Dr. R K Lal Mervin Dharmasiri
Department of Geography
University of Kelaniya

Dr. Lal Mervin Dharmasiri completed his Ph.D. under NCAS grant scheme at the University of Pune, India in 2010. A Senior Lecturer in Geography, he is at present serving as Head of the Department of Geography at the University of Kelaniya.

His thesis titled “Land Use, Land Tenure and Agricultural Productivity in Sri Lanka: A Spatio-Temporal Analysis” was supervised by Professor V.S. Datye at the Department of Geography, University of Pune. This study was based on the relationship between land use, land tenure and agricultural productivity in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the study attempted to examine the temporal and spatial distribution of agricultural productivity pattern with respect to the land tenure of the country.  The analyses performed in this study have relevance to the existing agricultural land use planning in Sri Lanka. As the country is exploring the ways of maximizing agricultural productivity, the issues raised in this study can be considered timely and important for planning.

Dr. Dharmadasa was previously a Master of Arts in Rural Development with a First Class at the SK University in Andhra Pradesh, India. He also followed a Postgraduate Diploma in Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Agriculture at the Agricultural University of Norway (AUN) in 1997 under a NORAD grant.  Dr. Dharmasisi has published several research papers from his PhD study on “Crop Diversification for Sustainable Agriculture: A Case Study from the Mahaweli Development Programme in Sri Lanka” (2008), Sri Lanka Journal of Agrarian Studies, HARATI; “Land Tenure Changes in Sri Lanka: A Geographical Perspective on ‘Gambaraya’ System in Hambantota District” (2009), Transactions, Indian Geographers in India; and “Transformation of Land Tenure System under Paddy Cultivation in Hambantota District of Sri Lanka” (2010), Kalyani Magazine, UOK among other publications. Apart from the work carried out under his PhD study, he has published the 3rd edition of ‘Samajeeyavidya Paryeshana’ (Research Methodology) recently. 

Research Abstract of PhD


Agriculture is still an important economic activity in the developing countries, and its role as well as impact on their economies is highly significant. Studying agricultural productivity with respect to land ownership becomes more relevant in the context of agricultural development. Methodological issues such as measurements and conceptualization are also important considerations. Here, an attempt is made to study the land use, land tenure and agricultural productivity in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has a total land area of 65,610 km2. About 57 per cent of the total geographical area is occupied by agricultural land which include home gardens, (12%) tree and other perennial crops (11.7%) and crop land (33.2%). The forests cover 27% of the total land area. As per 2001 census, the population of Sri Lanka was 18.7 million. Sri Lanka can be divided into three major geographical divisions i.e. central highland, the plains and the coastal belt. The climate of Sri Lanka is tropical, monsoonal with rainfall varying from less than 500 mm to above 5000 mm annually. There are two main agricultural seasons i.e. yala (May-September) and maha (November-March).

Major objectives of this study are to find the relationship between the productivity, land use and land tenure patterns, to analyze the spatial and temporal variation in agricultural productivity, and to identify suitable appropriate land management system on the basis of agricultural productivity.

Significance of the Study

The study undertaken is relevant for,
(a)National level development: The contribution made by agriculture to the Gross Domestic product (GDP) has gradually diminished over the years and agriculture needs a significant improvement in its productivity. The findings of this study on productivity aspects would be useful for overcoming or mitigating the present situation. The outcome of the study would also be able to assist the planning process which can be employed to achieve a sustainable agricultural production as well as the optimum level of agricultural productivity in the country.
Further, the planning process may lead to formulation of the policy guidelines which are useful for the cultivators, local consumers as well as the administrators of the country.

(b)Contribution to the methodological issues: The identification of areas like measurement of productivity and land use where we shall make important contributions in the methodology is an important outcome of the present study.


It is hypothesised that the “agricultural productivity of a given land area is related to a set of physico-socio-economic variables especially land use and land tenure”. This hypothesis is tested by applying various methods.

