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Polonnaruwa Farmers Voice Their Anxieties

by K.G. Karunaratne, Daily Mirror, Colombo, October 25, 2011

[H]e said that agriculture is facing a serious threat due to the alienation of land to foreigners and large scale entrepreneurs....Today a farmer's rights are being denied. He is losing his land and the right to use tanks and reservoirs. The Somawathie Forest Reserve which is of historical importance is now in the hands of racketeers... The agricultural sector and the farmers in Sri Lanka are heading for a bleak future."

 

The Convenor of the Progressive Farmer Organisation M.K.Jayatissa said more than 35,000 acres of state land in the Polonnaruwa district have been alienated to foreigners and local businessmen. Addressing the Annual General Conference of the Pulastipura Farmer Organisation he said that agriculture is facing a serious threat due to the alienation of land to foreigners and large scale entrepreneurs.

He said: "The ancient reservoirs built by Sinhala kings who gave priority to agriculture are now being used to land sea planes. The government should use Hingurakgoda and Sigiriya air strips without ruining our reservoirs. The purchase of paddy for the guaranteed price is subject to a maximum of 2500 kilos from each farmer. The farmers affected by floods during the last Maha season are facing hardships without means to pay their loans. This compels them to sell their paddy for Rs.18 or 20 to private traders and rice mill owners. The private traders take advantage of the shortcomings in the government's paddy purchasing scheme. Today a farmer's rights are being denied. He is losing his land and the right to use tanks and reservoirs. The Somawathie Forest Reserve which is of historical importance is now in the hands of racketeers. We import all our requirements of seed from Malaysia and other countries. If we run short of imported seed, our agriculture will be ruined and we will starve. The agricultural sector and the farmers in Sri Lanka are heading for a bleak future."

The Chief Sanghanayaka of Polonnaruwa and Thamankaduwa Ven Udagama Dhammananda Thera , environmentalists Tilak Kandegama, and Ravindra Kariyawasam, addressed the gathering. A series of proposals to protect the rights of the farmers were passed unanimously by the delegates.

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Provincial Council OK’s ‘farm’ in Wilpattu buffer


By Rathindra Kuruwita, LakbhimaNews, Colombo, October 25, 2011 

Regional environmental protection mechanisms were established using the 13th amendment, to empower provincial councils to better respond to the immediate environmental issues at the regional level. However the recent activities of North Western Environmental Authority (NWEA) show how corrupt such local mechanisms have become  over the years and how they can be used to facilitate/legitimize  unplanned and unacceptable ‘development’ activities which leads to environmental 7-1disaster.  
In recent months the NWEA has given the green light for several projects to be carried out in the Wilpattu National Park (WNP) buffer zone, which pose a grave danger to the survival of this ecologically sensitive and unique area. 
Recently the Authority gave approval, for a 335 acre farm in the Eluwankulama proposed sanctuary, which was ordered closed in 2003 by local government agencies, considering the massive ecological damage caused by it.
“ The HVF Farm is situated within the southern border of the Wilpattu National Park, in the Eluwankulama proposed sanctuary -- and we can see the demarcating posts of the Forest Conservation department (the lands will soon be declared a sanctuary) in the farm,” said Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environmental Conservation Trust.
He added that the farming project began in the late 1990s, when the owners of the farm, who had close links to a Minister of the Peoples’ Alliance government, encroached 2-3 acres of government land bordering Wilpattu..
“When Vanathawilluwa DS office sent a team to investigate what was going on, the owners appealed for a permit to carry out an ‘organic’ farming project. In 1997 they asked for four acres to start a pilot project for ‘organic’ farming and later they appealed to expand the areas to 8 acres and then to 25 acres.  The north western province land office gave permission to start a four acre farm. But using their political connections they illegally stretched the  farm area to 25 acres.”

Reasons for the 2003 ban

However after years of lobbying by environmental groups and the decision to make the area a sanctuary, all relevant state officials in the North Western Province agreed that the Farm should be 7-2removed from the Eluwankulama proposed sanctuary in 2003. The report they filed on the issue details the main reasons as follows: 

1. The farm is situated less than 1 mile, away from the Wilpattu National Park -- clear breach of environmental laws.
2. It is situated within the Eluwankulama proposed sanctuary and Achchimalei archeological site.  At the farm, workers have found a two foot crystal Buddha statue, several stone pillars and other artifacts which are kept unsecured in the farm office.
3. The farm obstructs an elephant corridor which elephants used, to move from Wilpattu to Tabbowa Sanctuary. 

