Sustainable Development of Liberated Areas and National Economy

By Parakrama Jayasinghe
At long last the much hoped for end to the LTTE and the terrorism and the liberation of whole of Sri Lanka have been achieved. While this is a cause for celebration by all Sri Lankans a different type of war and struggle has to be faced now. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure the urgent, dignified and safe resettlement of all the displaced people who have suffered many years of untold hardship, and to create the environment for them to enjoy a free, sustainable and acceptable level of livelihood, once resettled preferably in their own old villages.
No doubt the great majority of all these people, including those fortunate enough not to be counted under the internally displaced, but living in the formerly war torn areas, made their livelihood from farming. As such the obvious and easily attained route to provide them a secure and dignified life is by facilitating agriculture related activities.
However, it is important that the old mistakes and practices, which have made the farmers a downtrodden and disgruntled lot, eking out a subsistence level of existence are not repeated. The dependency on resources from outside the village or even outside the country such as imported fertilizer is the most damaging for development. The need for urgency in resettling the IDPs as early as possible should not be the excuse for making this mistake again in the name of expediency.
The Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka wishes to propose several means whereby, the dual objective of creating a satisfactory and sustainable livelihood for the people as well as overcoming some of the pressing problems faced by Sri Lanka in general.
Pressing Problems
Sri Lanka is faced with multiple barriers to achieve its development goals, these include the current energy and food crises. This is mainly due to it’s over dependence on external inputs as well as its failure to recognize the availability of many readily utilizable indigenous resources. These include both material resources as well as human resources.
A case in point is the high dependence on imported fertilizer (mainly produced from natural gas), and fossil fuels not only for power generation, but also for industrial and household energy needs.
The vast potential for development of our renewable, eco-friendly bio energy resources, using otherwise sparsely used lands and the mother nature’s bounty endowed on us, by way of abundant sunshine and rain fall and suitable weather are mainly ignored. This proposal is made to make effective use of such renewable resources, and derive the multiple benefits of Employment Generation through Soil-fertility, Energy, Livestock Development and Environmental enhancement amongst others.
The following are some of the major problems faced by Sri Lanka for which acceptable solutions can be found by making use of the current opportunity of making a fresh start for the large number of farmers who have to be resettled in hitherto underutilized fertile lands.

  1. The milk production locally is only 20% with the balance 80% imports costing US$ 600,000,000
  2. The fertilizer subsidy of Rs. 18 Billion supports the foreign manufacturers of chemical fertilizers to increase their sales, while polluting our water ways and creating many health hazards.
  3. Large extents of scrub lands over 1,700.000 ha still remain unutilized
  4. The percentage of electricity generation from indigenous resources has dropped from 95% in 1995 to less than 50% in 2008
  5. The oil import bill stands at $ 3000 Million even at current oil prices.
  6. LPG has has become the main domestic fuel used in cooking
  7. The rural unemployment drives the ever increasing urban drift and the attendant pressures on the urban infrastructure

Outline of Proposal
Sustainable livelihood of people is best achieved by providing them with the opportunity of generating the very items that the country is in dire need of viz, Food, Fuel Fodder and Fertilizer. The farmers in the rural areas who are at present exist at a subsistence level, due to high cost of inputs for “modern’ agriculture, are best placed to take up this role, given the due recognition and the initial support needed.
Sri Lanka possess ample lands, which are either degraded due to unsustainable agricultural practices or otherwise sparsely used, particularly in the rural areas, where the employment opportunities are minimal and the family incomes are below subsistence levels. However, these lands are readily adaptable for the cultivation of energy plantations of Short Rotation Coppicing (SRC) species such as Gliricidia Sepium and other nitrogen fixing species, as mixed plantations with other cash crops such as maize, making use of the soil enrichment provided by the SRC species recommended. Thus these lands can be used for multiple benefits without any deviation of lands from the food production. In fact, the proposed system will enhance the food production efforts by creating fertility and year round enhanced utilization of the lands
Fuel, Fodder and Fertility Crop
Gliricidia is a leguminous tree with the ability to biologically fix nitrogen. Nitrogen thus fixed is mostly stored in the leaves. Research carried out at the Coconut Research Institute (CRI) has revealed that 50 kg of fresh Gliricidia leaves has the same effect as one kg of Urea.
Gliricidia can be successfully grown in ally cropping system with a variety of cash crops such as Maize, Cowpea etc. The growth cycle and the harvesting times match ideally to provide the farmer with a twin source of income as well as an income spread throughout the year. The promotion of Gliricidia plantation is symbiotic with the food drive. By integrating Gliricidia and cash crops there would be no competition for the arable lands growing food.
This proposal envisages utilization of such lands and the favorable weather and the human resources available to meet the demands of energy, milk foods and fertilizer, while deriving the multiple benefits of

  • Employment Generation
  • Influx of large capital inflows into the rural economies
  • Development of livestock industry
  • Enhancement of the environment
  • Enhancing rural farmer incomes
  • Generation of organic fertilizers which can replace the import of urea
  • Arresting urban drift, and many more

