|A tragic tale of misguided advice
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|Author:||Rohan2 [ Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:53 pm ]|
|Post subject:||A tragic tale of misguided advice|
Veheragala Cadjuwatte Back to the land: a tragic tale of misguided advice
Bureaucratic bungling, cover-up and exploited Mahaweli settlers
The flourishing cashew plantation envisaged by the World Bank failed to materialize. Cadjuwatte became the 'problem child' of the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka.
Source: SS / Sunday December 31, 2006
By: Ranjit Mulleriyawa
"Cadjuwatte" is the brainchild of a World Bank assisted project designed to cultivate 2000 hectares (5000 acres) of land above gravity command of the irrigation system in Mahaweli System C. Located approximately 30 km. East of Dehiattakandiya on the road to Aralaganwila, Cadjuwatte falls within zone 6 (Veheragala Block). It is also refered to as the 'Special Cashew Project Area' by the World Bank. According to the project proposal ('SAR or Staff Appraisal Report' in World Bank terminology), Cadjuwatte was to be developed in five years with Cashew in bearing 400 hectares were to be maintained as a 'nucleus plantation' by the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation (SLCC), while the remaining extent of 1,600 hectares were to be used for settling second generation farmer families on the basis of 3 ha (7.5acres per family).
Although the SLCC commenced operations in 1984, and the settlement programme should have been initiated in 1989/90 with bearing Cashew, the envisaged target was not achieved. . A census carried out by Mahaweli officials ('Block Manager' and 'Deputy Resident Project Manager/Agric.') in 1990 revealed that less than 30 per cent of the cashew plants had survived. The cost of this misadventure was estimated to be US $ 1 million at the time. Alarmed by the magnitude of the disaster, MASL (Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka) appointed a high-powered committee led by its agricultural consultant to ascertain the 'actual condition of the 'Veheragala Cashew plantation'. This committee released its report in July 1990 (Committee report on the Veheragala cashew plantation, 15th July, 1990). It was very explicit in its conclusions: "We are disturbed by the very wide disparity between crop expectations and realities, and advocate caution in accepting yield projections uncritically .... We strongly recommend that settlement of families in the near future NOT be considered. This could be reviewed when the plantation can be brought to levels of reasonable productivity. We estimate this to take at least 7-8 years more (1997-98)."
Despite this call for sanity, MASL chose to ignore the report and decided to terminate its agreement with the Cashew Corporation, and commenced immediate settlement of 300 young farmer families over the entire area in September 1990. The settlers were provided with several 'hand outs' - free food under the World Food Programme for a period of two years, roofing tiles, agricultural implements, livestock (Buffaloes, and poultry), cash payments for sinking wells (for drinking water), cashew seedlings and a subsidy of rupees 50 for each surviving cashew plant one year after planting. The above handouts amounted to approximately rupees 100,000 per family!
March of Folly
One year after the first settlers moved in, there were still no signs of progress and the MASL stubbornly continued with its march of folly! The settlers were told that they could grow only Cashew over 7 acres of their 7.5 acre holding. "But the cashew seedlings die", complained the settlers. "Never mind, we will give you fresh seedlings from our nurseries", responded the Mahaweli field staff.. "Kata kiyantada deviyane!?"cried out the frustrated settlers. They would dare not express such sentiments in the presence of the 'officers'. If they did so, they would be threatened with eviction, or refused food aid.
The flourishing cashew plantation envisaged by the World Bank failed to materialize. Cadjuwatte now became the 'problem child' of the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka.
