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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Water flows for tsunami survivors in southern Sri Lanka

ReliefWeb: 29/05/2007" By Rukshan Ratnam, International Federation Information Manager in southern Sri Lanka

Squatting atop a large concrete tank N. Kahawita peers down through an open hatch, checking the water levels in the darkness below. Nearby Upul Baduge is opening a valve that releases water from the holding tank into a purification system. From here the water is pumped 50 feet vertically into a concrete water tower perched on a hilltop that dominates the surrounding landscape.

Despite their experience, neither Kahawita nor Baduge are water engineers. They are members of a Community Based Organization (CBO) that has been set up by the Red Cross and the National Water Board to run a water supply scheme in Seenimodera in southern Sri Lanka.
Kahawita leads this CBO that supplies drinking water to 275 houses in five villages. The villages comprise families who have been resettled in the area after the tsunami as well as long-term residents. The eleven members of the CBO are drawn from the community and have been trained and supervised by technicians from Australian Red Cross and the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB). After seven months they are experts at operating and maintaining the system.

The project aims to put the community in charge of its own assets. The CBO is responsible for setting prices, maintaining and operating the equipment, hiring and paying employees to run the project and educating the community on water issues.

CBO members hope to start issuing bills and paying workers this month. A community meeting has been held to collectively decide how much to charge for each unit of water consumed by the settlements and the cost to each household for the purchase and installation of meters.
“We have already collected 400,000 rupees as payment for the meters, which we hope to buy and install within the next few weeks. Some of this money will also be used to pay salaries to three employees we recently hired,” explains Upul Baduge who acts as Treasurer of the CBO.
Australian Red Cross has funded and built the entire water supply scheme with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the NWSDB. It’s been a massive undertaking involving the construction of a high-tech water treatment plant, a 100,000 litre capacity water tower, a 50,000 litre ground water collection tank and over 10km of high-quality poly-ethylene piping for delivering water to each house. The system is able to pump up to 245,000 litres per day of groundwater from two bore holes, which passes through the treatment plant and then up to the water tower, from where it can be fed to each house.

“The system has been designed with the community in mind, ensuring easy operation and minimal maintenance for up to fifty years”, says Barry Armstrong, Australian Red Cross’ country coordinator.

Ever since the community at Seenimadora was first established water has been a major problem for local residents. Those living in the pre-tsunami settlements had to depend on a well one kilometre away from their homes. Sometimes they had to pay water bowsers or three wheel taxis to bring water, or carry cans back up the steep hillside.

“The water was also murky and had a high iron content,” says Pritesh Shah, a water and sanitation delegate with Australian Red Cross. “We dug new wells, and the iron content has been reduced through the purification process”.

For housewife Ramyalatha Piyadasa water on tap at home is a luxury and one of the best things to have happened since the tsunami.

“It used to take hours to go back and forth to get enough water for the family’s use. All four members of our family had to stand in line to fill cans and then bring it all the way uphill”, she explains. “Now we have enough water to use in our garden and for the first time I can plant flowers and even grow vegetables.”

The Red Cross will support the Seenimodera CBO for another year to make sure that the community has the necessary expertise and confidence to run the scheme well into the future.

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Jaffna rotten ripe for dairy and livestock farming – INGOs

The Island: 30/05/2007" by Apeksha Senadheera

Sri Lanka, although a country better known for its agricultural and livestock resources, has to spend a great deal of money for importing milk.

It spent over Rs.13 billion for milk importation in 2006. The amount is bound to increase by leaps and bounds if the country does not expand and upgrade its dairy industry.
In the circumstances, international non- governmental organizations (INGOs) operating in Sri Lanka have come forward to assist the industry to realise its full potential.

With this aim in view, the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), a United States based non-profit organization, has put into operation a US $ 4 million project to clear 450,000 sq.m. of mined land in N-E Sri Lanka by the end of 2008 to kick off rejuvenating the dairy industry.
According to HDI Country Director Ms Jeanne Samuel, the Jaffna peninsula is an high potential area for dairy production should the land be demined.

"Sri Lankan dairy farming sector contributes marginally to the national economy, with domestic milk production estimated to meet less than 20 percent of the country’s needs. It is predominantly in the hands of small-scale farmers.

Sri Lanka spends approximately US $110 million annually to import milk powder. The consumption of milk products per head in Sri Lanka has more than doubled in the last 15 years, growing from an average of 10 litres to over 22 litres per year.

"The Jaffna peninsula has sufficient land that could profitably be harnessed to the dairy and livestock industry. At present, that is impossible for much of the land area is littered with landmines," lamented Ms Samuel.