The total potential earnings from each ha to a rural farmer would exceed Rs 500,000 per year as shown in the chart below.
The influx of such capital to the rural areas would have a catalytic effect of spawning agro-based industries in the areas, the first of which is milk processing.
The viability of achieving these returns by the integrated growing and harnessing of the leaves and sticks of Gliricidia has already been proved conclusively by the demonstration installation by the Coconut Research Institute at their Ratmalgara coconut estate.
An extract of the paper published by Dr H A J Gunethilake Chairman Coconut Cultivation Board and Mr P G Joseph The Director of Alternate Energy Division of the Ministry of Science and Technology, responsible for this most far reaching and pioneering project is reproduced below. The full paper is available on the web portal of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka
“One hectare of coconut land (156palms/ha) planted with gliricidia (2250 trees /ha into double rows in avenues of coconut) and available natural pasture and outside supplied paddy straw coupled with six buffalos were the mixed farming model to examine total productivity and potential of green energy production by wood and biogas. Six buffaloes were maintained in a shed and dung was directed for biogas generation. Biogas was purified from H2S and was the bio fuel to run 0.75 hp engine. Wood of gliricidia was used to run 3.5 kW gassifire for generating electricity too.
Soils of the model were enriched by adding the effluent of biogas digester. The fertility of soil (N, P, K, Mg, moisture holding capacity) improved by significantly over soils sampled outside the model. The effluent of biogas was more fertile than dried buffalo dung. As a result, nut yield of a coconut palm increased from 30 to 60 nuts palm-1year-1 over a period of two years.”
On a larger scale, if adequate number of villages can be brought into this scheme, it will create a reliable resource base for large scale power plants to be established in the vicinity. Each one MW of Dendro Power produced would bring in more than
Rs. 25,000, the rural economy by way of fuel wood purchases by the power plant, which is a direct saving of equivalent amount in foreign exchange other wise needed for the import of fossil fuels
Integrating agriculture and energy
Agriculture is heavily dependent on external inputs, mainly derived from fossil fuel sources, such as fertilizer and pesticides. In the absence of the main raw material, these are not manufactured locally. Energy, too, is now heavily dependent on depleting fossil fuel sources which are imported at an ever escalating cost.
If development on a sustainable basis is sought, the twin problems of agriculture and energy need immediate attention. The solution will also address the problem of environmental pollution caused by power generation and food production.
A most benign way to integrate agriculture and energy, in a sustainable way, is growing leguminous coppicing trees. Gliricidia sepium has been tried out in the tropical countries, and long-term trials carried out in Sri Lanka have proved its potential.
It is used widely as a support for pepper and to erect protection fences round agricultural lands. The leaves are used as fodder and as a soil stabilizer through Nitrogen enrichment. The sticks are used as fuel in domestic cooking.
The conversion of oil-fired furnaces such as the ones used in drying of tea to gliricidia is being done effectively. In several villages that are deprived of grid-connected electricity small generating units up to 10kW are in operation through gasification of gliricidia.
The other possibility of feeding cows with a feed supplemented with gliricidia powder is being studied at the moment. All the equipment needed for such small scale units are locally available and could be produced to meet specific demands.
A Staged Approach
The proposals to create an environment in which the resettled farmers could reach these substantial benefits and satisfactory level of livelihood can be implemented in stages with each stage being self sustaining thus paving the way for the next stage of development.
Stage I Commencing from the inception of the resettlement exercise.

  1. Establishment of the Gliricidia or other similar SRC tree plantations by the villagers in their own homesteads in all the fences and as an intercrop for the cash crops. The home garden is the most suitable environment for mixed plantations. While most farmers in the north and east are well aware of the benefits of Glriricidia leaves as a source of green fertilizer and as a fodder for cattle and goats, some awareness sessions, distribution of information leaflets can be done to act as a reminder. The detailed instructions for these activities are also available in an interactive CD produced by the Bio Energy Association and the Audio Visuals Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture at Gannoruwa. A Tamil version of this CD is under production. It will be necessary to establish nurseries to provide a ready supply of planting materials. Several successful methodos have already been established and the nurseries can be shared amongst several adjacent villages.
  2. Initial output of fuel wood for the homesteads to supply fuel for home cooking and the leaves as fertilizer on its own or using the traditional technology of making liquid fertilizer for the individual farmer’s use, in chemical-free alley cropping. Target being to make the homesteads to be self sufficient in fuel wood and fertilizer without dependence on expensive imported chemical fertilizer and fossil fuels.
  3. Encourage the farmers to keep one or two cows on their own with the availability of Gliricidia leaves and straw, where the family can look after the cows. The milk to be used by the family or sold locally. The cow dung is either used directly or in a bio-gas digester adding to the fertilizer supply. Targeted families to be selected based on a survey of the capacity of the families to look after the cows or goats. Some means of supplying the cows, perhaps by philanthropists who liberate cows destined for slaughter or from the National Livestock Board, will be necessary. Assistance and guidance required where necessary to be provided. The market is the village itself.
  4. Identify any extent of free lands, say 10 ha per village, to serve as common energy plantations. Areas such as the upper reaches of the village tanks and similar reservations are ideal for this activity. The planting and maintenance of these plantations is to be handled by a village co-operative and, in the second stage, will be responsible for the management of the more ambitious projects which will be commonly owned. The output from these plantations will be commonly owned and will be of sufficient quantities to make the later commercial operation economically viable.

Stage II – Commercial Scale Livestock and Fertilizer Production.

  1. Set up integrated system for 6-8 cows in a central location with bio gas generator to be fed by Gliricidia and straw supplied by farmers from their homesteads, or from the common energy plantations . The collective operation of this set up shall be by a co-operative of farmers. The effluent from the bio gas generator to be sold to the farmers as a concentrated fertilizer which well proven for its efficacy. The gas to be used for the processing of the milk and for operation of a small scale power generator if necessary. The model of this integrated system is available for inspection at Ratmalgara Estate of the Coconut Cultivation Board.
  2. Encourage the farmers to expand plantations in their own lands, or by the cooperative in the available common areas, to create a surplus of both wood and leaves, which can be targeted to an external market, for supply of fuel wood to a power plant or factories for thermal application. The conversion of leaves for production of fertilizer/animal feed. These activities are already in operation in other areas of the country and their economic viabilities and practical implementation are well proven.
    Once milk-based production of consumer items are established, small dendro-power units using excess gliricidia to be installed using gassifier technology, to cater to small business establishments and home electricity where grid supply is not available.
  3. Milk collection centre and a chilling plant to be established to serve a group of villages and purchase arrangements to be made with the milk processing companies.

Stage III - Supply Base for Large Scale Power Plants

  1. Once the plantations of gliricidia and supply capabilities of surplus fuel wood of several villages with in a catchments area of about 20 kilometer radius is established, it will be a great attraction for a entrepreneur to set up a grid connected dendro power plant of capacities exceeding one MW. The number of Gliricidia trees which will reliably support year round supply of fuel wood is about 2,000,000 trees (the fuel wood requirement is about 35 tons per day for a 1.0 MW power plant). It is estimated that village communities within a radius of 20 km can easily generate adequate fuel wood to support a 5 MW power plant, which will bring in more than Rs 100 million to the villages annually from the purchase of the fuel wood alone.
  2. The concurrent availability of leaves will be well in excess of the fertilizer and fodder requirements of the villages. Thus the establishment of a fertilizer or animal feed manufacturing unit will become feasible. A bought-leaf animal feed factory is already installed at Maha Iluppalama, as a BOI Project. Alternatively, a village level preprocessing of the leaves can be undertaken so that the leaf products can be transported economically to the areas where the market is readily available. It is important to recognize that Sri Lanka spends a fortune on the import of 600,000 tons of urea which can easily be replaced by using Gliricidia leaves. The nitrogen fertilizer value of a one kg of Urea can be replaced by 50 kg of wet Gliricidia leaves (or 18 kg dried leaves), in a much more effective and environmentally friendly manner. One of the main reasons of Sri Lanka’s inability to become self sufficient in milk production is the lack of year round supply of fodder, which can be easily met by the Gliricidia plantations.
  3. There are traditional methods of manufacturing liquid organic fertilizers still practiced in several parts of the country. This traditional knowledge can be utilized to manufacture compounded fertilizer mixes with additional inputs from natural sources such as Thitonia (Wild Sunflower) leaves to add the Potassium component. The only external ingredient necessary will be Phosphorous in the form of Eppawala Rock Phosphate.

The above proposals are made based on actual practices and experience gained. The benefit to the national economy, in addition to the prime objective of providing a dignified and sustainable livelihood for the displaced persons, is very considerable. The total potential savings in foreign exchange alone by the replacement of imported urea and fossil fuels will be an added incentive to implement the proposals. The detailed time and cost estimates can be worked out, if there is general acceptance and the will to succeed.
The dual objective of helping our fellow citizens in their time of need as well as converting some pressing national problems into productive opportunities can be achieved simultaneously.
What is most important is to realize that the past mistakes of applying quick fixes depending on unsustainable imported and expensive inputs is avoided at all costs. There will be great pressure from all quarters to adopt solutions which look attractive and perhaps supported by various aid packages, but destined to tie us to a life-long dependence on imported and expensive inputs which will sentence the farmers to a perpetual subsistence level livelihood.
Availability of small power unit running on biomass would promote small-scale industries at the village level. This will enable value-addition to agricultural produce thus attracting younger generation to stay on in the village to support the development effort. When larger power units are decentralized, the problems of environmental degradation and local pollution will be minimized. Further, this will create opportunities for industrial growth at the peripheries.
The national importance of this exercise in addition to the most laudable objective of assisting the farmers is the reduction of imported fossil fuels, fertilizer and milk with very large savings of foreign exchange. The methodologies proposed and the predicted outcomes have been realized in field level demonstrations.
Dendro Power Plants up to 100 MW supported by Gliricidia Plantations will pump in Rs 2500 Million annually to the rural economy by sale of fuel wood alone, leaving aside all other benefits.


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