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Gender and Land Rights Database

Sri Lanka

In 2007, the estimated population was 20.010 million, of which 50.59 percent women (1). The rural population accounted for 84.8 percent of the total in 2003-2005 (2). In 2001, there were 102.9 women for every 100 men living in rural areas (3). Population density is 318 persons per square kilometre (1). The main ethnic group is the Sinhalese, which accounts for 74 percent of the total population. Other ethnic groups include the Tamil, which represent 12.6 percent and the Moors, which account for 7 percent (4). Sixty-nine percent of the population is Buddhist; however, there are large Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities (4), which total 12.6 percent, 15.5, 7.5 and 7.6 percent of the population respectively (5).

In 2006, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$26 967 millions (2), while the estimated Gross National Income (GNI) per capita was US$1 310 (6). The annual average GDP growth was 4.8 percent in 2000-2006 (2). Although its importance has declined, the agricultural sector is still a significant contributor to GDP and a source of employment. In 2006, agriculture contributed 16 percent of the value added to GDP (2) and employed 30.7 percent of the total labour force (6). Industry accounted for 26 percent of the value added to GDP and services accounted for 57 percent (2). Plantation crops - tea, rubber and coconuts - comprise about 20 percent of all agricultural output; while paddy, namely unmilled rice, accounts for 15-20 percent. Smallholders tend over 66 percent of the rubber holdings and 75 percent of all coconut cultivations (4).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.742 in 2006, the country ranks 104th out of 179 countries (7). In 2002, 14 percent of the population lived under the US$1 per day poverty line (8). In 2002-2005, 21 percent of the population was undernourished (9). About 23 percent of the population lives in female-headed household (10). Life expectancy at birth in 2007 was estimated at 77.6 years for women and 72.8 percent for men (6). The literacy rate was 89.9 percent among women and 93.2 percent among men (6).

In 2007, 39.2 percent of women were economically active (1). In the agricultural sector, women accounted for 38 percent of the total work force (11). More than 70 percent of rural women work in subsistence production, although much of their contribution is unpaid family work. It is estimated that 56 percent of the women work as unpaid family workers. Over 60 percent of all women engaged in agriculture work in plantations (12).

Land tenure reforms started with the establishment of the Land Commission in 1927. The recommendations of the Land Commission brought to the enactment in 1935 of the Land Development Ordinance (LDO), which aimed at regulating the alienation of land by the State. The Paddy Lands Act of 1958 and the Land Reform Laws of 1972 supported redistribution of land in excess of imposed ceilings (13). However, both land owned by public companies and paddy lands less than ten ha were exempted from the ceiling, thus leaving out large tracts of land. In 1975, the Land Reform Laws also brought over 169 000 hectares of plantations under the control of the state. Between 1972 and 1974, the Land Reform Commission took over nearly 228 000 ha of land. However, very little of the land acquired by the government was transferred to individuals (14). The State owns about 61 percent of the agricultural land, while private owners hold 39 percent. As of 2002, over 90 percent all holdings were less than two acres. The agricultural land covers approximately 1.38 million ha, which is about one third of the total land area (4).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography