I would like to point out that in my travels in the Gampaha district lately, I see huge swathes of land that remain uncultivated. They are mainly the paddy lands which we see all around us. This is simply a shame. The government as usual tries to make rules for people to follow, not make the foundation for a solution. So what they do is say they will take over uncultivated lands, unless the owner cultivates it. By making such rash and unsound statements, they are laying themselves open to ridicule.
It is simply not practical to farm these lands in small units. In order to achieve a profit the whole field, some with over 50 owners must be cultivated as one, and the renter can pay the owners of the land, an amount based on that person’s allotment size. The problem is one person’s opinion of what is a reasonable rent may differ from anothers, so there may be some form of set rate, and as all the owners have to participate, as otherwise the tenant farmer will not take up the opportunity, it is not an easy one to solve, but is doable.
It is this out of the box approach that is now needed for cultivation, as we are only realizing a minuscule amount of productivity from our lands due to the small intensive agriculture we have practiced for generations, which does not make economic sense today.
On the legal side, what they need to do is to reinforce the ownership of the land, so the owner does not lose his rights if someone else rents that land for any purpose, even to graze their cattle. If one just takes the latter as an example, if I am able to rent a large paddy field for a period of three years to grow grass, and then use this new variety of grass that is high in nutrients for the cows, I may be able to run a profitable dairy business.
If I can do this in the Gamapa district close to the areas of consumption of milk, it will serve many purposes. It will help us become self sufficient in Milk production for domestic use. It will also help us utilize unutilized land for a constructive purpose without using it as fallow. A mix use of growing grass can turn the soil fertility round and be a good intermediate crop before the owners retake the land once the leases expire and grow their agribusiness after taking learning from the current tenant of the self same land.
Most agricultural advisers see this anomaly, and have suggested that they get involved in the projects currently in existence. It is very important that we understand, that the land lies fallow because the owner is otherwise engaged in a career however the interpretation of the law precludes him from renting out the land either, due to the fear that it could be taken over.
In conclusion, we must enact legislation without delay to preserve the ownership rights of property and permit renting out of land for a fair rate that provides the high risk farmer a certain level of knowledge that he can farm the land for the term of the lease without any encumbrances other than simply making the annual payment in advance. In this system all stakeholders will be empowered to make a difference by using their land wisely to maximize the productivity and benefit the nation.
I believe too few people understand the potential of this land, because we are still stuck in the 18th century as far as agricultural practices are concerned and must take a few leaps of centuries to get to the current date and implement practices adopted now. What is worse a lot of emphasis is on going back to past to copy from what was done then.
Once must learn from the past so the same mistakes are not made by a new generation and adopt the relevant practices for the present.
The whole of the Gampaha district is becoming a place littered with single family dwellings on one level, some with large plots others with just enough room for a home, and many in between. Of course the in between ones appear to use the land area for growing food to feed the family, whilst the larger plots are generally under utilized as it requires a large labor input if it were to be cultivated intensely. They nevertheless have an assortment of trees that produce different fruit depending on the seasons for personal consumption, surrounded by the fields I referred to which are not economical for the owners to attempt to cultivate and which they dare not give to another farmer to work on for fear of not being able to recover the land.
So I believe the law must be clear, and one should not have to go to court to retrieve the land once the lease expires and must automatically revert to the owner unless there is a new lease agreement from scratch as a new rental that is agreeable to both parties.