Helping pepper farmers in Sri Lanka adapt to the impacts of climate change

By Smallholder Agribusiness Partnerships Programme (SAPP)

Pepper farmers in Sri Lanka are practicing climate-smart agriculture techniques to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Photo: SAPP

The impacts of climate change on agriculture and food security are now widely known. Severe and unpredictable weather is leading to a decline in the production and quality of crops, increased crop damages, land degradation, greater pest and disease outbreaks, salt accumulation in soils and is obstructing the pollination process. Aside from the pressure they place on farmers and food systems, these negative impacts could begin to hinder the sustainability of the Smallholder Agribusiness Partnerships Programme (SAPP 4P) projects. SAPP is therefore conducting a series of capacity building programs to support female farmers to tackle climate change impacts. One such project is strengthening the adaptive capacity of small-scale pepper farmers in Raththota in the Matale district of Sri Lanka. We are excited to share their story and the approaches being used.

Prolonged drought, heavy rains, flash floods and strong winds are major climatic issues for pepper farmers in this area, which depends on the North-East Monsoon season from October to January. Long periods of drought before the rains arrive directly affects the growth of vines, flowering and berry filling. The arrival of the monsoon brings heavy rains, flash floods and strong winds which cause soil erosion, damage to the pepper plant root system, vines and shade-giving trees, and spread pests and diseases.

SAPP supports Raththota pepper farmers by implementing mitigation and adaptation measures to help them overcome these challenging growing conditions. These include soil conservation, moisture conservation, drought mitigation, and measures to combat heavy rainfall, flash floods and wind damage. SAPP has conducted awareness programs to educate farmers on how to adapt to these unpredictable and extreme weather events that impact their livelihoods.

Pepper farms in Raththota must endure prolonged drought, heavy rainfall and flash flooding and strong winds. Photo: SAPP

Beginning around the monsoon season, pepper in Raththota tends to flower from October to November and the main harvesting season is from June to August. Hence the harvesting period experiences prolonged drought due to insufficient rains and poor rainfall distribution, reducing yields.

As a measure to mitigate the effect of drought during the dry season, micro-irrigation (e.g. drip irrigation), irrigation scheduling (e.g. smart irrigation practices), capturing and storing rainwater within the pepper lands (e.g. small ponds in the farm), promoting dry and live mulching and organic farming practices have been introduced. In addition, establishing percolation pits in the middle of pepper vines filled with plant debris and lopped Gliricidia leaves to absorb and store more water during the rainy season are other effective approaches.  

Other helpful moisture conservation methods include crop mulching using dry and live mulch, application of organic manure, contour planting, selective weeding (weed slashing), and establishing live hedges (SALT hedges).

During the monsoon, heavy rain increases runoff and washes away the topsoil, leading to land degradation. Soil conservation measures for pepper farms have been introduced including contour drains (also known as lock and spill drains), stone terraces and soil bunds. Adding steps to leader drains and natural drains reduces erosion and ensures excess water is drained from the farm without damaging crops. Mechanical soil conservation methods like applying mulching and selective weeding are also practiced to combat these adverse effects.

Pepper farmers participate in a training on agricultural practices to improve the resilience of their crops to climate change. Photo: SAPP

To further reduce the impact of flooding, early actions are taken to improve drainage conditions in the lower pepper lands before the onset of the rainy season. Pruning shade-giving trees before the onset of rains reduces the humidity level and controls the fungal attacks on pepper vines.

The Raththota area experiences strong winds from June to August which damage vines, increase pest and disease outbreaks, and damage the spikes and shady trees. In response, windbreaks are established around the pepper land using suitable perennial crops.

SAPP’s work in the region also includes special programs for female farmers on women’s empowerment and climate change. SAPP has conducted workshops and programs on building life skills and towards women’s empowerment to uplift their economic and financial knowhow and improve access to markets, finance and technology.

About SAPP

Sri Lanka was ranked second among the countries most affected by extreme weather events over 20 years since 1998 in the Global Climate Risk Index, published in 2019. The most sensitive sector for climate change impact has been food security, which comprises agriculture, livestock, and fisheries. It is important to increase the adaptive capacity of vulnerable farmers through investments in climate-smart technologies and reliable weather and climate information products to tackle climate change impact.

Smallholder Agribusiness Partnership Program (SAPP) is a six-year program with a total investment of USD 105 million. The Government of Sri Lanka, IFAD, private sector agribusiness companies, smallholder farmers and PFIs have jointly funded this program. The program’s objective is to sustainably increase the income and quality of the diet of 57,500 smallholder households involved in commercially oriented Agri value chain development and marketing.

Currently, SAPP has implemented 33 4Ps Agribusiness value chain development projects throughout the country with 32,517 beneficiaries. In addition, SAPP plans to disburse income generation loans for 20,000 beneficiaries and support 2500 youths, those who have engaged in agribusiness sectors, including agriculture, animal husbandry and agrifoods processing. Since all SAPP projects are agriculture and animal husbandry related projects, the vulnerability of the climate change impact for those projects are significantly high. It has become a paramount requirement to direct the 4Ps beneficiaries to follow climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies to ensure the economic sustainability of such projects in the future.

This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for June is ‘Climate change’.  

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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