cultivated in the country. The highest average yield of 4,612kg per net
hectare was reported during this season from Hambantota District. The highest production of rice
was estimated from Polonnaruwa District (222,414 Metric tons). The highest rice production of
the country was accounted for 15% from both Polonnaruwa District and Ampara District. The
next higher contribution to the total rice production of the country from Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Hambanthota and Trincomalee Districts were estimated 11%, 11%, 9% and 6%respectively during the 2022 Yala season.
Although 570,000 hectares of rice fields were expected to be cultivated in the Yala season by the
Ministry of Agriculture, authorities emphasize that the extent of rice fields expected to be
cultivated in the 2023 Yala season will exceed 700,000 hectares due to the free mud fertilizer
(Triple Super Phosphate) provided by the government. The Minister of Agriculture stated that
during this Yala season, it would record the highest extent of paddy fields cultivated in the
country. This (2023) Yala season is the first cultivation season which receives all chemical
fertilizers at the same time after three cultivation seasons. Also, all farmers are prepared for rice
cultivation due to the fact that the majority of reservoirs and tanks are filled with adequate water
for cultivation. In order to reduce the cost of production of farmers, the government has taken
specific measures to provide a subsidy of Rs.20,000 per hectare and Rs. 40,000 per 02 hectares
to buy fertilizers in this Yala season.
Sri Lanka is expecting a paddy (rough rice) harvest of 2.69 million metric tons in ongoing main
(Maha) 2023 cultivation season as the country recovers from the worst currency crisis in the
history of the island’s soft-pegged central bank. Up to December 756,538 hectares of paddy had
been sown or 89 percent of the targeted 852,894 hectares for the season, the island’s agricultural
Monthly rice consumption was estimated at 112.3 kilograms per year per person, working out to
211,930 metric tons per month or 2.54 million metric tons a year. The rice surplus for 2023
would be 160,840 metric tons. Unlike other crops where a surplus leads to a fall of the price to
global levels triggering exports, rice is under import protection, with a politically powerful
farmer and collector lobby.
Above all, it can be clearly mentioned that rice cultivation in Sri Lanka has simply been an
integral part of the country. In fact, it has become a major aspect of the lives of Sri Lankans that
cannot be separated. Besides, the contribution of the rice cultivation in Sri Lanka in fulfilling the
country’s rice demand and the economy is highly appreciable. Thus, rice cultivation in Sri Lanka
is highly significant when considering the country’s agriculture. However, it is not a secret that rice cultivation in Sri Lanka is still facing challenges. Still it is believed that the future of this
sector would be better and bright.