The HDI began a landmine clearance and agricultural development project in Sri Lanka in 2006. The two-year project in the Jaffna peninsula has two interdependent components: Landmine clearance of dairy farmland and dairy and livestock systems development. Money was allocated through the United States Department of Agriculture for the project.

Milk production in the Jaffna district decreased by 66 percent between 1989 and 2003 mainly due to the armed conflict and the resultant land mining.

The dairy and livestock sector in the Jaffna peninsula has gone untapped and thereby unable to generate an increase in household incomes and improve the livelihoods of rural families, which could easily be done, pointed out HDI sources.

"The small farmers are in great need of skills training, farm management orientation and access to market linkages," said the sources.

The target audience for HDI’s initiative is approximately 2,000 small farmers living in the Jaffna peninsula where dairy and livestock production holds high potential.

"The Tamil-Hindu population in Jaffna is eager to get involved in dairy farming because working with cows is symbolic of spiritual significance to them," said HDI sources.

The HDI believes many farmers in Jaffna who grow cash crops could turn easily to dairy farming, which is more profitable in the long term. It is confident its programme would especially benefit the women of Jaffna, who traditionally are the primary caretakers of livestock.
The first phase of HDI’s project is currently underway. HDI and its partners are surveying and clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from farmlands and opening access roads to more than 600,000 sq.m. of valuable land currently rendered unusable due to the presence of landmines.

The cleared land will then be used for dairy and livestock systems development. The project will include introducing dairy and livestock production as a business to small farmers, mobilizing private sector funding in dairy and livestock business, services and infrastructure and developing market outlets with hotels, restaurants and institutions that ensure long-term sustainability for milk products produced and processed by small farmers, farmer groups and small agribusinesses.

The HDI predicts that by the end of the project, 2,000 farmers will be able to safely use over 600,000 sq.m. of currently mined land for dairy farming and see their income increase by at least 50 per cent.

It also hopes to triple the quantity of fresh milk production which will encourage the development of the private sector in the dairy industry.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Constraints that impede SME sector growth

The Island: 28/05/2007" by Brian Tissera

Small industries are the engine of growth in Sri Lanka, specially outside Colombo and the Western Province. They are vital to local economic development which creates jobs and reduces poverty.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Ministry of Enterprise Development and Investment Promotions (MEDIP) implemented a project based on extensive consultations with provincial and district stakeholders in the government, private sector, SME and NGO".

The report titled "Enhancing the enterprise culture of Sri Lanka" forms the basis of the article. The project was designed and carried out by Nireka Weeratunga and Karin Reinprecht in four districts in Sri Lanka, Kurunegala, Puttlam, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Three youth surveys conducted were consistent in showing low value attributed to the private sector and self-employment in general. Around 53 percent held the view that the private sector discriminated against candidates from low income groups and favoured known groups and individuals. Preferences for employment was crucial on the level of education, with 48 percent of those with primary education increasing to 62 percent of A/Level qualified candidates preferring government employment.

Similarly 40 percent of those with primary education declined to 12 percent of A/Levels for self -employment. Preference for private sector employment increased from 13 percent of primary educated person to 23 percent among those with A/Levels.
The comments made by youth on self-employment and employment in the private sector are noted below:

On self-employment

"Sri Lankan culture is such that it does not view self-employment as employment. It should not be like that. In marriage the male is required to have a stable job in the public or private sector. Self employment does not count very much to people," a youth from Hambantota said.
A youth from Jaffna had this to say: "There is a saying that even if one supervises a poultry farm, it must be a government poultry farm. The attraction of a government job is the pension when one retires. However, I prefer self-employment, but society does to respect educated people who are not employed in the government sector."

On employment in the private sector

A youth from Weligama said: "The state sector jobs are good. There is stability for the employees. Even though the salary is less, the private sector, with better salaries, could throw out employees in six months with paying the dues."

A Colombo youth had this perception: "I prefer the government sector because you get many benefits such as job security and cost of living allowances. The chances of getting fired are much less in the government sector."

It was agreed by all that business organisations had an important role to play in bringing peace to Sri Lanka, and also to be grounded in the social and cultural fabric of Sri Lanka.
Many private sector representatives complained that there was no enabling environment for people to go into business, both in terms of the regulatory framework and socio-cultural attitudes. The widely prevailing notion was that business people were exploitative.
Government officials while acknowledging the shortcomings in the development of the SME sector, such as a coherent policy, highlighted the weakness of entrepreneurs to register business and pay taxes.

Regarding the view on the status and respect received by entrepreneurs, the sentiments expressed were that large entrepreneurs generally have more status than micro and small ones and that respect was dependent on their social class background and connections.
It was also argued that Islam was generally more conducive to business and that Buddhism could be both constraining and enabling to business.

