Field operations began in 2012, with the project being rolled out across 17 districts. 23,000 ha of forests were replanted in 167 sites and productivity was enhanced in over 3,000 home gardens.
As part of the support to the Department of Forestry, motorbikes and computers were provided to field offices, thereby helping to improve their capacity and access. A Programme Management Unit was established at the premises of the Forest Department to facilitate the implementation of the programme. In total, an estimated 10,000 households enjoyed direct benefits from the project, with indirect beneficiaries estimated to be some 90,000 people.
Before this work began, many of these communities were isolated, and lacking in access to basic infrastructure, water and other essentials. Most of the men in this area are daily wage workers, says Namali Ratnatunga, a forest extension officer with 15 years of experience in the department. To make money, they would often go into the forest, slashing and burning to create room for chena cultivation. Close to a small tank, this village would also see large numbers of elephants and monkeys ransacking their fields. Now Ratnatunga sees alternative livelihoods making a huge impact.
Nilanthi is one of a dozen women who work from home. Ratnatunga has helped others set up business where they raise chickens, grow lime, mangoes and beetle leaves, and run a variety of small home businesses. In the next village, Ratnatunga helped the community plant teak trees, which have provided them with the wood they need to run their furnaces. Such initiatives have curtailed forest encroachments, while leaving the communities more prosperous, with sustainable sources of income.
Ratnatunga feels the project’s focus on women has really paid off. “The work is being done by the women,” she says, explaining that the family benefits when women earn because women are more likely than men to invest in the household and in well-being of individual family members. Nilanthi puts her own earnings toward the education of her three children, the youngest of whom, a girl, is in Grade 5. “We, the women in this area, are the ones sustaining this project,” says Nilanthi with pride.