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Divi Neguma, a people’s project

Ancient Sri Lanka was a network of self-sufficient villages, in which majority of the population being farmers, cultivated paddy in both harvesting seasons and during their spare time they cultivated vegetables in their home yards in which they also had fruit trees such as jak, mango, papaw and other fruits.

More paddy lands being cultivated under Divi Neguma programme

Every household had a few cows, goats and chicken and from which they obtained their fresh milk requirements and eggs. They also had a few coconut trees and several varieties of yams such as manioc, sweet potato etc. Jak was not only consumed as fruits in the form of Waraka and Wela, but also as a boiled meal with scraped coconut and chilli mix onion called ‘Lunumiris’, especially by pregnant women as they believed that it increases breast milk since the babies were only fed with breast milk until they reached the age of about two years. The breast-feeding also was a form of birth control as they believed that a new conception of a baby do not take place as long as they were breast-feeding.

All households had sufficient stocks of rice, dried sliced jak and bread fruit known as ‘Atukos’, varieties of grams and cereals such as ‘kurakkan’, ‘meneri’ etc. Those who were not involved in paddy cultivation were involved in other vocations such as carpentry, pottery, metallurgy, coir industry etc. The people left their villages only on pilgrimages and on periodical visits to weekly ‘Polas’ or towns to buy things such as salt and dress material (a kambaya or a sarong/banyan etc) which were not available within their villages. Their additional produce such as arecanut, cinnamon and spices were purchased from their doorsteps by traders from the towns.

The life of the village was centred with the temple, kovil, or the mosque, they were religious and observed their religious observances with much devotion. The Maha Hamuduruwo (the Chief Monk) in the Temple, the Kurukkal in the Kovil and the Hazrath in the Mosques made them virtuous, the indigenous medical practitioner and the village teacher disciplined their life. (In the South most of the time the Maha Hamuduruwo himself played the additional roles of being teacher and medical practitioner, as many temples were well known centres of Ayurvedic treatment). The life was very much peaceful and the people were not possessive but magnanimous. Everyone in the village assisted and participated at times of a birth or a death in the village considering the occasion as one of their own.

Collapse

A dent in this peaceful life pattern started to occur with the advent of Portuguese who wanted to establish a place for their religion in the country and wanted to create a community loyal to them by converting people to their religion. Due to their occupation of maritime areas and deploying the people under their rule in vocations that served their interests the self-reliant society that existed started to erode in the maritime areas. The subsequent European invaders, the Dutch and the Britishers too followed the Portuguese and particularly the Britishers destroyed the self-reliant economy and made the people not only dependent on them and serving their interests but gradually even changed their attitudes and outlook. Destruction of Uva Wellassa, an area where there were 100,000 paddy fields with all fruit bearing trees, domesticated animals and a gendercide carried out in an unprecedented blood bath in the country was one such instance. Thus Sri Lanka ultimately became a dependent economy.

Sri Lanka has a fertile soil, sufficient water resources and a mass of industrious people. These precious wealth need not make Sri Lanka a nation dependent on ship to mouth. The Divi Neguma programme launched by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 12, 2011 is a very ambitious programme to bring back the past glory and re-establish the self-reliant society. Under this programme it is envisaged to establish one million domestic economic units throughout the country.

There is a misconception that this programme is purely dedicated to cultivate home gardens with vegetables. Cultivation of vegetables is only a part of the programme.

The objective of the programme is to strengthen the people economically and nutritiously through optimum usage of land availability and other resources.

The programme will strengthen agriculture, fishery, livestock development, milk production, cultivation of additional food crops, self-employment, export agricultural crops, home gardening and other economic oriented activities.

Mahinda Chinthana policy

It is being launched isalndwide in keeping with the objective of the Mahinda Chinthana to develop the family, to lead to the development of the village and thereby to develop the country.

It is a joint programme implemented in coordination with the Ministries of Agriculture, Agrarian Services, Lands and Mahaweli, Livestock Development, Minor Export, Environment, Traditional Industries and Enterprise Development, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Science and Technology and overseen by the Ministry of Economic Development.

The task of coordinating this programme at grass roots level is being carried out by the Samurdhi Officers, Agricultural Service Officers, Grama Niladharis, Family Health Officers under the supervision of the Divisional Secretariat Officer in each district assisted by the relevant officials of the Ministries serving in each Divisional Secretariat Division.

One hundred families from each Grama Niladhari Division will be registered as participants in this project. In certain areas the registration could even exceed this number and they will be provided with necessary guidance and assistance.

People of various walks of life, including public servants have enthusiastically joined the programme in either cultivating their home gardens or engaging in small-scale industries. This is the first national development project implemented with the participation of the majority of the people. It is appropriate to mention at least about the activities in few districts to highlight the pepole’s enthusiasm in the project.

In the Hambantota district 57,600 home garden units have been established representing the 576 Grama Niladhari Divisions in the district. Over 57,000 domestic economic units have been established in 573 Grama Niladhari Divisions in the Kegalle district. Arrangements have also been made to distribute 500 coconut saplings each among the 11 Divisional Secretariats in the district and 500 chicks have been distributed in the Yatiyanthota Grama Niladhari Division.

