Just a few days after the disaster they had harvested and loaded a truck with 3,000 kilos of their vegetables and delivered them to the traumatised survivors crowded in an IDP camp along the coast, providing a welcome nutritional addition to dry rations.
The farmers in question were all beneficiaries of a FAO Telefood-funded home-gardening project in Hingurakgoda, in Sri Lanka 's North-Central province.
The project, started six months ago and due to last until August, provided the farmers with seeds, seedlings and cuttings, training and tools to enable them to improve their home gardens and with it their diets and those of their families and community.
Thanks to the FAO grant, the farmers, who all have farms of less than half an acre of home-garden were able to harvest and transport quantities of vegetables that would have been unthinkable six months ago.
“The area has a rich history and a lot of poor farmers” said Ananda Rajapakshe, who runs the local livelihoods and development NGO, Mahasen Haritha Yaya. Compared to the tsunami-hit areas of Sri Lanka and the war-torn north, the farmers of the area are relatively well off but are still unable to break out of the poverty cycle.
“The nutritional levels round here are generally acceptable. But the farmers prefer to buy their vegetables at the Sunday market instead of growing them themselves which means they don't have money to spend on children's education” said Rajapakshe.
By helping to revive the Sri Lankan tradition of homestead gardening the farmers gain extra income and the whole community benefits from a more varied and nutritious diet.
The farmers are also very concerned about the environment. Farmer Martin Singno, says agro-chemicals have created more problems than they have solved as well as being expensive for the farmers.
“Pesticides have virtually eliminated local bee colonies, and thousands of bats have also disappeared from the area” he said. All the farms have their own natural compost baskets and are using marigolds for insect control.
Rajapakshe's immediate project is to raise enough funds to prepare and supply plant seedlings in grow-bags to a thousand tsunami-victims stuck in tent camps.
As he is talking, a truck-load of day-labourers, poor Tamils from the tsunami-hit area of Batticaloa arrive to help with the ongoing paddy harvest.
Some of them were fishermen who lost everything in the tsunami, others used to have their own home gardens.
“All the farming lands are soaked in saltwater”, said a tsunami survivor whilst demonstrating his expertise with a swathe in the paddy field, “some of the Palmyra trees have even died and there is no grass to feed the cattle”
What do the farmers of the tsunami-devastated areas require to get them cultivating again? Banda thinks carefully before giving an answer. “Seeds, tools. polybags and some kind of watering system” he said. “They can't plant in the soil yet because there is too much salt but they have to grow things that produce food quickly.” He suggested the indigenous cowpea because they are high in vitamins and ready to eat in 45 days, and also mineral-rich green-leafed vegetables. On the farms of Hingurakgoda the compost for the polybags is already being prepared.
“This project is a very good example of how people can ensure food security at household level, especially in this current situation. This is an ideal way to address the immediate nutritional needs of tsunami-affected people” said FAO Programme Associate Nalin Munasinghe. "
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