26 November 2021
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Asia concludes visit to Sri Lanka
25 November 2021
Secretary-General’s Message Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls
20 November 2021
Visit of the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Asia to Sri Lanka
The Sustainable Development Goals in Sri Lanka
The slowdown of the industry is compounded by a reluctance of farmers to encourage their children to continue the family trade. Though he finds Kithul farming rewarding, Nishantha doesn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps. “As a child, even I was discouraged from going into the family business, I was so interested in the entire process that my grandfather’s helpers, feeling sorry for me, taught me the trade in secret,” he says with a wry smile. “Many young people don't want to go into the industry because it doesn’t look and feel modern, they are encouraged by their parents to find jobs in Colombo instead,” says Dinithi Samarathunga, a program officer with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), ILO’s implementing partner on the project. “The job is very risky and dangerous,” she adds, explaining that this is another reason discouraging young people from going into it. With support from the ILO, Kithul farmers received insurance policies that cover injuries and accidents. New safety equipment has helped ageing farmers like Nishantha to continue to tap Kithul trees whilst minimizing the danger to their bodies. “The hard hats and the safety belts we have received make our jobs safer, but also much more easy”, says Nishantha, demonstrating how the easily adjustable safety harness is more secure and convenient than the ropes they used earlier.
The interventions were carried out as part of ILO’s flagship Jobs for Peace and Resilience (JPR) Programme, wherein this specific project’s aim was to support livelihoods improvements by strengthening disaster resilience in flood and drought effected communities in selected geographical locations in Sri Lanka.
The project has also planted nearly ten thousand Kithul trees on private land, in the care of 32 farmers. Whilst being enormously generous with its produce, Kithul is a rare industry that generates both economic value whilst also promoting environmental security. The tree’s fibrous root system is effective in preventing soil erosion in watershed areas whilst further increasing water retention capacities. The Kithul tree canopy can slow down the intensity of rain as it falls to the ground; thus preventing soil erosion. Collectively these effects can have a huge impact in mitigating the damage caused by floods, enabling a greater resilience to climate change for local communities and ecosystems. This is particularly relevant in flood prone areas such as the Kalutara district, which receives some of the highest rainfall in the country during the southwest monsoon. Providing technology that lessens risk as well as increases efficiency and profitability and thereby reduces the economic fragility of the industry is a core long-term objective of the project. It has brought together Kithul farmers from many parts of the country, enabling them to share knowledge and expertise. “Local farmers from other places have tidbits of knowledge to share that can be tremendously helpful. I learned some very useful techniques to treat the Kithul flower in its maturing process”, says Nishantha. Devoted to perfecting the art of treating the emerging Kithul flowers in a way that maximizes their output whilst doing no lasting damage to the tree, according to him “Kithul farming is a lifelong learning experience”.
The project also seeks to provide active links to the market. “We have linked them with the private sector,” says Dinithi, adding that strong links with the local government have also been forged. “As their expertise develops, we hope that the farmer’s association will soon access the marketplace directly, increasing profits and long term stability”. Nishantha talks about how he once earned about two lakhs (approx. USD1,100) from a single tree over the course of a few months. This was a particularly hard time in his life; he had just retired from the army and was waiting for his pension to be approved. “The Kithul trees in my garden are what helped me and my family survive those months. I feel safe because my Kithul trees have been there for me during hard times.”
Nishantha speaks of his trees almost as if they are alive and conscious, indeed the culture of farming Kithul trees is one wrapped up in an almost spiritual regard for nature. “The Kithul farmer is someone who always converses with the tree, the tree is a very sensitive being” says Nishantha, speaking in reverential tones. While much of this reverence is attached to a sense of gratitude for its bountiful provisions, it is also born of a wry sense of guilt and compassion, “We take the fruits of its labor for our own use, in a way we are tricking it. So we have to make sure to treat it with the utmost respect.”
