The Dilmah Conservation Sustainable Agriculture Research Centre (DCSARC) in Moratuwa was established to support research on sustainable agriculture using modern technology as a means of enhancing the quality of agricultural produce, and promote organic home gardening initiatives by sharing knowledge and encouraging learning.
Dilmah Conservation recognises the importance of promoting eco-friendly cultivation practices, alongside the positive impacts of adopting organic home gardening initiatives towards meeting self-sufficiency in a family's daily fruit and vegetable intake, even with limitations in space. Through its awareness and education initiatives aimed at a wider audience, DCSARC encourages these healthy, cost-effective and sustainable methods to improve the quality of small-scale agricultural produce.
DCSARC conducts research on organic fertilizer, pest management, non-soil cultivation and hydroponic agriculture, and hosts weekly open days for the public every Wednesday and conducts community training programmes on innovative methods of urban gardening such as vertical agriculture.
These methods are well-suited for urban gardening even within limited spaces and also encourage the recycling of household waste.
DCSARC utilises refuse including wooden pallets, empty cans, buckets and tyres from the Dilmah Factory in Peliyagoda to construct vertical agriculture models.
Dilmah Conservation is also piloting the Grow Biointensive methodology at DCSARC.
Some of the activities carried out through the project so far include,
The DCSARC Biointensive Mini Farm
As a part of its effort to innovate and design organic gardening methods better adapted to limitations in space and resources within urban environs, the Dilmah Conservation Sustainable Agriculture Research Centre is in the process of piloting a biointensive mini-farming model at its premises in Moratuwa.
This biointensive agriculture model was established in line with Dilmah Conservation’s aim to promote sustainable organic gardening towards meeting a household’s daily vegetable intake and expects to share its leanings through future awareness initiatives.
Updates from the Garden
Biointensive gardening relies on the calorie-carbon efficiency of the crops grown. Carbon refers to the biomass or plant materials which contribute towards forming compost, thus enhancing soil fertility. As such, this component contains crops that produce a high amount of biomass for composting, entailing that no additional soil amendments are required leading to greater self-sufficiency. These crops which are typically grown to cover 60% of the plot are also high in caloric value to ensure that the nutritional needs of the farmer are also met. These can include crops such as corn, amaranth (thampala), sorghum, sesame (thala), red millet (kurakkan), millet (meneri) and sunflowers.
Adding colour to the garden, sunflowers are easily grown and provide carbon for compost by way of their long stalks. Sunflowers also produce edible seeds which are a good source of Vitamin E that is essential for healthy skin and is believed to play an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular ailments, aside from lowering cholesterol. High in oil content, sunflower seeds also contain other nutrients Vitamins B1 and B6, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, and niacin.
Promoting Heathly Living at DCSARC
The demand for resource-intensive agricultural produce is rapidly increasing. The Dilmah Conservation Sustainable Agriculture Research Centre promotes healthy living by producing healthy vegetables and fruit using only organic composting techniques and zero application of agro chemicals.
DCSARC was established at the MJF Centre Moratuwa with the aim of demonstrating sustainable agricultural practices, and currently produces a relatively large amount of vegetables. The majority of the produce are dried and seeds extracted to be replanted. The remainder is stored to be distributed to visitors who attend awareness programmes or the visit the centre on Wednesday, the open day for the general public. The awareness programmes target urban communities as well as the school children, to educate them on the possibility of sustainable agriculture. Attendees are educated on modern farming techniques which eliminates the use of agro chemicals. Additionally, as part of an extension programme on sustainable nutritional gardens, a portion of the vegetables produced are handed over to provide meals for differently-abled children attending the Rainbow Centre also located at the MJF Centre Moratuwa.
The “tikiri kotuwa” is a 3 perch block of land where up to 35 varieties of vegetables and herbs have been planted. This piece of land produces enough crop and variety of crop to feed an average family of 5 members. A 3 perch block of land is the average amount of space available in an urban back garden in Sri Lanka. The “tikiri kotuwa” will keep an average family fed effectively and can significantly reduce dependency on market vegetables.
Due to the addition of organic soil enhancers, the rate of growth is truly remarkable, and this growth rate can be observed and measured on a weekly basis, provided the applications of soil enhancers is done effectively. In addition, application of denatured tea waste provides additional nutritional balance to the soil where all varieties of plants benefit.
Another priority of DCSARC is the reuse of non- biodegradable waste generated at the Dilmah Factory and Office complex. We have researched and implemented several designs using tires, wooden pallets, plastic bottles and cans and many other items which would otherwise end up being deposited as municipal waste. Reusing these material effectively emphasises our commitment to sustainability at our garden.
DCSARC aims to provide a solution to the waste generated by effectively reusing it for innovative agricultural techniques, where urban communities lacking sufficient space for a traditional garden would greatly benefit. The main aim is the demonstration of a variety of vertical agriculture techniques which require minimal space and resources. There are over 45 varieties of herbs, over 55 varieties of vegetables, and 10 varieties of fruit available presently, although these numbers may vary since new plants are introduced occasionally. More attention is given to native, rare varieties in an effort to promote these healthy, native plants sourced organically.
DCSARC recently received the organic certification from Sri Cert, a certification body established in 2007 to endorse and certify “Planting material producer and merchant of vegetable and chilli seedlings, export agriculture crops and ornamental plants.”
Practicing Sustainability in Your Own Garden
With the ever present worries on the global food crisis and skyrocketing food prices, the need to be self-sufficient in terms of food supplies has reached critical proportions. Dilmah Conservation, identifying the need of addressing the food security of the country through sustainable agriculture has commenced a series of initiatives in order to make its contribution.
Home gardening is a traditional concept promoted under the extension programme of the DCSARC. This concept has been in existence from the historical times. However with the land available for cultivation dwindling fast in urban areas, a challenging environment has been created for this concept to be implemented. With innovation and expert knowledge on the subject, DCSARC endeavours to re-introduce the concept of home gardening among urban communities using innovative methods that would better suite modern lifestyles. The aim is to promote the home garden concept on the premise of ‘poison free vegetables for a healthy living’. It is envisaged to go beyond the traditional home gardening concept by diversifying the crops and planning for optimum utilisation of the land available.
As an initial step, DCSARC has provided selected families with technical know-how of preparing and maintaining a sustainable home garden. Seeds and plants were provided free of charge. DCSARC agriculture training sessions at the Community Learning Centre located with the premises of MJF Centre, Moratuwa for interested groups will continue whilst providing seeds and plants at subsidised prices. Taking the success of these pilot projects in to consideration the DCSARC is in the process of expanding its operation to nearby areas beyond Moratuwa.
Garden in a Tray: Unpredictable weather conditions are leading to the decline in food crops all over the world with warnings of an imminent food shortage in the near future. In order to address and remedy the situation; a practical concept called ‘Garden in a Tray’ was introduced by DCSARC. This miniature garden consists of 25 one month old vegetable plants grown in a special tray, and includes tomato, okra, aubergine, capsicum, chilli, salad leaves, bitter gourd, beetroot, bushita pea and cabbage. These trays are ideal for any household including apartments with limited space. Once fully grown, the trays can provide a crop of vegetables for upto 3-months.
MJF 081: High yield tomato variety: DCSARC unveiled a new tomato variety named MJF 081 in honour of the founder of Dilmah tea, Merrill J. Fernando, on his 81st birthday. MJF 081 was developed through selections made from introductions from Taiwan. They were tested for yield trials in different agro-ecological zones. The key characteristics of this variety are its high yield – 28t/ha which is 40 per cent more than the normal yield of 20t/ha and its high carotene levels, identified as being 10 times more than the normal yield varieties.