Monday, December 4, 2023

SLIIT introduces a new Agro-Culture to Sri Lanka with Na Sevana Project

Cutting-edge technology will be spliced into agro and dairy farming at the Na Sevana model farm, a green project spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), in partnership with Ven. Kirinde Assaji Thero, Chief prelate of the Hunupitiya Gangaramaya Temple.  Na Sevana, a pilot project to be replicated across the island, will support a scientific method toward increasing food production to meet the urgent needs of the country.

“The learnings from this project will be available for everyone so that they can increase productivity in both agro and dairy farming which will bring about a more sustainable form of life and livelihoods to the people of Sri Lanka,” says Prof. Colin Peiris, Director – Academic Development and Quality Assurance of SLIIT.  The ‘Na Sevena’ project, which kicked off at the beginning of this year, is a green farming facility being developed on a 112-acre plot of existing farmland in Meegahajandura, Sooriyawewa, which belongs to the Gangarama temple.

The Agro economic project, which will eventually benefit over 725 farming families in the Meegahajandura area will introduce modern agricultural methods and high-tech horticulture farming techniques to residents in phases.  Around 25 families will be identified during the first phase to be trained in the new modern technology.

The 112-acre farm is neatly divided into 9 sections i.e. 60 acres for mango cultivation, 3 acres for pepper, 5 acres for Guava, 15 acres of banana, 1 acre for lemongrass, and more for mixed crops.  It will also house a dairy farm, eco-tourism unit, a plant nursery and 5000 square feet of greenhouse facilities.  The modern farming concepts adopted by SLIIT facilitates research in biotechnology and automation which will be used by the Institute’s students in their research work.

In the overall plan, the model farm intends to be completely self-sustainable with end-to-end production and marketing of produce fine-tuned to the minutest detail. Quality farming inputs, technical support and market expertise will be provided to both agri and dairy farmers in the area, with the aim of increasing their farm and off-farm incomes.  The Dairy unit of Na Sevana will be the resource center for producing quality calves, suited for the area and provide consultation on introducing suitable fodder and concentrates.  Existing and potential dairy farmers will receive training on modern methods and the use of Artificial Insemination (AI) for running efficient operations.  A qualified technician proficient in AI will conduct the training and be available to the farmers for consultation.

“The Na Sevana green farm project is a notable accomplishment of our SLIIT Business School and Faculty of Humanities and Sciences. For an educational institute, maintaining a greenhouse is an uphill task because every element should be well integrated and monitored, so that greenhouse activities are streamlined, to artificially create a conducive environment for plants to grow. We have connected with leading agro companies to get the highest quality seeds for hydroponic cultivation and the farm’s produce is organic.  Students have already nursed a tomato cultivation, high-quality lettuce species and different species of capsicum. Our lecturers from the Faculty of Computing are closely monitoring external factors through a specialized system which enables us to monitor temperature, humidity, light, and other critical factors inside the greenhouse,” says Prof. Colin Peiris.

Professor Sriyani Peiris added that students are currently engaged in tissue culture, an effective technology for small-scale farmers as well as larger-scale plant propagation where plant matter is gathered from a mother plant and used to grow thousands of perfectly identical plants. SLIIT has already secured a location to establish a full-fledged Tissue Culture Laboratory in Na Sevana.

Once complete, the Na Sevana project will have a Milk Collection and Processing Unit, as well as Fruit and Vegetable Collection and Processing Centers.  The processing centers which will be phase 2 of the projects, when factories would be established for the production of dairy products like curd, yoghurt and fruit drinks, jams, cordials, dehydrated fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as other food products made from locally sourced vegetables and fruit.

A unit for breeding and producing ornamental fish is also being developed with selected farmers as out-growers. SLIIT will provide technical advice and financial links for farmers to build their farm fish tanks and get their systems operational.

SLIIT Business School will do market research and explore avenues such as supermarket chains, export processing companies, export markets, networks of locals living overseas, and export processing companies to market fresh farm produce, organic and processed products as well as ornamental fish.

The institute will identify the first 25 families for training based on their level of interest and farming abilities.  They also plan to offer scholarships to students with the highest A-Level scores in the area. Ven. Kirinde Assaji Thero, who has a special interest in green farming, has commended SLIIT’s efforts in establishing the Na Sevana project, which is being led by Prof. Lalith Gamage, Vice-Chancellor of SLIIT, and Prof. Colin Peiris, Prof. Samantha Thelijjagoda, Dr. Krishantha Wisenthige and Prof. Sriyani Peiris of SLIIT.

In expressing his thoughts on the project Ven. Kirinde Assaji Thero said “ The SLIIT Business School and Faculty of Humanities and Sciences’ Na Sevana green farm project, is a deliberate endeavor that delivers a message to the younger generation in Sri Lanka, especially those who are pursuing their higher education, to assist in promoting an environment that encourages organic food cultivation using science and technology.  When Sri Lankan officials look for ways to increase food production with the dying need to survive daily, it is important to remind ourselves of the need to cultivate and grow whatever possible in each and every household with the intention of supporting the country’s declining economy, which affects the entire nation as a whole.

I am fortunate enough to be able to partner with this project thanks to the initiative of SLIIT, the lecturers and professors supervising the project as well as the students of the relevant faculties who are setting an example to become an inspiration for others in these troubled times to be selfless and work for a better tomorrow. This is a stepping stone to emphasize our responsibility to transform our economy and the country’s consumption crisis. Because we eventually reap what we sow.”

With Sri Lanka heading towards worse times in the coming months and food going to be in short supply, this green farm project comes at the right time.  SLIIT supported by the Gangarama Temple would be at the forefront of fast-tracking Sri Lanka’s move into a new agro culture.

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