Methodology and Sources of Data

This study has been designed with two types of analysis: macro level analysis and micro level analysis based on ten selected food crops like paddy, kurakkan, maize, green gram, sweet potato, onion, chillies, cowpea, manioc and potatoes. The time series data of 26 administrative districts for both seasons i.e. yala and maha in 1982, 1992 and 2002 were employed for the analysis of the agricultural productivity. Plantations were not selected due to non-availability of district level data. Udawalawa and Mahaweli system ‘C’ areas also were considered as special economic regions but were not selected for the analysis due to non-availability of continuous time series data.

The following indices were applied to measure the agricultural productivity and to identify the spatial pattern of agricultural productivity. They are (a) Kendall’s Ranking Coefficient, (b) Sapre and Deshpande’s weighted rank index, (c) Shafi’s modified productivity coefficient index, (d) Money value index, (e) Cobb-Douglas’s production function and (f) Average productivity index (API).Spatial patterns of agricultural productivity were mapped by using Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis. The researcher also developed an index to identify the agricultural productivity (API). The outcome of these analyses is a composite map of agricultural productivity (aggregate productivity).

The macro level analysis paved the way for micro level analysis. Five districts were selected from each level of productivity according to aggregated productivity index. At least one village was chosen considering different land tenure pattern from each selected district for micro level analysis. Primary data were collected using questionnaire.

Outline of the Study

The present work of the study is organized into seven chapters each dealing with different descriptive and analytical scenarios.

Chapter one describes rationale in the context of Sri Lankan agriculture, review of literature, objectives of the study, hypothesis, methods of analysis, sources of data, choice of the study area, relevance of the study and limitations of the study.

Chapter two examines the profile of the study area. Location, geology, drainage, climate, soils, vegetation, agriculture and population are described here. In particular, a general model was developed to understand the cyclical pattern of the agrarian system of the country.

Chapter three studies the land use and land tenure types in Sri Lanka. This chapter comprises three major segments; temporal variation in land use, spatial variation in land use and historical perspectives on land tenure. The last part of the chapter explained the past and present tenurial pattern in the country with the help of diagrams. The pattern of land use has been changing rapidly. In 1800, the population in Sri Lanka was small and the forest covered most of the land. Clearing of forest for plantation agriculture was the greatest change that took place in the 19th century. The present land use pattern of Sri Lanka is predominantly a legacy of the land policy of the Colonial past, which superimposed plantation agriculture on the traditional subsistence farming system. Since, the beginning of the 20th century, agriculture has been dominated by four principle crops: paddy, tea, rubber and coconuts. Paddy is mostly cultivated in the Northern and the Eastern part of the country. Coconuts are concentration in the Northwestern part, rubber in the middle part of the Southwestern portion and tea is the Central highlands.

In general, five categories of land tenure periods can be identified. The first epoch (since 1935) represent the colonial period when the policies were framed by the Colonial powers. The second epoch (since 1958) was the transitional period. The third epoch (since 1972) the government imposed the ceiling on holdings which had far reaching effects. In the forth epoch (after 1983) some encroachments were legalized. In the last epoch since 1995, land titles were given to encroachers with some conditions.

Chapter four assesses the spatial pattern of agricultural productivity by using several methods given by Kendall, Sapre and Deshpande, Shafi, Money value coefficient and Cobb-Douglas. Temporal changes are also critically examined for the year 1982/83, 1992/93 and 2002/03. According to the Kendall’s method, the medium level of productivity is revealed by maximum number of districts during both seasons. The number of low level of productivity districts is slightly increasing. Application of Sapre and Deshpande’s methods reveals that districts with very low and very high productivity have remained almost the same in both seasons.

According to Shafi’s index, numbers of districts in very high categories have not changed much but in other categories fluctuation are observed in both seasons. The Money value index reveals that the numbers of very low and medium districts in both seasons have increased. The Cobb-Douglas Coefficient (CDCO) analysis gives us a normal distribution pattern as compare to Standardized Coefficients of Return to Scale (SCRS) analysis. There is a positive relationship between Production Elasticity of Price (PEP) and yield but no significant relationship between Production Elasticity of Harvested extent (PEH) and yield is observed.

The author has introduced a method for measuring the agricultural productivity considering mean and standard deviation of yield and harvested area. The productivity pattern for both the seasons reveals many fluctuations.

