Grape Farms in Jaffna (Sri Lanka)

The dying art of Jaffna “The next generation is not keen on getting their hands dirty and they dislike hard work. They do not want to take up the field of farming. They prefer being in air conditioned offices or being doctors and lawyers. They have dreams of their own and being a grape farmer is hardly one of them” For thirty long years Sri Lanka was torn apart by a malevolent war between the country’s majority and minority; a war that not only claimed the lives of many, soldiers and civilians alike, but also destroyed much property and dammed the country’s growth in uncountable ways.

The whole of Sri Lanka grieved as one at all that was lost but it would not be incorrect to say that it was the north that suffered the most; it affected the education, economy, health, security, agriculture and overall the lives of the people of that part of the island. One trade that was deeply affected in the field of agriculture is grape farming, an industry that was and is carried out at a commercial basis only in the district of Jaffna. It was stated by Mr. Sivakumar, Provincial Director of Agriculture Northern Province, that before the war the district of Jaffna had over 250 acres of grape cultivation.

The war brought upon difficulties in marketing the crops which resulted in gradually increasing numbers of farmers leaving the trade as it was no longer profitable. However since the ending of the war and the opening of the A9 road, new marketing prospects have been found and the trade has yet again been taken up and currently is spread over 110 acres in Jaffna. While cultivators who lost their farms during the war have been given the opportunity to revive their lost businesses, new cultivators too are being encouraged to take up the trade by the government said Mr.

Sivakumar. The Ministry of Agriculture Northern Province is currently focusing on introducing new varieties of grape fruit to Jaffna farmers in order to harvest better crops. These new varieties Sonaka and Sharad have been imported from India and are said to produce grape fruit that is larger in size and sweeter than the local grapes. This idea of importing new varieties has been supported by the Central Department of Agriculture which is the agency that gives permission for importing any sort of planting material, and also by the Ministry of Agriculture.

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The financial support has been given by Cargills food city as it is them who invested in the project. The total project investment has been Rs 222 million and 92. 2 million of this investment has been shared by the USAID. The imported seedlings have already been introduced, distributed and promoted among Jaffna farmers and is currently being cultivated and within another two years the peninsula will have a greater variety of quality grape fruit, noted Mr. U. L. M Haldeen, Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture Northern Province.

Grape crops are harvested twice a year; during the season of March- April and August- September. These are considered peak periods as it is the dry season during these months and for grape fruit the dry season is considered very important as this is the time that produces the best crops. However certain farmers prune in such a way that they can produce crops even off season. Grape cultivation, compared to other farming industries needs a fair amount of investment and effort to inaugurate and to maintain. To grow a quarter acre farm it costs approximately 150 thousand Rs just to install the pandal system.

For the maintaining of such a farm it costs about another 150 thousand Rs stated Mr. Sivakumar. Even though it is a costly trade it brings in enough money to be called a profitable trade. Farmers have reported that a quarter acre farm brings in nearly 200 thousand Rs per season. This good income is one of the main encouraging forces for other cultivators to begin grape farms of their own which in return will increase the overall crops produced by Jaffna which would prove to be healthy for the economy of the district.

On a positive note, locally grown grapes are cheaper than the imported ones as a kg of Jaffna grape fruit costs 200 to 300 Rs while the Australian imported grapes cost 600 to 700 Rs. However on the contrary the imported grapes are much larger in size and taste sweeter than the locally grown Israel Blue. Therefore, even now, customers who look for quality are willing to pay more to purchase the imported fruits, which pose a threat to the growth of the local grape fruit farming trade. This is the reason as to why he ministry is trying all possible options to grow grape crops that can compete with the imported ones. As there is already a fairly good market for Jaffna grapes in the southern part of the country it is their hope to widen this market by dominating the imported grape fruit market. As earlier mentioned maintaining a grape farm is both an expensive and difficult venture. Especially to the farmers of the north it is something much more than just a trade, it is a significant part of their lives. They have many beliefs and traditions entwined with the grapevines.

It is said by these farmers that growing grapes is in many ways much like raising a child; it requires constant nurturing, caring and attention. There is a manner in which every move should be made: choosing the soil, installing the pandal system, preparing the drainage, watering the farm, fertilizing, and last but not least pruning should all be done in a proper manner to ensure the well being of the grapevines says Mr. Inuvil, a successful grape farmer. The preciseness of this trade makes it appear that grape farming in actuality is more or less an art than just an agricultural trade.

Even though the number of farmers stepping into this field is on an increase, according to farmers the future of the industry remains uncertain. It is because of the lack of young farmers who are willing to follow in the footsteps of their precursors. According to Mr. Inuvil “The next generation is not keen on getting their hands dirty and they dislike hard work. They do not want to take up the field of farming. They prefer being in air conditioned offices or being doctors and lawyers. They have dreams of their own and being a grape farmer is hardly one of them”, and so it seems that the “like father like son” days are long gone.

It is evident that times have changed and that even in a country like Sri Lanka where traditions and culture are a main part of its people’s day to day lives, the younger generation is hardly found being limited by said traditions or cultures. Today’s youth is much more commercialized and they crave ways of earning riches in much easier ways than laboring away in farms and fields under a scorching sun. Another reason for the possible declining of future farmers is the perception that agriculture is an unprofitable or oor industry to be in as this is often the image that is projected by the media and otherwise, however many successful farmers like Mr. Inuwil would strongly disagree. According to him, it is a matter of willing to be hard working, committed, sacrificial and patient; all traits that he says most of the younger generation lack. Here arouses the question; even though grape farming in the north is at present in a very good state, after the existing generation of farmers is long gone will the industry still survive or will it simply turn into yet another dying art? -Sandarangi Perera

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