Providing tools to rebuild lives
Returning farmers in conflict-torn community resume production with help from FAO
29 October 2004, Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka - The people of this district in northeastern Sri Lanka have had rough times. After years of exile or displacement within the country due to armed conflict in the area, many returned to their land in 2002 and faced the prospect of starting over from scratch.
Thanks to FAO's emergency and rehabilitation programme, more than 5 000 families in the area have received seeds, fertilizer, tools and training to resume agricultural production.
"Before we left our farm in 1996, we had a cow, 12 chickens and four goats. We also had 47 coconut trees and a mango tree," says Multeah Nadesan, a 52-year-old father of five. "When we returned in 2002, everything was gone -- our house, our animals and most trees. Seven coconut trees and the mango tree were all that was left. We now live in a hut, but I hope that one day we will live in a house again."
Mr Nadesan received seeds and tools as part of the FAO project.
"I received two bushels [approximately 21 kg] of maize seed and fertilizer from FAO and a hoe and a jungle knife," he says. "If I had not received this help, I don't know how I would have gotten started when we returned. Unfortunately there has been a drought and a lot of the crop from the seed we received was wasted. However, I managed to save some of the crop for seed that is now growing in the field."
In this village, everyone fled during the worst fighting, some to live with friends and relatives in safer areas and some to live in refugee camps. They all tell a similar story. Before the conflict they supported themselves and their families through their farms. After the fighting stopped, they came back to find their farms destroyed, and it has been difficult to start over.
Training to refresh skills
In a neighbouring village, Varathalingam Jeyanthi, 32, received rice seed upon her return from six years in a refugee camp.
"When we came back here after the ceasefire, our house was completely damaged. All our animals were gone. We used to have five goats, 15 chickens and 12 cows. Now I live with my husband and seven children in a small clay hut and we don't have any animals," Ms Jeyanthi says.
"Through the help of FAO, we received two bushels of rice seed and fertilizer, together with a hoe and a bush knife. With the tools we could clear the field, which had not been cultivated for many years, and we could start to cultivate our rice field again," she adds.
During her years away from the farm, Ms Jeyanthi did not practice agriculture at all. When she came back, she felt a bit rusty.
"When we received the tools and the seeds, an agricultural instructor came to the village," she says. That was very good because I had forgotten a lot about farming during all the years away. Some things she taught us I knew from before, but I also learnt many new things."
The farm does not yet produce enough to support her big family.
"My husband works in mine clearing, which gives us some extra income to buy other food like fruits and vegetables," she says.
Cost low relative to benefits
Most returnee farmers have had no means of subsistence of their own for over a decade. With a small input from FAO, the farmers are able to regain their self-reliance.
Hilde Niggemann, FAO Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Officer, stresses that one advantage of this kind of emergency assistance is the low cost per household relative to the benefits.
"The FAO programme stimulates the farm families' own production and costs less than supplying an equivalent amount of food," she says. "The project aims to strengthen livelihoods and regenerate the economies of these communities. In the end, this will enhance the peace process."
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