Chapter five, deals with the aggregate productivity regions in Sri Lanka. Further, while identifying those regions, an analysis of the various reasons behind the disparities is sought. Finally, Principle Component Analysis was applied in order to identify the productivity regions. The output of the analysis is able to identify areas for the micro level analysis of the present study. The aggregate productivity index was calculated and regions identified considering all the methods (except API) applied earlier. In general, it reveals the very low productivity in the Southwestern part, the districts with medium productivity covering large areas of the country, and pockets of very high and high productivity districts.

Chapter six analyses the relationship between productivity indices and selected physico-socio-economic variables. Correlation, ANOVA and Multiple regression models were applied to understand the relationship. The correlation analysis reveals that the agricultural productivity is positively correlated with irrigated area, literacy and single ownership. Rainfall has positively correlation with the Kendall, Money value and SCRS while negatively correlation with Shafi’s and CDCO indices. According to Multiple regression analysis, the most significant variables are rainfall, temperature and intensity of agriculture which are negatively correlated with productivity. Humidity, use of tractors and literacy are positively correlated with productivity.

Comprehensive picture of agricultural productivity in Sri Lanka was given by Principle Component Analysis. The analysis is further strengthening the relationship between physico-socio-economic and agricultural productivity of the country. 

Chapter seven examines the factors affecting the agricultural productivity at micro level. Basically the sample villages were selected through the findings of chapter five and some other factors such as land use and land tenure variability and agricultural productivity pattern in the country. Two villages namely, Meepilimana and Galpalama were selected from Nuwaraeliya district which represent very high productivity area. The farmers in these villages have maximized their productivity by applying ‘crop rotation system’ and ‘multiple-cropping systems’. However, negative effects of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides etc, are becoming visible.

Village, Kudamadawacchiya from Puttalam district represents high productivity regions. Beside paddy, cultivation of Other Field Crops (OFC) results in higher productivity. Natural calamities and attitudes of the people are the problems here. Village Polgahawelena, of Hambantota district and Nawahangurankethagama and Tispanepura from Mahaweli system ‘H’ area from Dry zone represent medium level of productivity. In Polgahawelena village, paddy farmers practicing ‘ande’ tenure system achieved maximum productivity. The farmers from Nawahangurankethagama and Tispanepura practice ‘crop diversification’ to get better yield.

Village Okandapola, from Kurunegala district represents low level productivity region. The physical factors are not so favorable and since it is close to the urban areas, farmers are attracted more towards urban life and do not pay enough attention to agriculture. This results in low productivity. Warapalana village is reporting the lowest level of productivity from paddy cultivation. The villagers have been practicing to ‘mix crop’ and homegarden to minimize the marginal productivity of them. 

The last chapter comprises of the findings and suggestions of the present research. The constraints found through the present research which are related to land use,  land tenure and agricultural productivity are discussed at the micro level and further it will be generalized at the of macro level.

The following approaches and suggestions can be maid to achieved optimum level of productivity through a proper land management system.

a. In areas where yield are higher or medium, the emphasis should be on maintaining the productivity level particularly in Puttalam, Killinocchi, Pollonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Ratnapura and Ampara districts,
b. In areas where yield of crop are higher, but area under them is less, the emphasis should be on expansion of cultivation particularly in the districts of Anuradhapura, Ampara and Hambantota,
c. In the areas where cultivated area is extensive but the yields are low, the emphasis should be on introducing better production technology particularly in Vauniya, Mannar, Killinocchi, Mulative, Batticaloa, Ratnapura and Hambantota districts,
d. In areas where both cropped area and crop yield are low, an attempt should be made to replace the existing crop with other crops, particularly in districts Kegalla, Matara, Kurunegala, Puttalam and Ratnapura,
e. In more populated areas where both cropped area and yields are low, the strategy is to replace the existing crops and give emphasis on to non-agricultural activities. This is to be followed in Gampaha, Colombo, Kalutara and Galle districts,

In conclusion, It is expected that this study which is largely an academic exercise would become a part of the unending exploration of the hidden issues in the agricultural development in Sri Lanka and contributes to the upliftment of people who are and will be engaged in agriculture. 

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