Agro-Nature Experience – Jetwing Kaduruketha by Juliet Coombe
In the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, the kings grew rice with no chemicals or fertilisers, other than natural manure, and were more interested in the health of their people, who built the huge interlinking tank system that still feeds the paddy fields and spawns the large bio-diversity of animals to this day. The rice of that period was famous for combatting cholesterol, diabetes and for feeding babies, as it helped build strong life long immunity and incredible strength in the people. The green revolution in Sri Lanka changed everything in the 19th century, when cloned rice varieties were grown commercially to obtain larger yields, but the plants’ vigour quickly declined and left the new varieties needing extra support. So, the farmers were forced to boost growth with fertilisers and introduce harmful insecticides to fight certain pests, which have crept into the food chain. Unlike natural fertilisers such as horse, cow and bird dung, artificial fertilisers have introduced serious problems to the island’s staple crop.
Historians say there are more than 300 hundred ancient rice varieties and one of the best is Pachchaparumal (often described as Lord Buddha’s rice), which, although very heavy, owing to being full of nutrients, is lower in carbohydrates, contains antioxidants, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B, and also stops diseases like diabetes and cholesterol. However, Suwanel rice is popular among Sri Lankans as the grain is smaller, cheaper and not so heavy and, owing to economic constraints, people are now more price conscious than health conscious, leading to massive increases in diabetes and kidney problems. This is, of course, a false economy as good health is priceless as you will learn with Jetwing Kaduruketha naturalist Ishanda, who is now running agro nature tours with hands on experience of how ancient varieties of rice are grown.
On the half day morning tour he explains “We introduced traditional rice in Jetwing Kaduruketha for health benefits, nutrition and grain diversity. The wild varieties come in different sizes, colours and tastes. Currently, we are growing 18 varieties, which we show to guests as part of our Agro-Nature learning experience.” He goes on to say “When we use the old traditional farming methods, we can see it creates wider ripples across the land, with a greater range of bio-diversity returning to the paddy fields. I have seen birds like Greater Coucal and Pond Heron, which feed off insects and fish, return to the areas planted. The ancient paddy fields now also have six varieties of fish and five types of frog in the water, showing the area has become more bio-diverse and healthy, as we move back in time to stronger varieties of rice.
For securing the help of the spirit world, the 31 farmers around Jetwing Kaduruketha have a rice festival twice a year. This is celebrated around the holy banyan tree where each of them contributes a kilo of rice from their paddy fields, which are combined with milk in offerings to guarantee the next good harvest. The kapumatha comes along at 6am, as the chief prayer adviser , and prepares the oil lamp in the tree and trays of food offerings. He requests that the spirits provide enough rain for a good harvest and in return offers a basket of milk rice and fruits. The farmers also tie a small coin into their clothes and put it in the Banyan tree to make a wish for the family and the success of the harvest. After this, all the families share the milk rice together in a heart warming community feast and now you can be part of these ancient traditions and walks while staying at Jetwing Kaduruketha.