Having made the best use of the handouts provided by MEA/MASL, some settlers quit the area. Their abandoned plots harbored herds of wild boar, and porcupine, which posed a severe threat to the settlers' home gardens. After two years of bureaucratic harassment and exploitation, a few settlers became rebellious and organized their friends and neighbours to become more vocal and stage angry demonstrations. They demanded that they be permitted to plant rice on their water-logged lands, and other food crops such as Maize and Kurakkan and Greengram wherever soil conditions suited such crops. Faced with the threat of open revolt, the 'officers' began to turn a blind eye to the many food crops grown by the settlers. Nevertheless, these officers still continued to maintain their centralized cashew nurseries, and issued new cashew plants to anyone interested. Some shrewd settlers made full use of the opportunity to please the officers (by accepting the cashew plants), and benefiting from the cash subsidy of fifty rupees per plant. The settlers were now trained to 'farm the subsidy'! This was the prevailing scenario at the infamous Veheragala Cadjuwatte during early 1992, when MASL began to seek the assistance of the Dutch government in trying to deal with the "Cadjuwatte problem".
The pragmatic Dutch responded positively by agreeing to assist MASL in finding out what went wrong at 'Cadjuwatte'. Dutch assistance came in the form of a small, bi-lateral assistance project between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) represented by MASL, and the Royal Netherlands Govt.- representd by the Dutch Embassy in Colombo. Operating in the style of a 'low profile' NGO, the 'Promoting Multifunctional Household Environments' project (PMHE) was committed to promote sustainable environmental management and homestead development by farm families (Mahaweli settlers) through participatory approaches. PMHE was already engaged in a nine month long 'action research' phase studying the various bio-physical and socio-economic constraints experienced by Mahaweli settlers in home-garden development, when the request was made to 'look into the specific problems experienced by Cadjuwatte settlers'.
The PMHE project was unique in several aspects. It was a 'low budget', low profile project having only one expatriate (Dutch woman) as 'team leader'. It was probably the only external donor assisted project operating within MASL having a woman as team leader at the time (1991). This Dutch woman also had the humility and good sense to recognize and acknowledge the fact that we Srilankans had ample expertise and experience in dry zone agricultural development. She saw no need to hire 'foreign experts' with glossy C.V.s! She believed that her team had to have all local staff having proven experience and strong commitment to working with underprivileged rural communities. "People are more important than things", she would often say. She demanded respect and sensitivity to "local culture", and above all, empathy for Mahaweli settlers.
The PMHE team had this one woman as 'team leader', and half a dozen Sri Lankan staff with expertise in community mobilization, dry zone agriculture, water and environmental management, animal husbandry and training and methodology development. While other donors launched their projects, and conducted training programmes in lavish five star hotels in Colombo or Kandy, PMHE consciously chose to conduct its activities at a simple Mahaweli training center at Girandurukotte or Aralaganwila. To many Mahaweli Officials accustomed to dealing with extravagant donors willing to dump billions of rupees in "aid" in the form of buildings, vehicles, machinery and endless 'tamashas' ("parties") with a free flow of imported liquor, PMHE's frugality appeared to b a joke! Apart from a few discerning administrators within the MASL, many refused to even acknowledge that PMHE existed !! This Dutch project's operational style conveyed a powerful message to all development workers ostensibly engaged in poverty alleviation and rural development work in Sri Lanka. Tragically, the significance of this message was lost on many petty bureaucrats dazzled by the glitter and tinsel of 'imported goodies'!
A multi-disciplinary team from the PMHE project consisting of two social mobilizers (both women), an agronomist and a 'livestock specialist' began to study 'Cadjuwatte' and problems encountered by Cadjuwatte settlers in June- August 1992. As a first step this team embarked on the collection and study of existing information ("secondary data") pertaining to the Cadjuwatte settlement. Thereafter, they used a variety of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools( 'Social mapping', 'transect walks', 'focus group discussions', semi-structured interviews and 'key informant interviews') in finding out what went wrong at Cadjuwatte.
"Social mapping encouraged Cadjuwatte settlers to tell us about themselves, their lives and aspirations. It proved to be an excellent way of establishing a relationship with the settler community. ....the technique adopted by us was to walk across and around the settlement, meeting people (settlers and their families) in the field as well as their houses.. We encouraged them to tell us about themselves, their lives and aspirations. These same people were encouraged to come together as groups of households (10-15) and talk to us about their common problems.
