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Divi Neguma for a strong resilient economy

Divi Neguma is a multi pronged and holistic programme to develop our rural economy, reduce poverty, address malnutrition, move to healthy farming techniques. If the programme is successful, Sri Lanka will not only have a strong independent economy, more resistant to external pressures but also a healthy and nutritious society by 2016, said Additional Secretary A. A. K. Ranawaka (Rural economy) Economic Development Ministry during an interview with the Daily News.

Q: Can you explain the concept behind ‘Divi Neguma’?

A: ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya Idiri Dekma’ the policy ‘statement of the government states a prosperous village will be created by 2016.’ Based on this target, the President announced that one million domestic economic units will be created in 2011 through the Budget speech (Nov. 2010).

Economic Independence, self reliance is the key to a prosperous village. Meeting one’s own needs was a hallmark of a classic Sri Lankan village.

The primary aim is to guarantee food security, connect the household with the national economy and create self-sufficiency.

It will lead to a healthy diet, decrease malnutrition level in the county. We also want to reduce the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides and move toward more healthy agricultural techniques.

There is also a need to develop the rural economy and reduce poverty levels. This can be done at the first instance by reducing household expenses, then by connecting the home economic unit with the national economy providing a source of income to the household.

‘Divi Neguma’ programme is the machinery or the pathway to achieving these aims.

Q: There are many different aspects to Divi Neguma; food security, nutrition, economic development. What is more important?

A: If you compare Sri Lanka to a developed country, our vegetable consumption is very low. It’s about 125g per day whereas in a developed country it’s about 330g per day. It is the same with fruits. This effects health, our nutrition. So Divi Neguma wants to increase the consumption of vegetables for nutritional reasons.

At the same time it wants to encourage the home garden concept to produce these vegetables. One reason is, this will reduce the use of harmful chemical fertilizer, the other is to reduce the financial burden on the household. Excess produce can be sold in the market to earn extra income.

This will create food security; more food will be available, affordability will improve.

Divi Neguma aims are interconnected, so all the aims are important; poverty alleviation, food security, self-sufficiency, better nutrition, food free of poison.

Q: How did you go from the concept of the ‘prosperous village’ to the ‘Divi Neguma’ programme?

A: After the Budget speech in November 2010, it fell upon the Economic Development Ministry to achieve this target - ‘a prosperous village’.

From the very beginning, 23 ministries and their agencies helped create Divi Neguma. Three sub committees were created at the national level to create a national policy to; increase domestic production, replace imports with local produce, increasing consumption in three sectors, namely the Agricultural Sector, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Industries.

Senior Ministers Athauda Seneviratne, Milroy Fernando, A. H. M. Fowzie headed the three respective sub committees.

Ministry of Finance and Planning and the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs also assisted.

Q: Apart from the 23 ministries that are involved in Divi Neguma, who actually run its activities on a day-to-day basis?

A: We have a mechanism from National Level to the Village Level, it includes provincial organizations, District Secretaries and Divisional Secretaries.

The main officials involved are four village level helpers, namely; Grana Niladari, Samurdhi Officer, Agricultural Research Officer and the Family Health Midwife.

Last year, these officers were tasked with finding 25 suitable individuals from the village to participate in ‘Divi Neguma’. They act as the eyes and ears on the ground since they have regular contact with the people on a day-to-day basis. They monitor the progress.

The entire workforce of Divi Neguma consists of 50,000 public servants from the 23 government ministries, including 30,000 Samurdhi officers.

Q: What is the work being done under ‘Divi Neguma’?

A: The first phase began in March 2011. We handed out seeds and plants of five types of vegetables on two occasions last year. Our initial target was to reach one million households. However we were able to connect with 2.1 million households to Divi Neguma.

We planted one million coconut saplings. Fruit plants like Rambutan, Papay, Pineapple and cashew were given to people to farm.

Over 300,000 chicks were distributed to households with 10 per household and 800 milch cows were given out. Various fisheries projects were started. For example breeding ornamental fish, fresh water fish, pond fish and drying fish. About 1,500 people received bicycle boxes for selling fish.

