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Government Gazette

Divi Neguma:

Regional development, the roadmap for Sri Lanka


Precision agriculture: A hand tool to test the nitrogen requirement of crops

Sri Lanka witnessed a remarkable reduction in its poverty levels during the last few years. The poverty headcount ratio that reflects the percentage of the population living below the official poverty line has dropped from 15.2 in 2006/07 to 8.9 in 2009/10. Poverty levels have decreased across all sectors and geographical areas.

There were some districts where high poverty levels of over 20 percent have been persistent for the last two decades. All these districts were able to reduce their poverty levels substantially during the last few years.

See Graph 1

This is evidence of the sizeable elimination of structural poverty in the country. This achievement well surpasses the internationally accepted poverty reduction targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to halve the poverty levels of 1990 by 2015, ahead of time. In this background, identifying the characteristics of remaining poverty and the elimination of all facets of poverty are the main challenges before the policymakers of the country.


Graph 1: Changing poverty levels - Source: Department of Census and Statistics.

To this end, while increasing economic opportunities by improving the capital asset base and thereby paving the way for the expansion of the economy, the necessity of introducing a development program focused on improving the wealth of the family has been recognised .

It is also observed that some indicators pertaining to individual health such as malnutrition and anaemia are not commensurate with the increased income of families. Further, the need has been felt for a new approach in the wake of rapidly changing lifestyles, global food insecurity and increasing demand for fresh and chemical-free vegetables and fruits, having balanced and nutritional meals and also as a measure of curtailing the cost of living.

In this background, the Divi Neguma program was launched by the Government in 2011 with the view of promoting a backyard economy for households, and thereby enhancing the wealth of the family. The objective is not only to improve material wealth, but also to enhance the mental, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth of the family.The program paid particular attention to uplift the living standards of low-income families including 1.8 million people whose income is below the poverty line, aiming at achieving the Government's prime goal of a poverty-free Sri Lanka.

Generally, poverty can be the result of lacking capital, required skills, marketing channels and other socio-economic opportunities. So far, the poverty reduction approaches adopted had been mainly transferring money to the family or focused on area-based development programs aimed at improving the economic and social infrastructure and service delivery in the localities. By these interventions, it was expected that the causes of poverty can be eliminated.

However, diversity of families in terms of resources, assets and skills has been mostly overlooked by these interventions and therefore not been as effective as expected.

Eradicating poverty and sustaining it require the improvement of family wealth so that the family can effectively share the benefits of overall development of the country.

As it was mentioned earlier, the wealth of the family is not all about money. It includes financial capital, human capital as well as social capital. In this backdrop, Divi Neguma has its main focus on improving the wealth of the family whereas the development of the area will be considered from the perspective of the family.

Inception of Divi Neguma

The first phase of the Divi Neguma program was aimed at establishing one million household economic units in Sri Lanka. The activities promoted were home gardening, animal husbandry, fisheries, cottage industries and marketing. Depending on the needs, planting materials such as vegetable seeds and plants, coconut seedlings, fruit plants, minor export crops and medicinal plants to be grown in home gardens had been distributed among beneficiary families. The vegetables distributed included green chillies, brinjals, bitter gourd, snake gourd, ladies fingers and capsicum.


A kitchen garden

Three different packages of vegetable planting material were given to three identified zones i.e. upcountry, wet and intermediate zone and dry zone. The aim was to meet the day-to-day requirements of the family through these commodities. Many families who didn't have any interest in growing any kind of food crop in their home garden have started growing these crops under Divi Neguma.

Small-scale and easy to manage farming has led to rising enthusiasm for raising crops among many families who didn't have much experience in agricultural activities. Schoolchildren and elderly people in the families have shown a great interest in this.

The harvest of vegetables has been mainly used for household consumption and distributing among relatives and friends. It has also helped ease the cost of living of these families. Particularly, it is worthwhile to note that vegetables such as green chillies, capsicum and tomato have shown high retail prices of over Rs. 300 per kilogram during some months. Therefore, for the families who were already engaged in some agricultural activity and whose main livelihood was agriculture, this has become an opportunity to earn an additional income.

See Graph 2


Graph 2: Average monthly retail prices of tomatoes, capsicum and green chillies 2011 (Colombo and suburbs).Source: Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute.