"Transect walks carried out with settlers helped focus our attention on vital agro-ecological features peculiar to Cadjuwatte - the undulating topography of the area, many rocky outcrops, shallow soils- sandy on the surface with bed rock within one meter of the soil surface in several areas; severe soil erosion, widespread prevalence of the pernicious weed, 'Illuk'which posed a severe fire hazard during the 'dry season'(July-August). People spoke of much water logging of their lands during the wet season (November to January). Since our initial investigations were carried out during the dry period (June-August), we could not see any water logging at the time. Yet, as virtually all settlers complained that water logging of the soil was the main reason for Cashew plants failing to survive, we needed to check this out with 'key informants'- people who had been farming in the Cadjuwatte area long before the experts from the World Bank had prescribed cashew for their land. These weather-beaten 'chena' cultivators hailing from the villages of Aralaganwila and Pimburattewa confirmed the water logging. They stated that much of the Cadjuwatte landscape was transformed into a swamp in the rainy season. "This is ideal land for rainfed rice growing", they said.... Our ancestors had been growing rice here centuries ago. If you have any doubts, come with us, we will show you the remnants of many small 'tanks' scattered over Cadjuwatte. They are hardly recognizable as 'tanks' now. Their bunds have gaping holes and gashes - many others have been flattened to the ground by bulldozers that came here with the Mahaweli project. No one in their right senses would ever recommend 'cadju' to be grown here.!" They were absolutely correct. We saw for ouserselves the remnants of some of these 'tanks'. Extensive stretches of billiard table flat land below the breached tank bunds, bore eloquent testimony to the wisdom and plain common sense of our ancestors who were experts in site-specific land use. They not only knew that rice (paddy) was the ideal crop for such lands, but also continued to build small 'tanks' to store rain water and supplement rainfed paddy with irrigation water when necessary.
Further investigations and documentation
The PMHE team decided to make a thorough study of water logging and drainage status of Cadjuwatte soils during the rainy season in 1993. They prepared a map clearly demarcating waterlogged areas, poorly drained areas and fairly drained areas. This study was startling in that it revealed 78 per cent of Cadjuwatte lands to be unsuited for cashew growing due to poor drainage / water logging!
The ground situation at Cadjuwatte was carefully documented by capturing the Cadjuwatte landscape and its hapless settlers in their varying moods - forest fires, cashew charred beyond recognition, many other cashew plants suffocated by water logging, wild elephants pulling down even the few bearing cashew trees (located on narrow stretches of well drained land close to the Mahaweli Block Manager's Office) merely to feed on their tap roots, and above all, by the agonized faces of many young settlers and their families - harassed and exploited by arrogant, insensitive field staff.
At the end of their fact-finding mission, PMHE arrived at the following conclusions:
The farming system based on mono-cropping of Cashew recommended by the World Bank, and implemented by MEA/MASL at Veheragala was -
1. Ecologically unsustainable
2. Economically non-viable
3. Socially unacceptable to the settlers and their families
It provided a comprehensive report providing ample justification for arriving at the above conclusions. This report, submitted to MASL failed to receive any response. PMHE then prepared a short (20 min.) video documentation depicting the 'Cadjuwatte fiasco'. It asked for a special meeting with the Director General of MASL. This request was granted. Having seen the film, this official was visibly moved. "No one told me the situation was like this at Cadjuwatte", he gasped!
|Author:||Rohan2 [ Thu Feb 15, 2007 2:55 pm ]|
|Post subject:||To help solve 'Cadjuwatte' problem|
To help solve 'Cadjuwatte' problem
Settler consultation and flexible land use policy needed
@ SS, Sunday January 14, 2007
By Ranjit Mulleriyawa
The Mahaweli Authority Sri Lanka (MASL) stubbornly persisted in trying to implement an ecologically flawed land use system based on mono cropping Cashew in the Veheragala region of Mahaweli System C for ten long years (1984-94). This misadventure (promoted and funded by the World Bank), cost the country over a million US $. Inestimable quantities of valuable forest resources, in the form of timber('Palu', 'Milla', 'Halmilla', 'Burutha', 'Kolon'), fuel wood and medicinal plants covering an area of 2000 hectares (5,000) acres of dry zone forest were lost - extracted by timber merchants or went up in smoke.
