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Dr C R Panabokke:

Pioneer field soil scientist



Dr C R Panabokke

International assignments
 *Senior Research Fellow, international service for National Agricultural research (ISNAR) - Hague, Netherlands (1982-1983)

* Irrigation Agronomist - International Irrigation Management Institute (IIMI) (1982-1983).

* Senior Associate Sri Lanka Field operation - IIMI, Colombo (1989 to date)

Vidya Jyothi, Deshamanya, Dr C R Panabokke refers to himself in his youth as an ‘angry young man’. This angry young man became one of the greatest soil scientists in Sri Lanka.

Soil science can be considered one of the younger sciences compared to medicine. It had its beginnings when there was a traditional indigenous understanding of soil science. It was only after World War I, that scientists met and agreed on a common nomenclature and a definition for different types of soils

Soil science is to manage soils in a sustainable way so that it benefits the present generation and the generation to come. To manage soil in a sustainable way, a proper understanding of their characteristics is a must. Lack of proper soil management has fatal repercussions. Lots of civilizations have vanished because of this.

There are so many sciences like geography, study of climates and rocks. Consequently after World War I, Soil science was recognized as a science by the international community. It was essential because it was based on agricultural development. Initial developments in soil science took place in the USSR. They had a very clear succession of climates and soils. In any part of the world, there exists certain climate types, vegetation and of course certain types of soil.

Awards
* National Science Council Sri Lanka award for outstanding research for the year 1981-1982

* The Presidential award of Vidya Jyothi in 1986

* The Presidential award - Deshamanya in 1998

These are called great soil groups. In total there are about 50 great soil groups.

“By 1960 we found there are 16 great soil groups in Sri Lanka. Whichever part of the world you go to you can find soil groups present in Sri Lanka because of the great diversity of climate and soils, even though we are a small country,” said Dr C R Panabokke.

Dr Panabokke had his beginnings at the Maha Illupallama dry zone research station in 1950. There the mandate of the station at that time was to replace the system of Chena cultivation with a system of permanent rain fed cultivation.

Contributions to the literature field of Soil Sciences
* Small village tank systems of Sri Lanka; their evolution, setting, distribution, and essential functions

* Groundwater conditions in Sri Lanka: a geomorphic perspective

* Irrigation management for crop diversification in Sri Lanka: a synthesis of current research

* Soil Sciences: the soils of Ceylon and use of fertilizers

* Soils and Agro Ecological Environments of Sri Lanka

* The small tank cascade systems of the Rajarata: their setting, distribution patterns and hydrography

* Small tanks in Sri Lanka : evolution, present status, and issues

* Small village tank systems of Sri Lanka

“We found out that Indian farmers were having permanent rain fed agriculture. So we asked why we can’t do the same in Sri Lanka?” stated Dr Panabokke.

He found that the nature of soil distribution and its variations in short distances unlike in any other country. “The striking feature in Sri Lanka is that soil differs within very short distances, specially the dry zone.”

He was one of the first Colombo plan trainees, revealed Dr Panabokke. He was sent to Waite University, Australia in 1954, one of its first Asian students.

He spent two and a half years, qhich he describes as ‘enriching’. “It was the ideal place to go because the soils in Australia are very similar to the soils found here in Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to go to Australia at a time when it had done its own work. They had already identified the great soil groups of the continents.” He had good training and experience in Australia for his Phd. Specially on how the different soils were managed.

Dr Panabokke was the Agriculture Department Deputy Director in 1975. Agro Ecology was also one field Dr Panabokke applied himself to.

Agro ecology is the division of an area of land into different land resource mapping units, displaying a unique combination of landform, soil and climatic characteristics and land cover with a specific range of potentials and constraints for land use under which the crops are grown. Dr Panabokke was instrumental in introducing this concept to Sri Lanka.

Dr Panabokke’s book Small village tank systems of Sri Lanka; their evolution, setting, distribution, and essential functions was reviewed by Seneka Abeyratne. In his article Abeyratne says [about Dr Panabokke];

“He is one of the pioneers of agricultural research in Sri Lanka and to have written such an authoritative piece in his eighties is an amazing feat.”

Dr C R Panabokke is a man who has endeared himself to almost everyone who he touched. This affable scientist is spoken highly amongst those within his circle and out. “I was looking for something purposeful in life.

I wanted a sense of challenge and purpose. If I want to be remembered I want to be remembered as the best field soil scientist,” concluded Dr Panabokke.

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