Early November 2011 saw a major field visit from the Born Free Sri Lanka team to the Elephant Resistant Crop (ERC) project in Rathambalagama. This was an opportunity to not only assess the project progress on the ground, but also to hold a workshop for the participants and distribute seedlings for the next season. Additionally, the team visited Rathambalagama School which Born Free supports, one of the most in-need schools along the northern boundary of the Udawalawe National Park.
Born Free Country Assistant Dileepa Wattegama reports:
Elephant Resistant Crop (ERC) project
“On the afternoon of 5th November we visited the farmers to evaluate their success in the last season. We saw both success and the failed stories. Some farmers had invested a lot of time and labour to protect their cultivation in the dry season and they got a good harvest at the end. All the farmers were invited to participate in the workshop next day and to collect their share of planting materials for the new season. We purchased the necessary turmeric rootstock from one the farmers who had achieved a successful harvest in his first season. Naturally he was delighted – it cost him nothing but some modest labour to earn this money!
The farmer meeting on the 6th was the next main activity of the field visit. We started at 9.00am at Rathambalagama School. Nirmala (the Project Supervisor) led a detailed discussion about the first phase to evaluate the successes and failures – including the effects of the unpredictable climate. Then we moved on to the second phase. The farmers were given their personal record folders and trained on how to maintain crop/farming records along with the incidents of elephant raids.
There was then a discussion session on environmentally healthy farming practices, in particular the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides as against commercially available, synthetic products. The local Ayurvedic doctor pointed out the medical benefits of using organic treatments and volunteered to promote the ERCs. He also announced that his Department is ready to purchase clean ERC products for the production of indigenous medicine. This was a good motivation for farmers at the meeting and a great market opportunity for the crops that they cultivate.
After the meeting we started distributing the ERC seeds and saplings. Thirty farmers between them received 27kg of turmeric rootstocks, 1,400 black pepper seedlings and 390 betel seedlings.”
The Born Free Sri Lanka team travelled to Rathambalagama village, near Udawalawe National Park, to visit the local school which Born Free has been supporting for several years. This was an opportunity to check that the constructions we have funded there – the water tower, plumbing system and new toilet blocks – are all still in working order. It was also a chance for the team to discuss recent developments, like our contribution to improving the IT facilities, and future plans, including support for extra IT classes for senior students. The main project currently ongoing at the site is the development of a science laboratory in the current staff room – renovation of an old building to become the new staff room is well underway and the work on the laboratory should begin early in the new year.
Born Free has also been assisting the school Environmental Society and took part in a fun and fascinating bird watching workshop – a very enjoyable day for the enthusiastic participants and a chance for them to learn about and appreciate their beautiful natural surroundings. The students made their own sketches of the birds they observed and the day’s checklist exceeded 35 birds at the end of the session. The team also met with the Director of the Divisional Education Office, to discuss the art competition held in August. Apparently head teachers of the schools which could not take part expressed their sadness, so we will be trying to include them in the event next year.
For more information on Born Free’s work in Sri Lanka, please visit http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/elephants/campaign-action/sri-lanka-elephants/