Bereft of its protective forest cover, the soil eroded rapidly and unproductive 'Illuk' grass established itself posing a severe fire hazard. The ecological disaster was complete. It was compounded by an even more serious humanitarian disaster - another ill conceived, hasty decision by MASL to settle 300-second generation settlers and their families on this unproductive land. As if to add insult to injury, these settlers were told that they could grow only Cashew on 7 acres of their 7.5 acre allotments- irrespective of soil conditions. This was the prevailing scenario at the 'Veheragala Cashew Plantation'- Cadjuwatte, in June 1992 when the Dutch government funded PMHE project was requested to help solve the 'Cadjuwatte' problem.
A multi-disciplinary team from the PMHE project consisting of two social mobilizers (both women), an agronomist and a 'livestock specialist' (both men), began to study 'Cadjuwatte' and problems encountered by Cadjuwatte settlers in June- August 1992. As a first step this team embarked on the collection and study of existing information ('secondary data') pertaining to the Cadjuwatte settlement. Thereafter, they used a variety of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools ('Social mapping', 'transect walks', 'focus group discussions', semi-structured interviews and 'key informant interviews') in trying to understand the 'Cadjuwatte' situation.
Social mapping encouraged Cadjuwatte settlers to talk about themselves, their lives and aspirations. It proved to be an excellent way of establishing a relationship with the settler community. Transect walks carried out with settlers helped focus attention on vital agro-ecological features peculiar to Cadjuwatte - the undulating topography of the area, many rocky outcrops, shallow soils- sandy on the surface with bed rock within one meter of the soil surface in several areas; severe soil erosion, widespread prevalence of the pernicious weed, 'Illuk' which posed a severe fire hazard during the 'dry season' (July-August.)
Further investigations carried out by the PMHE team during the rainy season (November-January, 1993) resulted in a startling revelation: over 75 per cent of the Cadjuwatte lands were unsuited for cashew growing due to poor drainage.
At the end of their fact-finding mission, PMHE arrived at the following conclusions:
The farming system based on mono-cropping of Cashew recommended by the World Bank, and implemented by MEA/MASL at Veheragala was Ecologically unsustainable - over 75 per cent of the land area was unsuitable for Cashew cultivation (the soil being too wet or too shallow - with bed rock within 1-1.5 meters of the soil surface).
Socially unacceptable to the settlers and their families. Why?
Because settlers and small farmers place the highest priority on ensuring household food security, minimizing risk, obtaining a staggered income and optimizing on-farm labour use. None of these objectives can be achieved by mono cropping.
Blue Prints Do Not Work
An appropriate farming system for settlers and their families at 'Cadjuwatte' must necessarily be ecologically sustainable, economically viable and socially acceptable. Ecological sustainability may be achieved by appropriate site- specific land use. Ensuring economic viability would require crop diversification employing a variety of 'cash crops'- short-term (3-4 months), medium-term (1-2 years), and long -term (over 5 years).
Social acceptability may be achieved by providing settlers an opportunity for achieving household food security, minimizing risk, enabling staggered income and optimizing on-farm labour use.
The above conclusions arrived at by the PMHE team meant that the 'blue print' recommended by the World Bank, and enforced by MASL had to give way to a more flexible, diversified cropping system based on settler needs, available family labour and funds (capital) for farm development bearing in mind the topography of individual allotments. Thus, settler consultation and a flexible land use policy were a sine qua non for successful farming at 'Cadjuwatte'.
The PMHE project requested MASL to provide them with a vacant plot of land from 'Cadjuwatte' (there were many such allotments abandoned, or never occupied by the allottees) for the purpose of experimenting/testing the many ideas and suggestions advocated by the settlers as well as trying out other potentially promising new crops and cropping systems.