However, with the change of government in 2004 -- and by forging close links with the former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, the owners of the HVF Farm have additionally forged a deed and expanded thier activities to another 75 acres of government land by 2007, with the support of Vanathawilluwa divisional secretariat.  
“The Environment Foundation Limited (EFL) filed a case in the Supreme Court, because the farm was not removed as ordered. However the Chief Justice at the time Sarath N Silva gave an absurd verdict saying that the owners of the farm need  to be given alternative land. Why was there any need to provide alternate land when the project was illegal and on government land?” questioned Sajeewa Chamikara. However by using leverage with the former CJ and  a Minister, the owners of the farm coaxed the Forest Conservation department to release 225 acres from the Eluwankulama proposed sanctuary and Tabbowa sanctuary.

NWEA oversteps

A few months back the NWEA conducted an EIA, (impact assesment)  and gave approval for the project. Environmentalists point out that this is nothing but the latest in a series of irresponsible acts which has endangered protected areas in the north west. They also point out that by conducting and approving an EIA without consulting the Central Environment Authority (CEA), the NWEA which falls under the North Western Provincial Council has exceeded its powers. 
NWEA has violated the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) as well as the National Environmental Act (NEA) by carrying out an EIA which only the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) has the power to carry out,  and by allowing a development activity in close proximity to a national park. 
Talking to LAKBIMAnEWS about the NWEA, and its granting of  a EIA to questionable projects, CEA Chairman Charitha Herath said, “There are some instances where it had given approval to development activities which needed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); however according to the National  Environment Act  only the CEA has the power to grant EIAs and Environmental Protection Licenses (EPL.)”

An Organic farm?

The owners of the farm claim that it produces organic produce, and that it exports produce to international markets where organic food is in high demand.
However it has not received an ‘organic produce’ certification from any accepted body -- which is essential for exporting organic food to the EU and US markets.
According to the principles of organic agriculture and the universally accepted International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) “Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.” 
Meanwhile the US Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 states that an organic farm ‘needs to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity and if livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.’
“No internationally recognized institution would grant an organic food certificate to a company which has started a farm by clearing up a sensitive eco system. In addition one cannot use synthetic pesticides or weed killers that harm the ecosystem or the product.’ However it’s a proven fact that this farm used non-recommended chemicals as fertilizer and pesticides. Therefore the fruits and vegetables from this farm cannot be exported; that means there is no financial gain for the country either to compensate for the massive  ecological damage.”

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More forest being cleared, for corn and gardens

By Saliya Kumara Gunasekera, LakbhimaNews, Colombo, October 23, 2011

Environmentalists charge that a large extent of the Nachchaduwa river forest reserve is being cleared with the help of bulldozers, leaving large depressions on  the river bund. They contend that Wildlife and Conservation Department officials have turned a blind eye to the brazen destruction of this and other forest reserves in the Anuradhapura district. 

Garden

Not only is the clearing up process adversely affecting certain inflows to the river, but the Department of Irrigation has deemed it conducive to lay out a garden inside the forest reserve.
Irrigation Department sources told LAKBIMAnEWS that the department hopes to levy a fee via issuing tickets to those wishing to visit the gardens. This will also force the inhabitants in the environs of the 3-1Nachchaduwa river to pay a sum if they are to use the river for bathing purposes, etc., in the future.
This was yet another move by the authorities in their attempt to sell the country’s water resources to make a tidy sum on the side, the environmentalists charged.
Wildlife and Conservation Department sources told LAKBIMAnEWS that already over 1,000 acres of the Nachchaduwa forest reserve have  been cleared. It has also come to light that certain parties in the Irrigation Department are planning to set up corn cultivation in these cleared areas.
It has been further alleged that certain Wildlife and Conservation Department officials have been in the habit of demanding Rs.5000 each from the villagers of Nachchaduwa with the promise to give 3-2them lands to cultivate corn.

Pollution

Despite the Irrigation Department having cleared up forest land, they are yet to show even an iota of interest in cleaning up the river. Visitors are often known to litter the surroundings. Empty bottles of alcohol left behind by the revellers have turned these environs into a health hazard whilst plastic cans and bottles pollute the Nachchaduwa river. 
Our attempts to obtain a comment from Director General of the Irrigation Department, Dr.G.G.A. Godaliyadda failed as he told us that he is very busy and has no time to talk.