Village level projects to popularise the growing of medicinal plants, minor export crops and other field crops such as green gram, ground nuts and onions, which have been non-traditional crops for some parts of the country, have also been undertaken. This will also contribute to the target of achieving self-sufficiency in certain food crops.

Along with the agricultural activities, livestock and inland fisheries development activities to supplement household incomes and to improve the family food basket have been promoted. Families have been provided with 10 chicks each and facilities to build co-ops to increase mainly egg production which is the cheapest source of protein.

Scaling of current activities

Some families were initially reported to be reluctant to accept chicks, but once they realised that small-scale poultry farming can be carried out within the home garden without, not only disturbing the pleasant environment around the house, but also improving it, demand for this activity has increased.

Pond fish culture is also a profitable household level industry that has been promoted in certain areas of the country.

All these activities have been implemented through District and Divisional Secretariats and the Samurdhi system. With the establishment of the Divi Neguma Department under the Divineguma Act passed by Parliament recently, the program will be scaled to be the driving force of modernising and upgrading economic activities undertaken mainly by low-income groups, small farmers, small entrepreneurs, informal sector producers and small-scale traders.

There are three main pillars in the organisational structure of Divi Neguma - Divi Neguma community organisations, Divi Neguma banks and Divi Neguma Development Department. The first two institutions are organisations managed by the community while the third one is a government department. The officers in the Samurdhi Authority, Southern Development Authority and Udarata Development Authority will be absorbed into the Divi Neguma Department.

While harnessing the full potential of each individual and family in economic activities, the program will expand beyond the family to a network of community groups and further to the divisional and district level networks, which in turn will help scale their income generation activities and create facilities conducive for their livelihoods.

Undertaking of projects to create local level infrastructure and services including roads, culverts, drinking water supply, irrigation schemes, storage and marketing facilities and credit facilities through Divi Neguma banks which are directly related to the livelihood will be facilitated through this process.

All these arrangements will facilitate the scaling of current economic activities engaged by the target groups in terms of technology, quality and innovations.

International best practices

One of the best examples of similar initiatives in other countries is Saemaul Undong in South Korea, which was able to completely modernise the South Korean rural sector and improve the quality of life tremendously. This program was introduced by Korea's late President Park Chung-hee in the early 1970s.

By this time, South Korea's industrial sector was booming and the income of people living in the urban sector has been much higher compared to that of rural sector. It was reported that the average income of the rural sector was 60 percent of the urban sector at that time. One of the main thrusts was improving rural infrastructure through participatory approach.

However, the program was not confined to that, various projects to increase household income, popularising high yielding rice varieties, land amelioration, seed improvement, providing boats for fishermen and activities to improve living conditions such as replacing traditional thatched roofs, improving house structures and fences, kitchen facilities and improving toilets with modern accessories have been carried out.

These have been followed by specific interventions to improve the productivity of the agriculture sector, gain an additional income and combine agriculture with manufacturing. Attention has been paid to activities such as straightening rice field ridges and consolidating creeks which seem to be simple, but have the ability to make a significant change in productivity in the production systems.

Higher income

Then, the income of rural people become higher than that of the urban. Consequently, the movement was expanded to manufacturing firms and urban areas. Cultural aspects have not been overlooked by the movement.

Saemaul Undong which literally means 'new village movement' tried to harmonise modernisation of villages with values and traditions in South Korea.

It mainly promoted three social values - diligence, self-help and cooperation - which contributed to enhanced social integration. Finally, it has become a national tool for bringing prosperity to the Korean people.

The current agricultural practices in the country often do not pay due attention to the critical stages of cultivation such as land preparation, nursery and seed bed maintaining, early stages of planting and harvesting which require the use of appropriate tools, techniques and field practices that maximise the yield in terms of quantity and quality.

Divi Neguma has high potential to disseminate this knowledge, skills and best practices, not only for home gardening, but also to the entire agriculture sector.


Saemaul Undong, modernised rural Korea

Use of tools and machinery ranging from various hand tools to large machineries such as combined harvesters makes the agricultural operations more efficient. Use of appropriate tools for each and every operation is particularly important.