This plot of land had to meet the following conditions:
- Be representative of the Cadjuwatte settlement in terms of plot size (7.5 acres), soil type and topography.
- Located in an easily accessible location (to facilitate frequent interactions with the settler population)
- MASL would retain ownership of the land while the PMHE project would develop the land and establish the 'demo farm' using its own funds.
- The farm was NOT meant to serve as a model farm for Cadjuwatte settlers. Its experimental nature and multiple functions (research, training, demonstration) would require financial and material inputs above that which could be afforded by a settler family.
- The 'Demo farm's primary objective was to engage in a continuous dialogue with Cadjuwatte settlers encouraging them to visit the farm frequently to observe, monitor, and evaluate the agronomic, socio-economic and environmental relevance of practices adopted there.
The land requested was readily granted by MASL, and PMHE project began establishing the 'Demo farm' in October 1993.
Effective site - specific land use
Topography and drainage status of soils are the key factors to be considered in effective site selection for planting any crop in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Experienced dry zone farmers know this from practice, and our own eminent scientists (Dr. Earnest Abeyratne and Dr. C. R. Panabokke) established the scientific basis for doing so as early as 1956. 'Cadjuwatte' is no different. It falls within the 'dry zone', has an undulating topography, and there is a regular rise and fall in the ground water level during the wet and dry seasons respectively. The height to which the ground water level rises in any year is dependent on the amount of rainfall during the 'Maha' season (October-January).
Classification of 'Cadjuwatte terrain'
Cadjuwatte terrain could be classified into four broad regions based on ground water behaviour and drainage status:
(a) Valley floor: Here the ground water table rises rapidly during the Maha, season rains and the soil tends to be water- logged (virtually flooded) as early as November-December.
(b) Poorly-drained middle slopes
(c) Fairly well-drained middle slopes
(d) Well-drained upper slopes
Crops likely to be suitable for each region are also indicated. The 'demo farm' experimented with a wide variety of crops. Extent of land planted to each crop depended on farmer needs, available labour etc.
Let farmers judge
Proof of a pudding is said to be in its eating! As such, the validity of the various crops and farming practices adopted at the 'demo farm' depended on the judgment of 'Cadjuwatte' farmers (settlers). They were assisted in such evaluations by quantitative data pertaining to production costs, required inputs and crop yields. Through such a process, the 'demo farm' was able to offer 'Cadjuwatte' farmers a 'basket of options'. Each farmer family could freely select a specific crop/cropping practice depending on their specific needs.
In a season of normal rainfall (1,400-1500mm during the period Oct.-January), two acres of rain fed rice at the demo farm produced a yield of 1450 kg .
Quarter acre planted with Groundnuts (Peanut) yielded 236 kg. This amounted to a gross income of approximately Rs. 7,000 and net income of about 5,000 rupees in just four months.
Quarter acre of 'batala' (Sweet potato) produced 2,500 kg. In 3-3.5 months. (Income of 17,000 rupees @ 8 rupees/kg.
Two acres planted with Coconut seedlings and inter-cropped with Banana were performing well.
The pernicious 'Illuk' grass could be effectively controlled by establishing a cover crop. The leguminous creeper (Pueraria phaseoloides) commonly grown as a cover crop in many Rubber estates in Sri Lanka was able to smother the 'Illuk'. If 'Illuk'could be controlled, the fire hazard was not a problem.
Agro-forestry offered tremendous scope (Teak, Halmilla, African Mahogany and Acacia auriculiformis).
Resistance to Change
The most intractable problem was the reluctance of many field and middle level MASL staff to accept the need to consult Mahaweli settlers. Some resented the idea that the 'Cashew only policy' (which had miserably failed over a period of ten years) had to give way to a more flexible, diversified cropping system with settlers deciding what crop to plant, where to plant, and the extent to be planted. This appeared to be a challenge to their authority! Clearly, farmer participatory development was not on their agenda.
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