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Updated April 1997

Progress in strengthening small farmer group development in Sri Lanka:
Report of a review mission

by Basilio de los Reyes
FAO consultant
excerpted from a report prepared in September 1996


This report reviews implementation progress of an FAO-funded technical assistance project (TCP/SRL/4452) aimed at strengthening the training capacity of the Small Farmer Group Development Unit (SFGDU) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Forestry (MALF), Sri Lanka. The unit was established in 1994 as a result of an earlier successful FAO/Netherlands-funded People's Participation Programme (PPP) project (GCP/SRL/046/NET) in Matale and Kurenegala District, from 1986-1994.

The objective of the follow-on project has been to strengthen the capability of the new unit by providing training of the staff in communications, production of training materials, operations of desktop publishing computer and video-equipment and for the organization of workshops and training courses with government decision makers, administrators, farmers and small farmer organizations.

General Findings

The SFGDU has greatly improved its publication and training capacity to promote the development of small, self-reliant and sustainable groups and ensure their active participation in development . They now develop or collect information on participatory development principles and practices and publish them for dissemination to the Ministry's agricultural and rural development programmes. They also provide training in small group development methodologies to government officials involved in agricultural and rural development.


The SFGDU has published several documents on small farmer group development and Farmers Organizations. Some of these are FAO publications which have been translated into Sinhala. These include posters, manuals on organization of small farmer groups and Farmers Organization, women participation, case studies and reports of village studies. They have translated and published the FAO publication "The Group Promoters Resource Book". The "Group Promoters Enterprise Book" has also been translated into Sinhala but not yet published. They have also started publishing a Monthly Newsletter since January, 1996. The latter contains articles on small group formation and Farmers Organization including case studies and view of small farmers.

Most of these publications are used in training. The informational publication "Introducing SFGDU" has been distributed to all districts and the farmers posters (5) have been distributed in three districts. Most of the other publications go to the AMA Development Teams, Farmers Organizations, farmers and projects like the Participatory Forest Project.

These publications are in big demand. Some organizations and projects have ordered large numbers of some of the publications and indicated their willingness to pay for them. However, it is difficult for SFGDU to accept payment because the proceeds will go to the Consolidated Fund and it is difficult to request for allocation. Arrangements have been made for the organizations and projects to pay in kind, i.e. paper, ink, etc.


The SFGDU has conducted several training /workshops since its formation in 1994 for government officials, small farmer group members and leaders and Group Animators. Group Animators come from the Prosperity Movement (Samurdhi). The government has recruited about 20,000 Group Animators, who are assigned in the villages. Two persons are assigned in each village and one is assigned to work in agriculture. These training programmes range from 1-day orientation sessions for government officials, 1-day training for small farmer group (SFG) members, 2 - 3 days residential training for farmer leaders and 3 - 4 days residential training for Group Animators. A total of 1,665 people have attended these training programmes. Three more training/workshops are planned for the Group Animators, SFG members and leaders and government officials in Kurunegala where three 'AMA" Model Farmers Organizations have been established.

A workshop was organized by SFGDU for the officials of the MALF and other departments and institutes on the organization of the 3 "AMA" Model Farmers Organizations. The workshop was attended by the Secretary of the MALF. He was impressed with the discussions that transpired and what he saw in the field that he directed the SFGDU to expand the project in other areas of the country. The workshop earned a lot of publicity in the TV, radio and newspapers..

At present, SFGDU has been heavily involved in the training of Group Animators, SFG members and leaders and government officials in Kurunegala where 3 AMA Model Farmers Organizations have been established. This process will also be adopted in Matale, Anuradhapura and Hambantota.

Liaison within MALF

The head of the SFGDU also sits on different working committees, such as the Heads of Departments and Managers of different projects in MALF and the Committee for the Reorganization of the Farmers Organizations. There is a continuous dialogue and exchange of experiences among the members of the working groups. Furthermore, the Project Director is constantly consulted by different departments on small farmer group development. With the successful organization of the AMA Model Farmers Organization in Kurunegala, the Secretary is constantly in touch with the Director in improving the organization and expanding it to other areas.

The SFGDU Central Coordinating Committee is composed government departments/offices, corporations, institutes and NGOs. It lays down the policies and guidelines for the operation of the project. The Chairman is the Senior Assistant Secretary (Institutional Coordination) of the MALF. Formerly the Committee met 2 times a month, but now it meets only once a month.

The SFDGU has supported the preparation of the background studies required for the formation of the AMA Model Farmers Organizations. They trained the Group Animators in the villages to collect, analyze the data and prepare reports.

Formation of Farmers Organizations

In December 1994, SFGDU organized a workshop among government institutions, NGOs and other representatives for working out a strategy for strengthening the Farmers Organizations. The strategy adopted was to restructure the Management Committee of the Farmers Organizations so that all SFGs can be represented in the Committee. Two representatives of each SFG will be nominated to the Management Committee at the Grama Dilahari Divisional level. The officers of the FO will be rotated to give equal opportunity to represent the groups and be elected as officers.