The purpose of handing out the vegetable plants was that people could grow vegetables for their own consumption. Secondly, if they had a surplus they could sell that.

Milch cows and chicken were handed out with the aim of both increasing domestic production and also to provide a source of income to the people involved.

Then well assisted people to engage in an industry that will allow them to earn an extra income. Divi Neguma encourages people to make some kind of product with the use of the raw materials and skills from the local surroundings. We want to promote domestic industries and entrepreneurs e.g. making coconut oil, incense etc.

Q: You said that over two million people received plants and seeds. Were these locally purchased?

A: In 2011 the Agricultural Department, Small Crops Export Department and some private institutions provided seeds. Some of the seeds were imported.

However we constructed 3,000 plant nurseries last year under the Divi Neguma programme. So from this year onward the seeds and plants required will be produced in Sri Lanka itself.

Q: How does Divi Neguma work to develop local industries?

A: We held seven industrial exhibitions last year in seven districts. This year there will be 18 exhibitions held in the other 18 districts.

At the exhibition we recognize people who are suitable to engage in industrial activities. We provide them with capital for them to begin their enterprise up to 50 percent of the expenses. The other half of the expenses are born by the entrepreneur.

The Regional Development Bank, Samurdhi Bank and other commercial banks provide loans to those who cannot find the 50 percent required to start their business. We will be conducting awareness programmes from this year to provide the technical knowledge required by those who engage in an industry. Technical training institutions like NARA will assist in this.

We want to assist those who have started a successful industrial activity by providing the knowledge required by them.

Q: What is happening under Divi Neguma in 2012?

A: The target for 2012 is to reach 4.9 million households in Sri Lanka through Divi Neguma. We want to provide vegetable seeds, plants, fruit trees or coconut saplings to every family in the country to start their own home garden.

In addition, people with Ľ acres to 2.5 acres of land will get assistance to grow something at a commercial level e.g. pineapple, papaya, banana, lemon, ginger, turmeric, Karapincha, Kankun, types of potatoes etc. Divi Neguma will provide seeds/plants, fertilizer, tools as well as the technical knowledge required for this task.

Budget 2012 called for halting the import five items of food; Mungata, Undu, Sesame, Corn and Peanuts. The domestic production of these items will be increased through Divi Neguma to realise this target.

Milk production is expected to increase from 20 percent to 35 percent of the national requirement by the end of the year.

Q: What has been the reaction to Divi Neguma from participants so far?

A: The reaction has been very positive. A lot of people are looking after their home gardens well. Most people are expecting to use their harvest for domestic use.

Some people have gone well beyond with what Divi Neguma had provided. They have found their own plants and seeds. They have collected knowledge from others, spent a lot of time and energy to create their home gardens in an exceptional manner.

However a few people have not even bothered to plant the seeds that were given, others have not looked after their crops well.

On the industrial side some people have faced difficulties in getting bank loans. People have complained about difficulties faced in filling forms, providing securities and even about the rude customer service at the banks.

A lot of people have expressed an interest in engage in animal farming.

Q: Has Divi Neguma been successful so far?

A: There is definite evidence of success already. For example when world food prices had been on the rise, our prices have remained relatively stable and low since the middle of last year. The cost of some items such as eggs have been reduced.

The real benefits of Divi Neguma like food security, self reliance and better nutrition will take a longer time to realize, but the signs that Divi Neguma is having an impact is already evident.

Q: Any specific areas which need improvement?

A: The monitoring of the programme is done by the four village level officers. Every recipient household has a diary to record their expenses. This information/data should get collected at village level and travel up to the national level (through the Divisional Secretariat and District Secretariat).

There is a need for better monitoring. For example to identify industries which need assistance or to identify home gardeners who may need more information. There has to be a better follow up on the progress being made by the Divi Neguma recipients.

As I said before we need to provide people with more technical knowledge. For example to encourage people to switch from chemical fertilizer to organic fertilizer is not easy. But conducting awareness programmes can be helpful to convince people to make the change.

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