Climate Change on the Ground: How Climate Risks Threaten Sri Lanka’s Farmers

March 21, 2022

As part of SLYCAN Trust’s research on climate and disaster risk and risk transfer in Sri Lanka, our team engages with primary food producers and farming communities to understand how climate change impacts their livelihoods and how they manage climate risks. These insights are documented in a series of video interviews with farmers in the Sri Lankan dry zone districts of Anuradhapura and Trincomalee, in an attempt to share their realities with a wider audience and amplify their voices.


Globally, farmers depend on weather patterns throughout the cultivation cycle to reap good harvests. Climate change increasingly disturbs these weather patterns and creates difficult, unfavourable circumstances for farming families. In Sri Lanka, a significant majority of farming families are from rural areas with low economic diversification, where losses and damages affecting their cultivation can disturb the main source of livelihoods and employment and threaten to push them into poverty.


“The day we brought the harvest home, there were heavy rains. It rained for three consecutive days. About 24,000 to 26,000 kilos of paddy got caught in the rain. The entire harvest turned black. I had to sell a kilo of paddy only for about LKR 15 to 18. With that, I could not pay back my loans and went into debt,” says Ms. Kumari, a farmer from Gomarankadawala, Trincomalee District. Due to this weather impact and lack of other resources, Ms. Kumari had to migrate to the Middle East as a domestic worker to earn money, leaving her two daughters and sickly parents behind.


Similar incidents have occured in other farming households when adverse weather events drive people away from their homes, looking for other jobs. Mr. Karunaratna, a young farmer from Trincomalee District, has been shifting between farming and other jobs due to looming climate risks. “During two years in the past, I joined various organizations owing to drought,” he recounts. Extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change contribute to youth abandoning agricultural livelihoods in some rural areas.

To counter this, farmers like Mr. Rathnayaka from Morawewa have been experimenting with various cultivation methods to adapt to the changing climate. “Since we had no other option and could not cultivate paddy due to the weather conditions, there were times when we shifted highland crops to the paddy fields. […] However, the limited amount of water available to us was not enough to cover all highland cultivations in the area. Because of that, we selected one or two irrigation channels and supplied water to the paddy lands through those two channels, allowing us to cultivate highland crops in the paddy fields,” explains Mr. Dharmasiri. He further goes on to outline some of the measures taken to minimize the impacts of climate change. Building capacities and imparting the right knowledge, providing better technology and resources, and strengthening risk transfer mechanisms may help these farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change and the changing weather patterns more effectively and increase their resilience.

By recording testimony from farmers and making it available to a wider audience, SLYCAN Trust aims to share their experiences and highlight ground realities of primary food producers in Sri Lanka, building a stronger evidence base and encouraging stakeholders to find pragmatic solutions to these challenges.


Please access this link to watch three additional video interviews posted previously:

How Sri Lankan Farmers Experience Climate Change

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About the Author

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.