The strategy was tested in some areas in Kurunegala and Matale districts. In an evaluation workshop organized by SFGDU in Colombo in December 1995 which was attended by top officials of MALF, it was decided to use the same approach in forming 3 AMA Model Farmers Organizations in Kurunegala.

The workshop conducted in June 1996 in connection with the organization of the 3 AMA Model Farmers Organizations in Kurunegala received much attention from the local and national officials. It was highly publicized in television, radio and the national newspapers. It was decided to replicate the process in other parts of the country.

Field Trip

A four day field was arranged to visit three AMA Model Farmers Organization and their affiliated small farmer groups (SFGs) organized, the latter of which were organized under the previous PPP project in Kurunegala and Matale Districts (GCP/SRL/046/NET)

There were existing Farmers Organization (FO) in the area before the organization of the model farmers organizations. However, they were not functioning well and not serving the needs of the small farmers. They were controlled by the large farmers. There were only a few active members of the farmers organizations. One FO visited had 7 groups but only two were active. In another FO, only 30 - 35 out of 162 families joined the FO. There were few members who contributed to the group fund. There were no women members.

Under the reorganized "model FOs," membership has increased. The small farmers are organized into small groups. They meet regularly and they contribute to the group fund during the meeting. Each group is represented by two members in the Executive Committee of the Farmers Organization. The officers of the Executive Committee are rotated to give an opportunity for every one to serve. Women are given the same opportunity to serve as officers. The Executive Committee meets twice a month and there is a general assembly meeting every three months.

The Government is setting up a Govijana (Farmers) Bank. However, the setting up of pilot scale village banking units in the Govisavanas depend on the substantial initial savings of the Farmers Organizations. It is mandatory for the members of the FO to pay at least Rs 100 to be eligible for a loan. The bank has not yet been established in the area.

The SFGs affiliated to the three model FOs are able to participate in government programmes and projects. Several groups in one FO visited were clearing a forest area to be used as farm woodlot under the Participatory Forestry Project. The trees seedlings are provided free by the project. They are also allowed to plant fruit trees and field crops and vegetable between the trees. The farmers will have the right to harvest the trees upon maturity.

The model FOs are also doing community activities. One model FO visited was clearing and laying the foundation for the common building. The building will provide offices for the government officials and a meeting hall. In this FO there is one group of large farmers but they are also helping in the construction of the building.

The SFGs visited were meeting regularly, mostly once a week. The meetings are rotated among the members' homes. The office bearers are rotated and their tenure depends on the number of members and their schedule of meetings. For example, if there are eleven members and they meet every week the tenure of office will be for eleven weeks. During the meetings they contribute Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 to the group fund. The groups use the fund to lend to members for emergency and other purposes. Other groups pay RS 10 for seettu. This fund is used to buy household goods such as glasses and plates and given to one member during the meeting. This is one activity that the women groups farmers feel they have gained the most benefit.

The SFGs undertake group activities and whatever income is derived is added to their group fund. Among the most common groups activities are charcoal making, buying and selling coconut shells, food processing and crop production such as chilies and other vegetables. In one female group visited, one member provided one acre of land to be used by the group for their group activity. The groups have prepared their own constitutions and some have laid down rules and regulations for the dismissal of members. This include those who left the place, failed to attend 3-4 meetings, stole or mishandled funds and misbehaved.

The areas covered by the old PPP projects in Kurunegala and Matale were also visited. According to the Small Farmers Development Organization (SFDO), there are 50 active groups and 5 Village Boards in Kurunegala and 50 active groups and 4 Village Boards in Matale.

The groups visited continue with their activities although they are meeting several problems. Membership has declined in some of the groups. Some members have left for outside and overseas jobs. There are those who left because they feel that they are not getting much benefit from the groups. This is especially true among men groups who have to work outside to earn additional income for the family. Still some left because of problems with the SFDO. Nobody from SFDO has visited them and they cannot get loans from the bank. There those who left because they were enticed to join other groups organized by other organizations for promise of some benefits. Some rejoined the groups because they did not get the credit that was promised to them

Some SFGs have problems dealing with divisional officers in the Agrarian Service Centers. For example, they have requested for coconut seedlings but they were told they cannot get the seedlings unless they become members of the Farmers Organizations. However, members of the SFGs did not like to join the FOs because they are controlled by the large farmers. In some FOs where small farmers became members, they were not allowed to be nominated as officers.

There are groups that continue with the Village Board meetings and receive bank loans for buying equipment. When some of the borrowers did not pay their loans, other groups were not given loans. But some Village Board continue to meet because they can also present their problems and needs to the Farmers Organizations.

