Oct13, Colombo: The Sri Lankan government together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Australian government has launched a community forestry program.
The program launched Wednesday (October 11) with AUD 5 million (over 650 million rupees) assistance from Australia aims to increase forest cover and support small farmers living in Sri Lanka's dry zone.
According to the UNDP, Sri Lanka has lost half of its forest cover during the past hundred years and deforestation and forest degradation which result in lack of water for farming and drinking is a source of poverty for rural households.
Also the dwindling forest cover increases the risk of drought and forest fires as Sri Lanka recently experienced.
Large number of poor farmer communities use forest resources to survive, the UNDP points out.
Under the government's Mahinda Chintana Future Vision, Sri Lanka plans to double the forest cover in 10 years.
"The Sri Lankan Government is committed to increasing forest cover and reducing destructive slash and burn cultivation in the dry zone using the successful community forestry model," launching the program Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa has said.
From 2003 to 2008 the Forestry Department, with support from Australia, has implemented a pilot activity to test the community forestry model in 55 areas across the districts of Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Matale, Moneragala and Puttalam.
According to the UNDP, the pilot was very successful and resulted in regeneration of 11,000 hectares of forest and an increase in the monthly income of beneficiaries by almost 100 percent.
Following the end of the project the Forestry Department has expanded the community forestry model into another 24 communities.
The new community forestry program aims to regenerate an additional 23,000 hectares of forest and increase the income of around 90,000 rural people, the UNDP says.
The program will expand the community forestry model to 167 new communities across 15 districts, including the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The program will support microfinance and micro-enterprises such as bee keeping, rice and vegetable cultivation, fruit gardens, food processing, handicrafts and livestock development with the aim of reducing dependency on forest resources.
"The community forestry model is based on the proven idea that local communities are best placed to protect forests, particularly if they are supported with better knowledge and access to alternative sources of income. Australia's commitment to help Sri Lanka address environmental issues is part of a bigger aid program focused on supporting Sri Lanka's poorest and most vulnerable communities," Robyn Mudie, Australia's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka has said.
Razina Bilgrami, UNDP acting Resident Representative has said that the program will improve the livelihood opportunities of forest communities in the dry and intermediate zones and will in turn, help reduce the poverty levels of these communities and also their dependency on forests.
"These results will have a positive impact on the socio-economic development of the country and especially on reducing regional disparities," Bilgrami has added.
The Forestry Department will work with village institutions and households to promote alternative sources of income, improved farming systems and develop joint management plans for forest reserves and will be supported with management assistance from UNDP.