In tea plantations, tea plucking and weeding are female dominant and it is common for the large plantation sector as well as the tea smallholding sector. However, the women’s responsibility in the tea smallholdings is much greater. In tea small-holdings, not only the tea plucking but all the responsibilities of maintaining small tea plots rests on the shoulders of women. This is evident in Pambadeniya in the Doluwa Divisional Secretariat division in the Kandy district where a majority of tea small holdings are operated solely by women.
In Pambadeniya, the role of productivity improvement and Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in the tea smallholding sector is spearheaded by the Women Home Garden Society that operates under the purview of the area Agrarian Service Centre. The women were trained on SLM practices suitable for tea smallholdings through the Rehabilitation of Degraded Agricultural Lands Project (RDALP).
The RDALP is working to rehabilitate degraded agricultural lands in the Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and Kandy Districts where approximately 50% of agricultural lands are degraded. The project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the Ministry of Environment, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and several other relevant government institutions.
Although tea is the second largest export commodity of Sri Lanka less and less farmers are willing to invest in tea due to a regular decline in yield in the past decades. The yield has declined to an average of 350 to 400 kilograms per acre while in some lands it is as low as 150 kilograms per acre. But according to the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of Sri Lanka, the yield of a well-managed tea plantation could easily be enhanced to 1,000 kilograms per acre.
Pushpa Ranjanee of Pambadeniya is a courageous farmer and an active member of the Women Home Garden Society. Pushpa began cultivating tea in a two-acre plot of land in 2004. However the lack of knowledge in tea smallholding and the unexpected onset of drought that lasted for longer periods affected her tea plantation which was in a state of neglect. It was in this backdrop that Pushpa joined the RDALP in 2018.
Her land was severely degraded due to soil erosion. The land did not have optimal tea plant density. Shade management and other important aspects of maintaining a healthy environment for tea had been neglected. Pushpa’s land was subjected to soil erosion as she had not applied any soil conservation methods. The indiscriminate application of chemical fertiliser without due consideration to the pH Level of the soil and soil organic matter content, the micronutrients and microorganisms in the soil had further contributed to soil degradation. This in turn resulted in low yields and low incomes.
RDALP and the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority (THSDA), the government agency responsible for the development of tea smallholdings sector helped Pushpa and other farmers to improve their tea cultivations. A series of training and awareness programs were conducted to educate farmers on Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and maintaining a successful tea plantation. A range of SLM technologies have been introduced in the tea smallholding sector including organic fertiliser application, shade management, intercropping and soil conservation.
“I applied the SLM practices to my tea cultivation as recommended through the training programs. The project provided cash grants for soil conservation and fruit plants for intercropping. Tea plants were provided by the THSDA for infilling. I used compost to improve the soil quality. All these measures contributed to a high yield, income and the plants are more resilient to the drought now,” she added.
Pushpa who now engages in organic tea production said that the organic green tea leaves she harvests are able to fetch a price of Rs. 110 per kilogram compared to Rs. 80 per kilogram through conventional tea production. Successful tea smallholding provides a stable monthly income for women and little variations take place only at extreme weather events. This has been addressed through the provision of fruit crops for intercropping which assures an income all year round. Intercropping cash crops, especially pepper and fruits not only provides an additional income but also serve as shade trees for smallholder tea plantations.
“Increased income from tea plantation enabled most of the women to come out of debt. Now they have repaid their loans and they are saving money,” said Iroshini Seneviratne, the Agriculture Research and Development Officer of the division who guides the women in this program.
Pushpa has also started a vegetable cultivation in a one-acre plot of land and maintains a vanilla cultivation in her home-garden. In addition to leading the smallholder tea cultivation in Pambadeniya, the Women Home Garden Society also leads the home garden program with vanilla as an economical crop.
Empowering women in sustainable agricultural ventures such as tea can uplift the economic condition of the whole family. Better economic conditions means better access to nutrition, and other services such as health and education for the family.