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Sri Lanka: A new approach to farming aid

07-08-1997 News Release 97/30

As a result of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), since 1987 there has been a general decline in agricultural and fishing production throughout the country's eastern and northern provinces, particularly in areas controlled by the opposition forces.

The ICRC recently decided to take a fresh look at its agricultural and fishing aid programme, begun in 1996, in an effort to find the most useful way of bolstering the economic well-being of the population in those areas. There was general consensus among farmers, NGOs, government officials and LTTE forces that the existing irrigation system was in bad need of repair, a problem exacerbated by the drought which has persisted in the east over the past 18  months. Concerns over security have been preventing funds from the National Irrigation Rehabilitation Project, financed by the World Bank, from reaching the government departments in charge of maintenance.

There has also been a shortage of seed in those provinces as farmers find it difficult to place orders and make advance payments to the Agrarian Services Department. Another problem is the lack of information to encourage farmers to use natural fertilizer instead of relying on chemical fertilizers.

Taking all those factors into account, it was decided to shift the emphasis from distributing aid to helping the Departments of Irrigation, Agriculture, Agrarian Services and Fisheries to carry out their respective functions. The ICRC intends to do so by using its good offices, since it is perceived as neutral and has access to opposition-held areas and contact with both sides in the conflict. It will assist the various departments in making security arrangements, obtaining permits, transporting equipment into areas under LTTE control, and altogether help create a climate of confidence. It is hoped that this strategy will significantly increase the amount of land under cultivation and boost food production, thus benefiting especially the many poverty-stricken people living in the provinces concerned.