Primary production was measured every 2 weeks during 16 months (N = 33) in Tissawewa, a tropical shallow reservoir in the lowlands of south-east Sri Lanka. Results are interpreted in relation to selected environmental conditions such as oxygen concentrations, water temperature, Secchi-disc depth, wind force, conductivity, and morphoedaphic index and water level fluctuations. Because of regularly reoccurring high wind speeds the water column is well mixed. Daily gross primary production per unit area was plotted as a function of the algal biomass per unit area over the euphotic zone. Chlorophyll-a concentration in the euphotic zone was taken as measure for the algal biomass. The literature comparisons showed that the primary productivity in Tissawewa was in the same range as in 29 tropical lakes and reservoirs, of which 27 were from Africa. The productivity of these 30 tropical lakes and reservoirs was compared with: (a) 27 lakes of which 25 were temperate lakes, and (b) 49 North American temperate lakes. Firstly, comparisons were made on an annual basis for the tropical water bodies, but restricted to May–September, the growing season, for temperate water bodies. The gross primary productivity of tropical water bodies was ca. three times higher than that of temperate water bodies. These differences were even more dramatic if the two geographical regions are compared on an annual basis, i.e. the tropical systems are ca. six times more productive than their temperate counterpart.