The scale of growing crops in home gardens makes it possible for growers to pay more attention to monitor germination and survival rates, malnutrition symptoms, susceptibility to diseases and pests and appropriateness of plant densities which are often overlooked when it comes to comparatively large-scale cultivations.

The home garden is an appropriate place to popularise these habits among growers.

This is applicable not only to home gardening and agriculture, but to other household level livelihood and day-to-day activities as well.

Another area to be focused is production system improvement. The examples for such system improvement are introduction of new farming systems including crop rotating practices, improvement of existing irrigation systems with modern technology, adopting precision agriculture principles that specifically take intra-field variations into account, introducing intensive growing systems such as poly tunnels, introducing agro-processing plants, post-harvest technology improvement, storage facility improvement and improving marketing channels.

Towards an appropriate farm model

One of the challenges faced by Sri Lanka's agriculture sector is introduction of suitable farm models for various parts of the country. Divi Neguma provides an entry point to introduce suitable farm models for different agro-ecological regions of the country. It is evident that the home gardens in the dry zone are comparatively large with the extent of usually up to two acres. The size of home gardens in the dry zone provides a good opportunity to develop a small-scale family farm model taking factors such as soil type, land form, topography, availability of water, rainfall patterns and natural vegetation into account.

As this kind of farm will be based on part/full time family labour, appropriate machinery has to be introduced. We should not forget the fact that these families generally have a certain extent of paddy lands where usually two cropping seasons are cultivated.

In the wet zone, home gardens are comparatively small. Even if the land plots around the houses are quite large, they are generally occupied by coconut, tea, rubber or sometimes minor export crops and therefore the possibility of introducing a new farm model is remote. For such small home gardens, the concept of the kitchen garden will be more appropriate.

According to the Oxford Dictionary , "Kitchen garden is a garden or a part of a garden in which vegetables and sometimes fruits or herbs are grown especially for domestic use." The area of this kind of garden can vary from about 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. Further, depending on the conditions of the agro-climatic zones, suitable models can be introduced for the other parts of the country as appropriate.

Improving environment

At the community level, Divi Neguma has to play an instrumental role in improving the living environment of people. The community small groups formed at villages have a specific role in achieving this objective. While improving the community infrastructure such as rural access roads, marketing facilities, solid waste management, drinking water projects and irrigation facilities through a participatory approach, emphasis is also given to improving household conditions such as toilets and sanitary facilities, domestic waste management and condition of houses - roofs, floors, kitchens and access to common amenities. Improved household income, credit facilities through the Divi Neguma banking system and attitudinal changes through peer group interactions will facilitate this process.

Regional dimensions

The new regional development model of the Government is based on the philosophy that believes in the potential of mobilising local resources for regional growth and development contrary to the conventional approach that mainly focused on transferring funds to improve the conditions of the regions.

In line with that policy, identifying and mobilising the locally available resources to promote new income generating activities and upgrading existing economic activities at divisional level will be a task that divisional Divi Neguma organisations should undertake.

Value addition of local products through the application of modern technology, forming industrial clusters and improving the value chain to improve competitiveness in local as well as international markets are also among other tasks for divisional Divi Neguma organisations. Coordinating, apprising and promoting community-based organisations within the division are the responsibility of these divisional organisations.

Efficiency-driven economy

Bringing the voice of the people at the grass-roots through district to national level policymaking through a national council is an important function of these organisations. In the meantime, the Government development agenda has effectively to be conveyed to people through the same set of organisations. To fulfil the objectives of Divi Neguma, this two-way information flow is imperative. Having invested substantially on infrastructure over the past several years consecutively, the economy was able to expand its ability to use the full potential of the existing production factors.

The next level of development is based on increasing productivity with efficient use of resources in all sectors. For this purpose, it is necessary to make production processes, labour, goods and financial markets efficient and facilitate increased use of high-tech with skilled labour force.

It is observed that according to statistics, around 63 percent of the labour force of the country is engaged in informal economic activities.

These activities include small-scale farming and livestock, cottage industries, fishing, petty trading, daily wage labour and activities related to local service provision. Needless to say, improving productivity in these areas will have a great impact on the overall performance of the economy. While improving the wealth of families, the main focus of Divi Neguma therefore should be aimed at increasing competitiveness in these sub-sectors which can make a real difference in the development roadmap of the country.

 

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