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Sri Lanka: Providing seed for war-weary farmers

12-12-2005 News Release 05/96

Mary Sasila Johnkillery, who lives in the village of Akkarayan, was happy to receive her bags of rice seed and fertilizer - just in time for the rainy season.

A divorced mother of two young boys, she is one of 2,500 farmers in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka to receive aid under the ICRC's agricultural programme.

The programme and the selection criteria for beneficiaries were devised in close cooperation with local authorities. Each of the farmers in the 34 villages targeted will receive enough seed and fertilizer to cultivate 1.5 acres of land. To ensure the best results, the aid includes a variety of seed and three types of fertilizer (to be used when ploughing, 45 days after planting and two months before the harvest).

" It's very helpful and timely aid because we need to start preparing the paddies, " said Mary. " With a good harvest, we can have three meals a day. Otherwise, we only eat twice. "

The problem for many in her village is the lack of a steady income, which often leads to food shortages. Not having to buy seed this year will substantially boost household economies.

" The situation is very difficult – although it's better than before the ceasefire was signed in 2002, " said 64-year-old Sarawanamuthu Ponnuchchamy, a farmer in Vannerikulam who has painful memories of the years of conflict. " I'm happy to receive the seed. It is far better than what is available on the market, and we cannot afford three types of fertilizer. "

The agricultural programme is one of many " livelihood projects " that the ICRC is conducting in 120 communities throughout the northeast. In order to maintain a balance between those who are receiving tsunami-related aid and neighbouring communities that have suffered yea rs of conflict, the ICRC is concentrating its efforts on some 100 inland rural communities in Kilinochchi, Mullaittivu, Jaffna and Trincomalee. Although not directly affected by the tsunami, they have close economic ties with their neighbours living along the coast.

" The price of basic necessities has at least doubled, " explained Sarawanamuthu. " Yet it's difficult for us to get a good price for our rice on the market. We're worried about this as we rely on paddy cultivation for a living. We hope things will change now that we have good quality seed. "

 For further information, please contact:  

  Marçal Izard, ICRC Colombo, tel. ++9411 250 33 46/7 or ++94 777 28 96 82  

 Vincent Lusser, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 24 26 or ++41 79 217 32 64