Paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is an integral part of its agricultural heritage. Characterized by traditional irrigation systems like cascaded tanks and canals, it supports rural livelihoods and cultural practices. Facing challenges from climate change and modernization, paddy farmers adopt innovative techniques, including mechanization and organic methods, while preserving rice varieties. This practice plays a vital role in food security, economy, and cultural identity, making it a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s agricultural landscape.

History of Rice

Rice, a staple food consumed globally, holds a rich historical significance. Its domestication, a pivotal milestone in human history, commenced in China circa 2500 BC, subsequently spreading to Sri Lanka and India. Notably, reports suggest its possible introduction to Greece and the Mediterranean through Alexander the Great’s expedition (344-324 BC) to India. This journey of rice extended across nations and epochs, bridging China to ancient Greece, traversing Persia and Africa, and permeating continents. Today, rice nourishes over half the world’s population and stands as a testament to the enduring impact of human agricultural ingenuity and cultural exchange.

Where did rice originate?

Rice originated in Asia, specifically in a wide region spanning from eastern India through Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, northern Vietnam, and southern China. Among the oldest cultivated crops, ancient rice grains unearthed in South Korea date back around 15,000 years, challenging the conventional origin timeline. Prior to this discovery, the earliest documented mention of rice dates to a Chinese emperor’s decree in 2800 BC, marking its initial recorded account. This historic grain has since become a staple nourishment, deeply ingrained in cultures worldwide.

01. Land Preparation

Land preparation involves organizing the cultivation zone to create an optimal environment for growing rice. This includes ensuring the land is level and adequately watered to meet the specific needs of planted rice seeds. This process can be carried out using machinery or traditional water buffalo methods.

02. Selection Of Good Seeds

Choosing high-quality seeds for a robust harvest holds significant importance. This is why farmers opt for pure seeds of their preferred rice type, which exhibit uniform size, devoid of weed seeds, and free from seed-borne diseases, pests, and extraneous elements.

Importance of good quality seeds 

  •  Ensure the genetic and physical purity of the crops.
  • Produce a good quality crop
  • Reduction in replanting
  • Uniformity in plant size
  • Resistance to pests and other diseases which would affect Paddy cultivation

03. Crop Establishment

Crop establishment involves overseeing a sequence of tasks encompassing seeding, the initiation of seed growth, emergence of seedlings, and their progression until reaching maturity. These stages are influenced by various factors like soil, climate, living organisms, machinery, and management practices.

Opting for high-quality seeds:

  • Transplanting

This technique is particularly favored in Asian nations and demands increased manpower and strenuous exertion. It entails planting chosen seeds in a designated seedbed, allowing them to mature before transferring pre-germinated seedlings manually to the waterlogged field.

  • Direct Seeding

This method involves distributing dry seeds or pre-germinated ones by hand or mechanized planting equipment across the cultivation area.

04. Irrigation And Management

Paddy under cultivation displays heightened vulnerability to insufficient water. It relies on a consistent water supply, responding promptly with signs of water stress when the provision is disrupted and falls below the necessary level.

Hence, to guarantee a successful harvest, farmers must consistently uphold effective water management practices, ensuring each rice plant receives an ample water supply from its initial growth to its ultimate life stage.

05. Nutrient Management

Similar to all living organisms, plants also require different nutrients during different phases of their life cycle. When farmers and growers manage a flooded rice field, they can retain soil organic matter and obtain natural nitrogen for free. By adhering to this nutrient management approach, a crop yield of approximately 3 tons per hectare can be achieved without the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.

However, if the goal is to achieve a higher yield, additional nutrients need to be supplied.

06. Crop Health Management

Maintaining the well-being of crops is crucial. As plants thrive, they can inadvertently attract a range of pests and diseases that thrive in the healthy growth of the crops. Instead of immediately resorting to pesticides and other artificial measures, it’s advisable to first prevent the development of unfavorable conditions that could entice rodents, destructive insects, viruses, illnesses, and unwanted plants.

Another approach to consider is establishing an anti-ecosystem for these pests and diseases, thereby naturally reducing the adverse effects caused by unwelcome visitors and situations to a minimum level.

07. Harvesting

Harvesting pertains to the optimal time for gathering fully grown rice plants from the rice field. Typically, rice crops reach maturity in approximately 115-120 days after being planted. This task can be accomplished either by hand or using machinery. While manual harvesting is prevalent in Asian regions, it demands significant labor input, averaging between 40 to 80 man-hours per hectare.

08. Post-Harvesting

Subsequent actions following the harvest vary based on the intended immediate use of the crops. The initial steps that promptly follow the harvest encompass drying, storage, milling, and ultimate processing. Among these stages, drying holds paramount significance, as the storage capacity hinges upon the moisture content retained. Any delays, partial drying, or inadequate drying will compromise the quality and result in substantial loss of the harvested yield.

09. Post Production

Fully automatic rice mill plant includes pre-cleaning, dehusking, paddy separating, milling, and grading, etc… 

  1. Pre-Cleaning:

Pre-cleaning involves removing foreign materials like stones, sticks, and debris from harvested paddy. This initial step ensures the quality of the final rice product and prevents damage to processing equipment.

