L. H. P. Gunaratne
– Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Peradeniya
Professor T. Jogaratnam, generally acknowledged as the father of Agricultural Economics in Sri Lanka, passed away on the 18th of September 2018 at the age of 87 years. He was the first Lecturer in Agricultural Economics, the first Professor of Agricultural Economics and the first Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics & Farm Management in the university system of Ceylon. He later capped his distinguished career by serving as Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.
Professor Jogaratnam was born in Navaly in Jaffna in 1931 and was educated at St Anthony’s College in Kayts, Jaffna Central College, and at Royal College, Colombo, in that order. He entered the University of Ceylon in 1950 and obtained a B.A. (Hons.) degree in Economics. In 1953, he was recruited as an Assistant Lecturer by the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Science at the University of Ceylon. Soon after joining the Faculty, he read for and received a Master’s degree from the University of Toronto. Several years later, he entered Cornell University and successfully completed his Ph.D degree in Agricultural Development.
Although Agricultural Economics has always been treated as one of the premier disciplines in Agriculture by universities in the US and UK, this subject was hardly recognised in Ceylon at that time. The professor took the challenge of developing the subject of Agricultural Economics to meet the requirements of the Bachelor of Science degree programme in Agriculture in the University of Ceylon. Over a period of several years, and entirely through his teaching efforts, he was able to convince those in the field about the important role that Economics played in agricultural development. He was able to raise the position of Agricultural Economics in Sri Lanka and turn it into a recognised academic subject and research area, while stressing its relevance for policy formulation. The academic interactions he had with the prestigious University of Toronto and Cornell University, combined with his own experience in the context of Sri Lankan agriculture helped him to develop a strong undergraduate academic programme in Agricultural Economics. Over a period spanning more than five decades, Professor Jogaratnam was passionately committed to sharing his knowledge with students and stimulating their thinking through teaching. His students’ professional achievements in different areas of Agricultural Economics are evident in the work they have performed at various academic bodies, research institutions and development organisations. They bear ample testimony to the Professor’s endeavours to pass on his knowledge and skills to others.
His pleasing personality, in-depth knowledge, and excellent command of English were assets to the system. He was greatly admired by his undergraduate and post-graduate students, mainly due to the exemplary manner in which he delivered the lectures; these were always augmented by real world experiences. Even after retirement, he never declined a request made to him for teaching undergraduates.
Higher education on agriculture commenced in Ceylon at the University of Ceylon in the same year the country gained independence. However, during this era, research was not the main priority at the Faculty of Agriculture. In this backdrop, by recognising early the growing importance of social sciences in agriculture in the developed world, Professor Jogaratnam arranged to bring in eminent scholars like Professor T.T. Poleman, Professor R. Schickele and Dr. A.T. Mosher, to broaden the research horizons of the Faculty. His research activities encompassed a wide range of agricultural development issues such as food and nutrition policy, land settlement, production economics, farm management, and resource and environmental economics. He wrote numerous monographs and popular articles on many of these areas, all related to agricultural economics.
As a senior academic, he did not overlook his role and responsibility in institutional development. He played a part in the establishment of the Department of Study in Agricultural Economics, and contributed much to uplift the Faculty of Agriculture and Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture to their current status and checked on other work too. He served as the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and became the Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture in I978 and continued to serve in this capacity until I985. As the Director of the PGIA and the Project Director of the USAID funded Agricultural Education Development Project, Prof. Jogaratnam contributed immensely to the development of higher education in agriculture by providing Ph.D level training for 38 academic staff members of the Faculty of Agriculture.
As a member of the teaching panel supervising postgraduate programmes, he has turned out a substantial number of M.Sc., M.Phil and Ph.D degree holders. The students who were supervised by him always appreciated his commitment, seriousness of purpose, rectitude and above all his kindness. Prof Jogaratnam’s services have been recognised by the Eastern University of Sri Lanka and University of Ruhuna, which have conferred on him D.Sc. degrees.
Over the course of five decades, he performed the three complementary roles of a University Academic, which are teaching, research and outreach activities, exceptionally well. Many eminent persons who hold (or have held) high positions like Secretaries of Ministries, Vice-Chancellors, Deans of Faculties of Agriculture, Director Generals of Agriculture, and Directors of Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture had gone through his hands.
Professor Jogaratnam had always extended his services willingly to national development activities. He was a pioneer in conducting benchmark surveys of major irrigation schemes. He got the students to engage in the field activities to provide them with exposure to real world farming issues. Recognising the intellectual standing and administrative capacity of Prof. Jogaratnam, many ministries, government departments and non-governmental organisations in Sri Lanka used to seek his participation in various committees and governing bodies. He closely interacted with international organisations such as the World Bank, FAO, ILO and ESCAP.
Prof. Jogaratnam was highly esteemed by his colleagues and admired by his students. His simple nature, upright character, thoughtfulness, non-confrontational attitude and patience in all social and academic interactions were always appreciated by both academics and laymen. Prof. Jogaratnam was a role model as a university teacher and a researcher.
He met the expectations that society has of a ‘professor’ by possessing noble, inspirational and scholarly ideals, which he was willing to share with the community that needed his advice and guidance.