Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) and Ceylon Tobacco

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Background

Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT), is a technique introduced in The Philippines to sustain fertility and reduce erosion of soil in cultivated inclined lands. It is a form of alley farming in which crops are grown in four to five meter wide columns between rows of leguminous trees. The leguminous trees preserve the nitrogen content of the soil and they can be used in generation of bio-mass fuel as well. Most commonly used species are Leucaena leucocephala, L. diversifolia, Calliandra calothyrsus, Gliricidia sepium, Flemingia macrophylla and Desmodium rensonii. It is advised to use a mixture of leguminous species for a greater effect. SALT is an effective agricultural technique that can be easily adopted in low resource settings.[1]

Ceylon Tobacco Involvement

Image 1: Website of the Ray Wijewardene Trust posting a quote on SALT made by Ray Wijewardene

British American Tobacco (BAT), in its website, reports their subsidiary Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), “introduced farmers to SALT in 1989 at Government’s request”.[2]

However, according to Ray Wijewardene, the advocate of the technique, SALT was “nothing new” (Image 1).[3] Nalaka Gunawardena, a journalist, also reported CTC’s involvement differently in his column When Worlds Collide. According to Gunawardena, the technique was not new but similar to the cultivation guidelines given by the Department of Agriculture in 1930s. It was discontinued during the “Green Revolution” (an initiative to cultivate uncultivated lands under the United National Party government in 1950s) to increase the efficiency of cultivation. Gunawardana reported that it was Ray Wijewardene, “an engineer turned farmer” and a passionate advocate on Gliricidia powered bio-gas projects, who invited CTC to engage in SALT. This was because Wijewardene failed to convince the Department of Agriculture to re-implement SALT as an agriculture technique in Sri Lanka. According to Gunawardena, “as unpaid advisor to CTC, he (Wijewardene) guided tobacco out-growers how to adopt SALT to improve their rudimentary soil conservation practices”. Wijewardene reportedly worked with tea companies as well to implement SALT.[4]

CTC reportedly piloted the project in 1989 in Dadayampola, a rural area in Central province in Sri Lanka. CTC leased 125 acres of state land from Janasaviya programme (the national poverty alleviation programme introduced by the United National Party government in 1989) and distributed among 90 farmers to grow tobacco. CTC reportedly provided technical support and Gliricidia to apply SALT technique and made it mandatory for all tobacco farmers who were already cultivating tobacco to implement this technique.[4] CTC planned to use the cultivated Gliricidia as bio-mass in its Dendro-power plant, another project initiated in collaboration with Ray Wijewardene.[3] However, the project failed due to unavailability of adequate Gliricidia. Please refer to the page Ceylon Tobacco Dendro Power Project for more details.

Impact

According to Gunawardena, “there was a noticeable build-up of the soil” in three years.[4] CTC received the ‘’Worldaware Award for Sustainable Development’’ in the UK for SALT.[3][4] Wijewardene was publicly criticized for involving Ceylon Tobacco in his initiative to introduce SALT as a technique to preserve soil in agricultural lands in Sri Lanka.[4]

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

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Notes

  1. WA Laquihon, MV Pagbilao. Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) in the Philippines, Forage Tree Legumes in Tropical Agriculture, Tropical Grassland Society of Australia Inc., 1998, accessed August 2017
  2. British American Tobacco website. Soil conservation and improvement: Ensuring the best growing conditions, undated, accessed August 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ray Wijewardene Trust. [Caring for the Land: SALT, 2011, accessed August 2017
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 N Gunawardena. When Worlds Collide #79: SALT can Save Lanka’s Upcountry Land and Soil. When Worlds Collide, 18th August 2013, accessed August 2017