1. There is a high diversity in access to resources among group members and among the divisions. This survey mainly focused on resources pertaining to cultivation and because a relatively high number of members in Rattota area were not involved in cultivation, little can be said about their other resources. Yet, with respect to a number of indicators, including the level of education, the condition of the house and agricultural wage labour, a part of the Rattota group members seems to be better off than Naula and especially Dambulla members.
2. With respect to cultivation, there is a diversity in access to resources among group members. About half of the group members, those who work as agricultural labourers, comprise the poorest section of group members cum cultivators. The other half, those who can afford to hire wage labour, and who probably have more access to irrigated land in addition to dry land and who are probably able to sell a considerable part of their produce, could be classified as "middle class" cultivators in the context of this survey sample.
3. One of the most important conclusions of this study is that women are (nearly) as equally involved in cultivation as men and that the types of crops they grow are basically the same. Although the survey did not quantify yields and the percentages of crops grown for home consumption or for the market, female and male members alike appear to grow various cash crops. Often they grow the same cash crops, such as beans, whereas female members frequently grow more maize for the market and male members more often chilly. Consequently, both from the individual cultivators point of view, as well as from a national economic point of view (i.e., increase in agricultural production) there is little reason for a male bias in providing agricultural support services, such as cultivation loans and agricultural extension.
4. Except for access to labour assistance from family members, female members do not seem to have significantly less access to resources related to cultivation than male members. However, in a number of respects, compared to male members, female members concentrate on different resources, e.g., dry land instead of irrigated land, and are involved more in homegardening. Furthermore, in other respects, female members seem to obtain their resources in different ways than male members, e.g., obtaining land through family members other than the spouse, instead of through a seasonal leasehold arrangement and if they are able to afford, they prefer to employ wage labourers, especially for land preparation, more than male members would do. This implies that female and male cultivators often have different cultivation strategies and that therefore they might have different needs in agricultural extension.
5. Inherent to this type of research, no conclusions can be drawn about the most interesting aspect of the resource-base, its dynamics. Yet, the most important contributions the project and group membership made in increasing members' access to resources was labour pooling, informal credit and project loans. The effects of increased access to resources on income was not assessed, however, only few members themselves made the link between the project efforts or group membership benefits and an increase in income.
6. On the whole, the data of this survey indicate that female members are equally involved in the project as male members. There are more female groups than male groups. A slightly higher percentage of members of female groups have stopped being a member. Although, male groups are more involved in group activities, village board activities (although they contribute less to the fund) and services provided by the project, the project made a considerable effort to involve women in project activities. Mixed groups seem more active, although not substantially, than both female and male groups.
7. About 30% of the respondents stated that they have ceased to be a member of a small farmer group. This happened more frequently among members of female groups than among members of male and mixed groups. The most important reason mentioned was that the group had become inactive. In addition, a main reason for female members was that they moved to another village when they married. During yala 1989 season 39% of the groups did not have any group activities and during maha 1989-90 this was 52%. Also here, the main reason was that groups had become inactive (69% during yala and 66% during maha) followed by the security situation prevailing at that time (17% during yala and 30% during maha).
8. Support in agriculture is the main activity and major strength of the project. However, since the project is not fully integrated in the Department of Agriculture, services of the Department cannot be obtained without project funds. Also the Department does not have the field staff anymore to assist in this type of extension and/or community development activities. But, if agricultural extension remains a serious mandate of the Department of Agriculture, it would be very cost effective and efficient if the group members could voice their needs for agricultural extension through the small farmer group. In such a case the members could obtain services in agricultural extension on a longterm basis and not on a project basis only. A request for extension would apply for all interested members in a group. It is therefore important that groups comprise of members who have relatively similar agricultural resources and interests.
9. Support services provided or arranged by the project in various non-agricultural fields such as health, animal husbandry and small industries had limited impact on the group members. Health activities do not seem to have much priority among the group members. With respect to nutrition, the project has provided training for group organizers. Furthermore, in the promotion of certain crops, such as mung bean, the nutritional value has been emphasised. It would be worth investigating whether the nutritional standards of the food consumed by group members are indeed low and if so, what could be done to improve these.
10. Given the limited number of group members who embarked on rural enterprises, despite project efforts in this field, it seems doubtful whether the project has sufficient expertise to promote these activities. It can be questioned as well how such services can be sustained once project funds are finished.
11. Credit services are highly appreciated by group members, and credit is in a number of cases the most important reason why a person became group member. The relatively high repayment rates on the loans are for a large part due to the efforts of the group organizers in urging the members to repay their loans. The group organizers are personally responsible for repayment of loans in their area. In this field, the project provides a service that the State Banks are often unable to give. The strategy of the project is that this service has to be taken over by the Village Boards, which are now registered cooperatives. The success of this venture will depend on many factors, such as the ability of the Village Board to divide loans according to the criteria agreed upon, the efforts of members of the village board to look after repayment by group members, and whether the banks will take loan supply to the village board serious. At the time of the survey it was doubtful whether group members were convinced that the village board was capable of managing a savings and loan scheme.
12. The group members, and especially the male members, have considerable access to institutional savings facilities and both male and female members show the capacity to generate savings. One of the main functions of the group fund appeared to be informal credit supply to group members. In addition, an important group activity among female members is the rotating informal savings and credit fund. The often mentioned argument that rural poor are not capable of generating savings does not seem, in general, to be valid for the group members. Furthermore, few members noted that, with regard to informal loans in default, inability to repay was the actual reason for not repaying. With respect to increasing other agricultural resources as well, many members showed interest to put in their own efforts, such as in labour pooling and experimentation with new crops or new varieties.
These observations contribute to a serious doubt about the validity of the "vicious cycle of poverty", a concept often used (also in reports about the project) to clarify the inability of the rural poor to improve their wellbeing. According to the Plan of Operation of the project (1988:9), the "vicious cycle of poverty", takes the starting point that small holdings have a low level of production. This leads to the chain of indebtedness and inability to generate capital, followed by "addiction to wasteful habits", which would lead to a "looser mentality", followed by a low income. The low income would explain exploitation of the small holder which, in turn, would contribute to the low level of production.
However, this conceptualization ignores factors such as the capabilities and aspirations of smallholding cultivators, as well as the heterogeneity among cultivators. Capabilities and aspirations are a more logical starting point for supporting increased agricultural production and the wellbeing of smallholders than presumed incapabilities. Also, the argument fails to take into consideration the more dominant causes of rural poverty that are often beyond the influence of the small holder. A few of such causes can be mentioned here. Low prices for agricultural produce, are partly the result of instable and low (subsidized) world market prices and the consequent inappropriate import and export policies of the Government for agricultural produce. Low wages for agricultural labourers in comparison with the ever increasing prices for consumer products, force people to work more often as a wage labourer, thereby foregoing other opportunities to build up a more sustainable occupation. The persistent importance of (often political) patron-client relationships often leads to an inappropriate use of (government) resources (e.g., subsidies) and inadequate agricultural support services.