The effects of urban sprawl on agricultural land use in Sri Lanka : a case study on Gampaha District : a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Philosophy (Agricultural Economics), Massey University

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Massey University
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Sri Lanka is an island nation situated in the Indian Ocean to the South-west of the Indian subcontinent. In 1977, Sri Lanka adopted free market economic policies to overcome the economic problems and poverty of the country and its people. Although the new policy changes have brought some improvement to the economy, many of the changes were achieved at the cost of the environment and the agricultural sector. As the agricultural sector still plays, and will continue to play, a major role in the national economy, especially in terms of food security, export earnings, employment opportunities and income generation, and as a source of raw material for many industries, it is necessary to minimize the adverse effects on the agricultural sector and the resources used by this sector from the urban and industrial development encouraged under the free market policies. This thesis has focused on land degradation and land conversion in peri-urban areas. Special attention has been focused on the case study area of Gampaha district, situated next to the capital city of Colombo. Questionnaire surveys were carried out with former and present farmers in various areas of the district. 135 former farmers, who had sold their lands for non-agricultural uses, were interviewed in the first questionnaire survey to identify the reasons they sold their lands. The second questionnaire survey interviewed 195 present farmers, to identify the problems they have been facing in the agricultural sector, especially since the introduction of the free market policies. Further, a grid survey was undertaken to identify the land use changes in the district. The present land uses identified through the grid survey were compared with the land use data prepared in 1981 by the Land Use Planning Unit, Gampaha district. Data were also collected relating to the discharge of effluent and waste in the peri-urban areas of the district. The results showed that urban and built-up land has increased from 1.6 percent in 1981 to 14.9 percent in 1996. The total agricultural land underproduction in the district declined from 90.41 percent in l98l to 56.85 percent in 1996. Paddy land decreased from 16.12 percent to 10.48 percent, coconut land decreased from 17.51 percent to 10.94 percent, and the homestead lands decreased from 49.9 percent to 30.84 percent. This study further found that urban and industrial effluent discharged, even after treatment, was still of unacceptable levels. The study also identified that much of the land converted to non-agricultural uses was under-utilised or used extensively, due to a lack of essential infrastructure development. This has created large expanses of waste land which are not used productively by either sector. The farmers in the study were found to be suffering problems in cultivation due to a number of factors, including the withdrawal or limitation of subsides, flooding due to poor irrigation, and pollution from the industrial sector. They were thus attracted by increasing land prices which were manipulated by the private property developers in the free market environment. This has lead to fertile agricultural land being rapidly converted on the urban fringes and along the main roads of the district. To solve the problems related to premature land conversion, and land degradation, this thesis identifies a number of policy changes and programmes which need to be adopted. These include the adoption of agricultural zoning to prevent urban expansion onto agricultural land, measures to control the activities of private property developers, and consequently the rising cost of land, and pollution control measures. There is also a need to intensify agriculture in areas still under cultivation, through measures such as intercropping and increased fertilizer input. Immediate attention must be given to slow land conversion in peri-urban areas, and to prevent land degradation. An appropriate land use management plan is urgently required in order to ensure sustainable development in Gampaha district and Sri Lanka as a whole.
Sri Lanka, Gampaha District, Land use, Cities and towns