Forestry program funded by Australia to support 90,000 farmers in Sri Lanka’s dry zone
The Government of Sri Lanka, Government of Australia and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today (11 October 2012) launched a new AUD 5 million community forestry program, which will increase forest cover and support small farmers living in Sri Lanka’s dry zone. Forests are a critical environmental and economic resource for Sri Lanka.
During the past hundred years Sri Lanka has lost half of its forest cover. Deforestation and forest degradation is a source of poverty for rural households. It results in less availability of water for farming and drinking, more time needed to collect firewood and increases the risks of drought and fire. Forests in the dry and intermediate climatic zone are particularly vulnerable but also contain a large number of poor farmer communities that use forest resources to survive. The Government’s development vision for Sri Lanka, contained in the Mahinda Chinthana, calls for forest cover to be doubled in 10 years.
“The Sri Lankan Government is committed to increasing forest cover and reducing destructive slash and burn cultivation in the dry zone using the successful community forestry model,” said Mr. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Minister of Environment.
From 2003 to 2008 the Forestry Department, with support from Australia, implemented a pilot activity to test the community forestry model in 55 areas across five districts (Anuradapura, Kurunegala, Matale, Monaragala and Puttalam). The pilot was very successful and resulted in regeneration of 11,000 hectares of forest and an increase in the monthly income of beneficiaries by almost 100 per cent. The Forestry Department expanded the community forestry model into another 24 communities following the end of the project.
The new community forestry program aims to regenerate an additional 23,000 hectares of forest and increase the income of around 90,000 rural people. The program will expand the community forestry model to 167 new communities across 15 districts, including the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The program will support microfinance and micro-enterprises such as bee keeping, rice and vegetable cultivation, fruit gardens, food processing, handicrafts and livestock development with the aim of reducing dependency on forest resources.
“The community forestry model is based on the proven idea that local communities are best placed to protect forests, particularly if they are supported with better knowledge and access to alternative sources of income. Australia’s commitment to help Sri Lanka address environmental issues is part of a bigger aid program focused on supporting Sri Lanka’s poorest and most vulnerable communities” said Robyn Mudie, Australia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Maldives.
While highlighting the link between poverty and environment, Razina Bilgrami, UNDP acting Resident Representative said “this Program will improve the livelihood opportunities of forest communities in the dry and intermediate zones and will in turn, help reduce the poverty levels of these communities and also their dependency on forests. These results will have a positive impact on the socio-economic development of the country and especially on reducing regional disparities”.
The Forestry Department will work with village institutions and households to promote alternative sources of income, improved farming systems and develop joint management plans for forest reserves and will be supported with management assistance from UNDP.