I come from the Central Hills of Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya, “Little England”as people call it, is where carrots, beets, leeks, potatoes, herbs, lettuce, peppers, cabbages and all other fresh vegetables are grown for the consumption of the entire island.
I was born to a family with all daughters. My father is a farmer, my grandfather was a farmer too, they have been part of the agriculture business in Nuwara Eliya for over five decades, and since a little girl my desire was to be like my father. My family always encouraged me to pursue a good education if I wanted to join farming. I always believed my father wanted me to follow my unique path.
My goal is to be a farmer and help my community. I’m always proud to know that we produce food for people.
I believe that implementing a successful system of agriculture will lead to the betterment of the society. The 17 SDGs made me realize that an individual can do immense good for the world. Doing whatever is within one’s capacity could help achieve at least one of the goals.
I hope to contribute towards, the major problems in my area:
1. Educated young people leaving Nuwara Eliya for blue and white collar jobs (“brain drain”).
2. The remaining young people, instead of going into farming, open hotels to attract tourists. Improper building constructions and deforestation have led to lack of water and droughts.
Being a developing country, political corruption is high in Sri Lanka; civilians continue to blame the government instead of implementing their own ethics. To observe change, one should change themselves, which would eventually influence change in family, community, country and the world. To give an example, if the CEO of an organization pays attention on sustainable living, he or she could implement a policy of replacing plastic bottles to using one glass bottle.
What do I do?
I opened my own vegetable store in Narahenpita, Colombo in the year 2016.Unfortunately it failed, why? ”WASTAGE”! Narahenpita belongs to the western province of Sri Lanka, therefore the temperature is much higher than in Nuwara Eliya. Vegetables tend to get spoilt rapidly. The wastage was higher than expected; people living in the area consume vegetables from bins.
While selling vegetables I tried to make consumers aware of the issues farmers go though, importance of consuming healthily and minimizing wastage. One practical experience was while selling 500 grams of tomatoes, ,I explained the difference between the two types we sold: tomatoes grown in an open farm and in a polytunnel. The customer’s response was “give me the cheap one; I don’t mind how it’s grown”. I realized the cause was lack of awareness and finances. People don’t seem to pay attention to healthy living or sustainability, as the cost of living has skyrocketed. Vendors on the other hand pile up vegetables, and display huge stocks basically to attract customers.
Since my grandfather, the crops and system of sales had been corrupted, farmers incur loses, intermediaries benefit, wastage, vegetables are sacked and squeezed inside trucks during transit.
I’m working with over 500 farmers in our farmers association, Protected Agriculture Entrepreneurs Association. We grow vegetables ourselves and trade. Farmers have a stable market throughout the year; we directly deal with our consumers. We grow, harvest and transport our crops and invest in new farmers.
What is to be done?
Sri Lanka has not yet initiated organic farming due to lack of awareness and high cost, although some organizations exploit customers claiming to be organic. Next vision is establishing organic vegetation in Sri Lanka. Awareness programs could be launched through farmers’ organizations. Though unity, farmers could initiate a city vegetable supply plan, divide the land area and grow crops accordingly, which would lead to a more even supply, maximum usage of available land, a reduction in wastage, availability of crops during off seasons, and improvement of nutrients from the soil as a result of crop rotation.
An important focus should be reforestation. Shifting certain crops to the low country will help reduce deforestation- this could solve the water crisis as all water streams begin from the mountains in Nuwara Eliya. Planting trees in highlands that belong to the farmers and providing them with a living through forestry with the help of government incentives would also be a good way to reduce deforestation
It is also important to educate children about the importance of their area and what should be done, Including a subject related to one’s area (fishery, farming, etc.) and the significance of protecting what we own for the future and sustainable living in curriculums. Sustainability should be an automatic practice like brushing one’s teeth daily. Most people are not aware of the concept of sustainability.
I hope to give the people of my community stability in what they do in order to be recognized. Being a farmer is nothing less than being a doctor or a lawyer. Educate famers and consumers on being responsible on what they produce and consume; a misshapen vegetable is not meant to be thrown. Make the community understand how important food is to people in other corners of the world, influence people that proper farming helps protect the natural environment and also prevent natural disasters.
Being and feeling responsible for our own action could make us look at the world differently. Instead of giving sustainability a specific definition, just like we do to our parents, we should, always be grateful to mother nature.