In the Matara District 1,500 organic fertilizer manufacturing units have been established, as a part of the district's Divi Neguma activities. On an average each of these units is capable of producing 1.25 million kilograms of organic fertilizer. Training in this regard has been provided by the Agricultural Department. Dry leaves, cow dung, straw, garbage and other waste material are being used for the production of organic fertilizer in these units. Producers of this organic fertilizer are earning considerable profit by the sale of packed fertilizer to home gardeners. There is a great enthusiasm among the people in the North, especially among those resettled recently, in participating in this programme with cultivation of onion, vegetables, grapes and other crops putting into maximum utilization of land available in the area, and indulging in cottage industries based on palmyrah. Forty three thousand five hundred families have been earmarked to be the partners of this programme. Twelve thousand chicks have already been distributed among some families. Special concessions have been given to low income families to start micro industry, and measures have been taken to set up 20,000 green houses to promote vegetables and fruit cultivations.

Domestic economic units

Eighty nine thousand six hundred domestic economic units have been established in 19 Divisional Secretariats and 896 Grama Niladhari divisions in the Galle district. This include around 1,753 model home gardens and 180 plant nurseries. Over 1,230 pepper plants and around 22,802 coconut plants have been distributed among Balapitiya, Ambalangoda, Bentota, Karandeniya, Bogapinuwala and Hikkaduwa Divisional Secretariats. The Galle district fish industry is seeing vast development, under the project with the introduction of Post Harvest Technology to the fish industry to encourage dried fish and Maldive fish producers. Arrangements have been made to build ponds in the Galle district to develop inland water fish industry in the district. The Galle district Secretariat has also identified 213 self-employees to develop their industries such as handicraft and spice productions, and 155 beneficiaries for bee keeping. Equipment such as bee colonies and boxes have been provided to them.

Over 118,000 domestic economic units have been established in 1,188 Grama Niladhari Divisions in the Kandy district. Vegetable seed varieties, fruits, flowers and minor export crops have been provided by the Agriculture Ministry and the Wildlife Department. The Economic Development Ministry has allocated Rs.10, 000 for each domestic economic unit in the district. The District Secretariat had distributed 242,000 coconut saplings on the basis of two coconut saplings for each domestic unit. Families to start poultry projects have also being identified and 10 chicks for each family will be distributed among those families under the guidance of the Animal Production and Health Department.

As per government officials already 987,416 packages of fertilizer and seed varieties have been distributed among the people, and it has been planned to distribute 5,000 calves, 5,000 goats, two million coconut saplings and 200,000 chicks to the people. For the development of the fisheries sector, 20,000 nets worth 130 million rupees are to be distributed. This programme is expected to increase the vegetable and food production by 25 percent and increase the per capita consumption of vegetable from the current 134 grams to 175 grams per day. It has been estimated that through the Divineguma programme the country will be able to get an annual vegetable production worth Rs, 15,000 million.

As per the Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa it is envisaged to establish 1.5 million homegarden units during the forthcoming Maha Season. He said under the programme seeds fertilizer have already been distributed to over 1.3 million home-gardens in 110 Grama Niladari divisions throughout the country. Under the arrangement to plant two million coconut saplings already 260,000 coconut saplings have been planted. He said that the remaining number of coconut saplings will be planted during the Maha season.

Cottage industries

The Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development under which most cottage industries are covered, is playing a vital role under this programme. The Ministry in coordination of the Industrial Development Board coming under its purview is extensively promoting cottage industries on palmyra based products, kithul based products and banana fibre based products. The Ministry under the sponsorship of the UNDP has also launched a programme to establish cottage industries for production of various items using fibre extracted from the stems of the Banana trees. The Ministry under the facilitation of the Indian High Commission has obtained the services of two Indian experts on production of banana fibre products and arrangements have been made to provide training to a core group on these productions as Sri Lanka has over 52,000 hectares of banana cultivation centred in eight districts. Financial assistance are also being provided for these industries, as well as other cottage traditional industries such as pottery, carpentry, metallurgy, jewellery and handicrafts.

Fisheries is another sector that has got a major boost under the Divi Neguma project. Fisheries cooperatives are being strengthened and people engaged in the fishery industry are being given financial assistance for improving their vocations and boat building activities. These facilities are being provided to inland and marine fishing, and breeding and development of ornamental fishing. The Ministry of Fisheries has made plans to extensively develop the Inland Fishery sector under this programme.

The Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has had fruitful discussions with the Fisheries Ministers of Asian Countries who attended the 5th FAO Asian Summit on Aqua Culture held in Colombo during the end of July, and he said that Vietnam which has an extensive Inland Fishery Industry, has agreed to develop our Inland Fishery Industry within a short period of time. It is expected that with the help of this programme per capita fish consumption by the people could be increased and malnutrition existing in certain areas could be totally eliminated while economically strengthening the life standards of several thousand people by generating employment opportunities to several thousands.

Self-employed persons

The Divi Neguma Programme has also encompassed the self-employed persons in many fields. Already several hundred Demo-Batta trucks have been distributed in coordination with the Bank of Ceylon and People's Bank for the self-employed persons in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts, under easy payment terms.

These self employed persons are now engaged in selling fish, vegetables, bakery products, essential food items and other household items from door to door in many areas thereby strengthening themselves economically and facilitating the households to get things required by them at their doorsills without wasting their time and energy going in search of these products to various market places.

The programme will also immensely contribute to the Tourist Centre. It would held provide the growing requirement of fruits, vegetable, poultry products etc by the hotels and tourist restaurants.

In addition to this the local handicraft and artifacts that will be encouraged and assisted by the Divineguma programme will become products of tourist attraction and the tourist industry will provide a great boost to our craftsmen.

 

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