  1. Dehusking (Hulling):

Dehusking removes the outer husk from rice grains, making them edible. This process can be done through methods like rubber roller hulling, abrasive dehusking, or impeller hulling.

  1. Paddy Separating:

Paddy separating uses airflow and vibration to separate rice grains from husks after dehusking. This step ensures that only the edible rice grains proceed for further processing.

  1. Milling:

Milling refines rice grains by removing bran and germ layers. Depending on the extent of milling, you get different types of rice: brown rice with minimal milling, white rice with extensive milling, or parboiled rice that’s partially boiled before milling.

  1. Grading:

Grading involves sorting rice based on size, shape, color, and quality. This step ensures uniformity and categorizes rice into different grades, contributing to consistent quality in the final product.

Which District in Sri Lanka Cultivates the Highest Quantity of Paddy?

Ampara, Polonnaruwa, and Kurunegala are the top three districts in Sri Lanka when it comes to paddy cultivation, providing the highest, second-highest, and third-highest paddy yields respectively. Apart from these three districts, the list of districts with higher paddy yields in the country, in descending order, is as follows:

  • Hambantota
  • Anuradhapura
  • Batticaloa
  • Trincomalee
  • Monaragala
  • Puttalam
  • Badulla
  • Kilinochchi
  • Ratnapura
  • Matara
  • Matale
  • Kalutara
  • Gampaha
  • Kandy
  • Mullaitivu
  • Galle
  • Kegalle
  • Nuwara Eliya
  • Colombo
  • Mannar
  • Vavuniya

What are the Yala and Maha Seasons?

Yala and Maha represent the primary agricultural seasons for paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka.

Yala, classified as the minor season, involves planting during the months of April to May and subsequent harvesting occurring from August to September each year. This season’s yield typically contributes around 30% of the overall annual paddy harvest. Its success is tied to the rainfall brought by the southwest monsoon.

The major season for paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka is the Maha season. It encompasses cultivation activities starting from October to November, with harvesting taking place from February through March. This season accounts for approximately 70% of the country’s total annual paddy yield. The Maha season’s prosperity is contingent upon the rainfall brought by the northeast monsoon.

What Types of rice are grown in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is known for its diverse range of rice varieties that are cultivated across the country. These rice varieties have evolved over centuries and are adapted to the different agro-climatic conditions present in various regions. Some of the notable types of rice grown in Sri Lanka include:

  1. Suwandel
  2. Kalu heenati
  3. Maa Wee
  4. Pachchaperumal 
  5. Kuruluthuda
  6. Murungakayan
  7. Kuru Wee
  8. Gonabaru
  9. Dik Wee

However, the most popular types of rice are as follows,

  1. Keeri Samba
  2. Samba
  3. Red Naadu
  4. Red Samba
  5. Naadu 

Suwandel, Kalu Heenati, and Maa Wee are the pioneers of health advantages among all varieties of rice.

Suwandel, originating from the Sinhala term for “fragrant rice,” boasts a distinctive aroma that sets it apart. This particular rice variety is frequently featured in celebratory occasions and ceremonial events due to its creamy flavor profile. Farmers adopt organic cultivation methods for Suwandel rice, ensuring its purity. Its nutritional composition includes approximately 90% carbohydrates, 7% crude protein, 0.7% crude fat, and 0.1% crude fiber. Moreover, it exhibits elevated levels of vitamins and glutamic acid compared to its rice counterparts.

Furthermore, Kalu Heenati stands out as a highly nutritious red rice variant suitable for daily consumption. It is especially beneficial for nursing mothers, contributing to their well-being. Additionally, it holds the potential to enhance both sexual vitality and physical stamina. Maa Wee, on the other hand, presents a distinct texture and belongs to the category of red rice with its reddish-brown hue. Unlike its counterparts, Maa Wee displays a notably reduced carbohydrate content.

What are the rice-based products?

01. Rice Flour

Rice grains are ground into fine powder to produce rice flour. It’s used in various culinary applications, including baking, thickening sauces, making noodles, and creating gluten-free recipes.

02. Rice Noodles

Made from rice flour, these noodles are commonly used in Asian cuisines for dishes like stir-fries, soups, and salads.

03. Rice-Based Sweets

Sri Lankan cuisine features a variety of rice-based sweets, including kokis (deep-fried sweets), kevum (deep-fried oil cakes), and athirasa (sweet rice cakes)

04. Rice Flour Puddings

Rice flour is used to create puddings and custards, often flavored with ingredients like cardamom, saffron, and rose water.

05. Kiribath

A traditional Sri Lankan dish of milk rice, typically served during special occasions and festivals.

06. Thosai/Dosa

A fermented rice and lentil crepe, typically served with coconut chutney and various curries

07. String Hoppers

Also known as “idiyappam,” these are steamed rice noodles served with a variety of curries or sambols.

08.Hoppers (Appa)

These are bowl-shaped pancakes made from rice flour and coconut milk. They come in various forms, including plain, egg hoppers, and sweet hoppers.

09. Rice and Curry

A staple meal in Sri Lanka, consisting of steamed or boiled rice served with an assortment of curries, vegetables, lentils, and sometimes meat or fish.

10. Pittu

A cylindrical steamed dish made from a mixture of rice flour and grated coconut. It’s commonly served with curries and coconut sambal.