Other institutional linkages

The Prosperity Movement (Samurdhi) started one and a half years ago to give benefit to about 1.5 million poor families. They are assisting people in agriculture, fisheries, nutrition and credit. The Movement has recruited about 20,000 people who have been assigned in the rural areas as Group Animators. Two people are assigned in each village and one of them works in the field of agriculture. The SFGDU has been assisting in training the animators on small farmer development.

The Working Committee on Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture has been helping farmers in marketing their products. They have established markets in different parts of the country where farmers can sell their products.

The Small Farmer Development Organization (SFDO) was organized as a non-governmental organization after the termination of the FAO assisted PPP project. It is charged with the responsibility of supporting and strengthening the third tier Inter-village Board Federation in Kurunegala and Matale. SFDO is saddled by internal and financial problems. The Executive Committee no longer meets regularly. They are supposed to meet every three months but since March 1995 they had only two meetings. The Executive Secretary is no longer a member of the board but continues to run the organization. The Project Officers are not attending the meetings and the SFGs are complaining that they are no longer visited by them. The Inter-Village Boards are supposed to meet every month butt during the last two months they had not been any meetings. The Self-Help Support Programme of the Swiss Organization for Development and Cooperation provides funds for the operation of SFDO. Funds have been provided up to June 1996 but it is uncertain whether they will get additional funds.


The recommendations have been divided into I) within the project period and ii) with possible extension.

Within the project period

1. The SFGDU was organized to promote the development of small farmer groups by disseminating information on participatory development and to provide training in small farmer development methodology to government officials involved in agricultural and rural development. The Unit is presently staffed by 7 professional people and 5 non-professional staff. Two officers are working part-time and one post has not been filled up. This has put a lot of burden on the staff even with the present workload. The Unit has been asked to duplicate the experience in the formation of AMA Model Farmers Organization in Kurunegala to other places.

Recommendation. The position of the Deputy Director (Monitoring and Evaluation) should be filled as soon as possible and the two Deputy Director (Reorganization and Women Affairs) should be filled by full-time persons.

2. The SFGDU has demonstrated within the short period of time their capacity to put out valuable publications on participatory development and organizing and strengthening small farmer groups and farmers associations. These publications are in great demand and users are willing to pay for the publications. However, SFGDU cannot sell them for cash as the proceeds will go to the Consolidated Fund and it will be difficult to get an allocation. Ad hoc arrangements have been made so that SFGDU is paid in kind, i.e. paper, ink.

Recommendation. SFGDU should explore the possibility of establishing a revolving fund for its publications programme.

3. SFGDU has organized the 3 "AMA" Model Farmers Organizations in Kurunegala and has started several activities in support of the organization of the same in other districts. It is important to undertake follow up activities to develop these organizations into self-reliant and sustaining groups. Although the MALF has been giving a proportionally larger allocation to SFGDU compared to comparable units, this is not enough considering the financial constraints that the government is currently facing due to security problems. The project needs funds and the use of the vehicle to complete its activities.

Recommendation. The Programme of Work and Budget indicating the activities and budget required to support the activities that SFGDU started should be approved as soon as possible.

4. An effective training programme will require the use of good publications ands audio-visual aids. The SFGDU has prepared valuable publications for training but it lacks good audio-visual materials. The materials being used at present were prepared under the old project but new materials have to be prepared in view of the new agricultural policy of the Government and approaches used.

Recommendation. Gathering materials and preparing new audio-visual aids to accompany the new publications should be prepared as soon as the audio-visual equipment arrive.

5. The SFGDU has demonstrated its capacity to train government officials, Group Animators and SFG members and leaders and also in providing assistance in the formation of AMA Model Farmers Organizations. There is an increasing demand to replicate the process all over the country. Considering the limited resources of SFGDU support for training methodology development should be done in selected areas where they can demonstrate the effectively of the method and where government officials, NGOs and farmers around the area could observe and learn.

Recommendation. The SFGDU should limit their training activities in Kurunegala, Matale, Anuradhapura and Hambantota. There are strong SFGs and FOs in Kurunegala and Matale where the local farmers and former GOs can be used for training farmers and government officials. Hambantota is one of the poorest districts located in the southern part of the country and Anuradhapura is in the northern part. These two districts can be used for training in the southern and northern parts of the country.

6. The Prosperity Movement (Samurdhi) has assigned Group Animators in the different villages. They have limited training in small farmer development. However, they are assigned to organize small groups and motivate them to undertake group activities such as savings, crop production, food processing, etc.

Recommendation. Training of the Group Animators in small farmer development especially in the areas being covered should be intensified.

7. It was observed in the field that some groups may not be homogenous as they are expected to be. One member of a woman's group is married to a local teacher who owns one and a half acre of land which they cannot cultivate. She has allowed the use of one acre for the group activity. In other group, farmers with irrigated rice lands are considered large farmers and yet they belong to the small farmer groups.

Recommendation. The Group Animators should be better trained in using Participatory Rural Appraisal methods such as wealth ranking in order to properly identify the small farmers.

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