Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO initiative to revive food production in conflict-hit north Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, 23 Apr 2002 -- Bangkok; The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has launched a major initiative to revive food production in Sri Lanka’s northern region, which has been devastated by two decades of internal conflict.

After visiting Sri Lanka’s troubled Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna districts in January/February 2002, an FAO mission has identified a series of proposals to give new life to agriculture, livestock and fisheries in a region that was once a major national food basket. […] The mission of seven experts from various disciplines, travelled across northern Sri Lanka during the current cease-fire between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It took two days to travel from the eastern coastal district of Trincomalee to the Jaffna peninsula on a vessel run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The mission is preparing a portfolio of 15 projects worth about US$13.4 million to be supported by FAO, bilateral and multilateral donors, noting that the revival of the peace process in Sri Lanka has created favourable conditions for agricultural rehabilitation. […] “The conflict has shattered the rural economy and endangered food security in northern Sri Lanka by destroying, severely damaging and restricting the basic means of agricultural and fisheries production. An entire generation of locals has grown up on emergency relief assistance and the area has child and maternal malnutrition levels far above the national average,” said R.B. Singh, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.

Drawing on the experience of past FAO agriculture relief projects in the area, the new initiatives, will, however, for the first time, lay the groundwork for restoring food self-sufficiency and agriculture-based prosperity. According to mission member Heiko Seilert, “what is new (about the mission project proposals) is that these are developing a ‘post-conflict scenario’”, unlike earlier FAO schemes that have focussed on provision of emergency assistance in the form of seeds and other essential farm inputs. The projects cover a wide spectrum of activities from fisheries, rice farming, home gardens and livestock development for women-headed households to strengthening government capacity to monitor and improve nutrition levels in the north.

[…] The lack of irrigation, farming implements, essential inputs such as seed and fertilisers, and storage facilities, the presence of mines on their fields, have drastically reduced crop production. Before the conflict, northern farmers produced 40 percent of the country’s needs of black gram, large amounts of sesame, onion, chilli and groundnut. Today, the output of these crops is about half the level in 1983, when the conflict started. The productivity of rice in Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya has plunged to below 1 tonne per hectare, severely threatening local food security.

The condition of fisheries is worse. Boats and other fishing gear have been destroyed or heavily damaged by the conflict and there are severe restrictions on fishing. Fisher folk are not allowed to leave the four-mile zone with the best catches beyond this limit. The import of strong outboard engines is banned. In 1983, Jaffna produced 48 776 tonnes or 26 percent of Sri Lanka’s total fish catch. By 2000, Jaffna’s fish production had slumped to about 2 000 tonnes. […]

Women in the villages, especially widows, complained of lack of livelihood. Some said that they had to pull their children out of school in order to work and add to the family income. Deforestation is another serious problem in the Jaffna peninsula, which has less than 12 percent of its land area under deep-rooted trees, with the average annual rate of deforestation nearly doubling to 1 000 hectares since the early 1990s.

RAP 02/09