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Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Sri Lanka

Land Use

Although there have been periodic agricultural censuses, they were limited in purpose and did not provide an overall picture of land use. In 1961, however, a survey of the use of the island's physical resources was compiled based on a 1956 aerial photographic survey of the entire country. The survey indicated that, of the country's total area of nearly 66 million hectares, 29 percent was under permanent cultivation, just over 15 percent under chena cultivation, 44 percent under forest cover, and about 6 percent under various types of grasses. Nearly 33,000 hectares consisted of swamp and marshlands, and about 63,000 hectares, or 1 percent, unused land. Just over 3 percent of the island's surface was covered by water. Of the total area, approximately 23 percent was in the wet zone, about 63 percent in the dry zone, and the balance lay in an area that the survey labeled "intermediate," as it had characteristics of both zones.

Of the land under permanent cultivation in 1961, which included cropland, land under plantation, and homestead gardens, the survey indicated that some 75 percent was in the wet and intermediate zones and about 25 percent was in the dry zone. Chena cultivation, on the other hand, was predominantly in the dry zone, as were the grass, scrub, and forestlands. Although forest covered almost half the country, only about 0.2 percent and 3.1 percent of the forests were characterized as of high and intermediate yield, respectively. The study further indicated that approximately 70 percent of the land in the wet zone was under permanent cultivation, whereas in the dry zone under 12 percent was being cultivated on a permanent basis.

Since 1961 irrigation has enabled a much greater proportion of land in the dry zone to be cultivated and in 1978 it was estimated that nearly one-third of the country's dry-zone area was under permanent cultivation (see fig. 8). This proportion increased in the 1980s, when lands irrigated by the Accelerated Mahaweli Program were added to the total. As a result, the proportion of forestland declined and was estimated at just under 40 percent in 1987.

Although the forests had few high-yield timber stands, many areas suffered from deforestation because of the heavy demand for firewood in the 1980s. In 1987 it was estimated that 94 percent of households used firewood for cooking. Scarcities of firewood led to price increases well above the general level of inflation in the 1980s.

Data as of October 1988