Core notions of success in life were mentioned as a good (well-built with all facilities) house, a good vehicle (car/van/four-wheel drive), modern household goods and good education for children. The core qualities necessary to achieve success were honesty/trust, hard-work/effort/perseverance, good relations/helping others/listening to others/respecting people and the environment.

What school leavers say about livelihoods and social respect

"Villagers respect people like doctors because they earn more money and have status," said a female Sinhala Buddhist A/Level student from the Kurunegala district.
"I think people here respect doctors, government officers, lawyers and teachers because they earn better incomes," commented a female Muslim A/Level student from the Polonnaurwa district.

"I want to enter campus. I want to get a degree. My parents also want me to go to the university. They prefer that I do accountancy. A lot of people here are doing the commerce stream," said a female Sinhala Buddhist, A/Level student from the Anuradhapura district.
School-leavers also had their say on business as a livelihood option
"I have no plans to do business. I have no idea how to do business. I don’t like the business field at all," a male Sinhala Buddhist A/Level student from the Anuradhapura district said.
" I do not have any plans to do business. I think I can’t give priority to business. I want to get a good education and do a job," was the comment of a female Sinhala Buddhist A/Level student from the Polonnaruwa district.

"I would like to go to Europe, a place where you can earn well. I don’t have money to start a business. During the off season for fishing, its difficult to do business here. It takes a lot of time to make money from business. I want to earn fast by going to Italy," a male Sinaha-Catholic O/Level student from the Puttlam district opined..

The general view was that most entrepreneurs subscribe to religious and ethnic traditions which influence business practices. In the case of Sinhala Buddhists, certain trades are considered taboo such as livestock rearing for meat and trading in alcohol and pesticides. Being calm and patient are also important as well as being satisfied with what you get – an attitude which could curb high aspirations and business growth.

Many of the entrepreneurs prefer to remain in their "little wells" i.e. their immediate social environment around their home villages. In order to promote micro and small enterprise development, it is necessary to lower the current cultural and social costs of engaging in business.

This could be accomplished by activities such as a social marketing campaign, awareness raising and awards to entrepreneurs and public officials who support enterprise development by linking with appropriate institutions and programmes.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lucky Yoghurt growing from small beginnings; planning CSE entry

Sunday Times: 27/05/2007" By Bandula Sirimanna

He started with only one cow and just a bicycle in 1991 but 16 years later rural entrepreneur Lal Keerthi Gunawardene owns one of Sri Lanka’s biggest yoghurt plants and plans to list the company on the Colombo Stock Exchange. As Gunawardene, Managing Director of Lucky Lanka Dairies (Pvt) Ltd explained to the media at a briefing this week to celebrate the company’s 15th anniversary and its simple beginnings, the business that started with a single cow, has now spread out across the country with the involvement of thousands of milk farmers, hundreds of employees and many suppliers.

The Lucky Yoghurt plant at Kamburupitiya, Gunawardene’s hometown, produces 7,000 cups of Yoghurt per hour and now the young entrepreneur who started out business life as a 22 year old, plans to set up a fully fledged modern factory at a cost of Rs. 300 million as well as float his company on the Colombo bourse to broad base its ownership.

The company pays Rs 110 million per annum to purchase fresh liquid milk from milk farmers in the island, and in its recognition of the services of farmers is planning to introduce an insurance scheme for them. It conducts awareness programmes on productive farming methods and obtaining good quality high milk yield and positive thinking programmes for dealers.

He expressed optimism that opportunities might exist for the implementation of a dairy development strategy in Sri Lanka that would create a framework of economic incentives for dairy producers while balancing the interests of producers and consumers. The consumption of dairy products in Sri Lanka has increased over the last two decades. However, the growth in demand has been largely met by imports, particularly of milk powder. Since the mid-1980s Sri Lanka's imports of milk powder have exceeded a three-year moving average by 25 percent several times.

Possible causal factors for these surges include economic and trade liberalization, surplus conditions in world dairy markets and the provision of subsidies by exporting countries. Other factors were also at play to encourage the growth of imports, including domestic production and marketing constraints, civil strife in some producing areas, declining profit margins due partly to increased feed prices and inadequate consumer information regarding the attributes of fresh milk. The country is spending Rs 13 billion per annum to import milk powder.

It was under this environment, that Gunawardene as a young man in a remote village in Kamburupitiya and his courageous four sisters initiated their self employment project with no capital at all to change the path of Sri Lanka’s yoghurt industry. They started with 10 Yoghurt cups and one delivery bicycle in 1991 but by 2005 it reached 60,000, yoghurt cups and 70 delivery vehicles.

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