ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka's rice production from the main 'Maha' cultivation season in 2017 could drop by two million tonnes or around 60 percent of the usual volume, from a severe drought triggered by an Indian Ocean temperature oscillation, official estimates show.
The latest crop forecast by Sri Lanka's Department of Agriculture estimates that the 2016/2017, Maha rice crop will fall to 1.02 million tonnes compared to around 2.9 to 3.0 million tonnes seen in a year with good rainfall.
About 6 percent of the output is needed for seed paddy and about 6 percent is lost in wastage leaving about 620,000 tonnes of rice to be milled from 910,000 tonnes paddy available for consumption.
Sri Lanka is estimated to consume about 196,000 tonnes of rice a month.
Sri Lanka has been hit by a severe drought from sea temperature oscillation Indian Ocean Dipole (negative) event last year.
Sea temperatures in the Western Indian Ocean was lower than usual in 2016, a phenomenon known as an Indian Ocean Dipole negative phase, which resulted in failed monsoons in Sri Lanka.
Nicknamed Indian Niño, it would also cause floods in East Asia and Australia. The reverse happens during an Indian Ocean Dipole positive event. In the first quarter of 2017, IOD conditions are expected to be neutral.
Agricultural regions in Sri Lanka's Dry Zone has been badly hit with tanks drying threatening drinking water. Authorities have limited water releases for agriculture to conserve water.
Other than Amparai and Baticaloa in Eastern Sri Lanka, most other districts have planted sharply lower areas of paddy. Paddy is a water intensive crop. Farmers who plant alternative crops using less water can ensure that they still get financial security and avoid crop destruction.
Though rainfall in 2017 is expected to be normal, paddy production in the minor 'Yala' cropping season is also expected to be hit, due to low starting storage in most irrigation reservoirs.
At the end of the Maha season, tanks are usually about half full, but this year many are around 25 percent full, officials are have said.
Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa, had spearheaded a drive to prepare early for the drought and asked the public to conserve water use and electricity, with hydro power generation also hit.
Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Centre says over a million people from 260,000 families have been affected by drought, fires and salt water intrusion into rivers supplying drinking water (Colombo/Jan23/2017)