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RRI helps promote organic agriculture

Farmers in Baddegama recount success stories:

Although Sri Lanka is famous for tea. The unsustainable farming practices in both small holdings and large plantations have seen a dramatic degradation in the quality of water and soil. This is a threat to biodiversity and to the income of farmers in the tea sector.

Farmer Samarapala in his farm

Speaking at the National Symposium on empowering the organic tea sector to respond to the modern demands in the tea industry held in Colombo organized by Rainforest Rescue International (RRI) Dr Ranil Senanayake said in a holistic programme with a number of farmers the RRI is working to increase farmer income while protecting and restoring bio diversity.

RRI is a private non-profit institution recognized as a pioneer in implementing analog forestry based land management and ecosystem restoration in Sri Lanka.

The organization is in the process of introducing a sustainable land management system to tea lands implemented through a series of pilot projects in the country utilizing Analog Forestry methodology.

A special field visit organized by RRI Managing Director Charith Senanayake gave the media the opportunity to witness the success of some pilot projects in Baddegama.

He said the RRI is working with smallholder farmers in Baddegama in a Public-Private Partnership with the Netherlands government to convert one acre land into organic tea to enhance biodiversity and increase forest garden production on the estate.

Samarapala Jayasekara of Ginimallagaha is a highly successful farmer and his two acre tea land is full of trees of fruits, vegetables, green leaves, coconut and medicinal plants. There are Nadun, and Milla trees apart from tea.

Every inch of the land is made use of with something. The chemical free products coming from the garden has not only given him a higher value product but also an increased quality of life by improving the local environment through a reduction in pollution and an increase in biodiversity.

Samarapala became a traditional paddy farmer following his father's and transferred into tea cultivation thinking of earning a better income but later he found that his income was not worth the effort.

After meeting RRI officials in 2009, he converted to organic agriculture with the guidance and assistance of the RRI.

Today he has almost everything in his forest garden, he needs to live his simple life with the family of three children in a modern house and he is well equipped with farming machinery and equipment.

There are nearly fifty varieties of items in his garden and he takes his harvest to the town in his own vehicle or bicycle and earns.

"I only had some difficulty during the transition period when not using chemical fertilizer.

"But now it gives me a great pleasure to enjoy chemical free food while giving it to others too. My strong advice to other farmers is to follow this method without doubts and contribute to make a happy and healthy nation for our country while protecting the environment," Samarapala said.

Farmer Charles

He proudly said that he does not need any bank loans for fertilizer under this method because he produces his own compost and do not even use the government subsidy.

Charles Sumanasiri is another successful farmer who converted to organic farming. He also earns his additional income through selling his pepper, vegetable and fruits to the market. He and his wife with four children are also fully occupied with their garden.

Some people looked at this method negatively at the beginning but now they are all waiting to embrace this having seen the positive result," he said.

Charles has formed a small association of farmers to share there experience and to take this system forward which is a good sign. He was thankful to the RRI for introducing this system and supporting them to transform.

RRI senior manager M. Athula Priyantha said all these farmers are given design plans, training, guidance and they are monitored throughout as RRIs objective is the protection of rain forests for a sustainable world.

"Experiments have given very fruitful results and we have got the full confidence of our farmers," he said. Out of 22 pilot projects 18 have achieved covering 16 and half acres," he said.

He also said as part of the PPP project in Baddegama they promote a range of livelihood opportunities to help stabilise farmer incomes in times of fluctuating markets.

Provision of cows, whose milk can be used to supplement household nutrition and sold on the local market as fresh milk or yoghurt and training in processing garden produce such as fruits and vegetables to produce value added products such as jams and chutneys.

He said to help build environmental awareness within the Baddegama community, one of the local schools is participating in RRI's Rain forest Ranger Program, which provides fun,practical opportunities for students to learn about the environment.

It aims to give children a positive connection to their natural heritage, empower them to take conservation actions and become advocates for environmental conservation in their schools and communities.

Some of the achievements of the RRI include 26 organic agriculture training programs, distribution of 26 different crop species for home garden diversification and bio diversity improvement, donation of 10 cows which gave birth to five calves, distribution of 11,000 new plants of tea and plantation of the same.

 

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