The nation of Sri Lanka experienced a 30 years prolonged armed conflict that changed the psychological landscape of the Islanders. A large number of combatants, civilians and the members of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) underwent the detrimental repercussions of combat trauma. Following the armed conflict in Sri Lanka over 90,000 people lost their lives and thousands of families are still grieving and large numbers became physical and psychological casualties of the war. Sri Lankan government has taken many initiatives to resettle the civilians and even the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres during the aftermath of war and many non-government organizations (NGO) including private sector has been active in the affected areas since the liberation from year 2009. Hayleys Agriculture (Promotor) is one such private entity, the largest fruits and vegetable exporter in Sri Lanka accounting for 34% of the country's exports where products are supplied to world famous brands and companies such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Heinz. Even during the 30 years of civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka, Hayleys Agriculture Holdings did not abandon the farmers in the areas which were most affected. In fact the company has been working with farmer communities irrespective of the geographical location, security and safety and hazards relating to a ‘conflict zone’ environment. Special attention was given to marginalized and vulnerable communities and through the appropriate transfer of technology and agricultural expertise and by extending the benefit of available networks and marketing opportunities, the company provided many prospects to farmers throughout Sri Lanka to be a part of an out grower network to supply their produce to international markets. As new opportunities emerged in producing and exporting ‘Sea Weed’ to international markets (a molecular element called carrageenan which is extracted from the seaweed is used in the food industry due to its gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties), the company gave this opening to the war affected areas and conducted several successful pilots starting from year 2010 and eventually submitted a concept note to National Agribusiness Development Program (NADeP) which was under Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) back in year 2014.
However, NADeP has faced its own difficulties during the early years of implementation with several changes in implementation agencies and eventually settled under Development & Special Projects Division of Presidential Secretariat in November 2015, which created an environment to fast track the evaluation process which included an internal evaluation as well as the external evaluation through a business proposal evaluation committee (BPEC) comprises of experts in Agriculture field in Sri Lanka as well as subject specialists. The project was scrutinized for concept, technical, financial, economic, marketing and management feasibility respectively with optimum ratings per each criteria accordingly. Eventually, the proposed project was presented to National Steering Committee (NSC) which was headed by the Secretary to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka and with the national scale approval, IFAD has identified the importance of the partnership and granted no objection certificate (NOC) for implementation in December 2015 where the parties inked the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on 21st of December 2015 after long awaited 2 years.
During the initial design stage, key emphasize has given to examination and pursuing aquaculture and appreciated the fact that one of the key methodologies of addressing over exploitation of coastal fisheries stocks, an issue that the country is facing currently, is through the creation of alternative livelihood opportunities for fishermen. Marine aquaculture is a one such alternative that is increasingly popular following a number of successful introductions in the region. At a juncture where fishing has become uneconomic with unpredictable income, seaweed farming is providing an assured income, which would no doubt revolutionize (can be called “Blue-green revolution”) the rural economy of recently resettled coastal districts of northern Sri Lanka. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has co-financed the infrastructure requirement for sea weed cultivation and implementation occurred in coastal areas of Killinochchi, Mannar and Jaffna targeting 1000 fisherman families. Majority of the beneficiaries are females, mainly war widows, as it is difficult to do the conventional fishing in deep sea, the project has provided ideal scenario to conduct sea weed cultivation with minimum labor involvement in shallow coastal shores with 5 bamboo rafters together with 2 monoline flats. Each rafter (144 sqft) and monoline (256 Sqm) can hold up to 500 Kg and 6000 Kg of fresh sea weed respectively and subsequently dried up to 10% of the original weight as the selling product. Promotor has provided the necessary technical guidance with respect to cultivation practices and drying methodology as per the international market requirement. In addition, dried sea weed is purchased at a rate of 50 LKR per Kg as per the forward agreement which has been made in between the promotor and the individual beneficiaries. Further, the impact studies which was conducted after first two cycles has revealed the incremental income is 36,000 LKR per 45 days of growth cycle which is significant compared to their previous income, mainly the labor for 600 LKR per day and only for 10-15 days per month.
In addition to the delay in project design and approval, project has faced several other obstacles during the course of implementation, mainly affected by the extreme weather patterns (heat & flash floods with storms) during May to June in year 2016 causing havocs to the several established rafters and monolines. Further, productivity (yield) has been hampered (30-40%) due to heavy fish grazing after second cycle and the drying practices (Drying on open sand beds) were not up to the standards as lot of impurities were found in the dried product. As a result of above, based on the observation reports of monitoring & evaluation (M&E) team of NADeP as well as the promotor and farmers feedback, it was decided to provide fencing (fish net protection) with drying sheets to beneficiaries with the intention of improving the productivity as well as the quality of the final product. This initiative was backed by National Aquatic Development Authority of Sri Lanka (NAQDA) as they have monitored the project from the initial design stage. Moreover, there were some community issues in project locations as certain conventional fisherman have complained about the route disturbance to operate their boats and even Sri Lankan Navy has interfered and removed several rafters to clear access routes but the issue has been resolved after successful negotiations with fishing societies in the areas and official awareness to Sri Lankan Navy as well.
The partnership initiative proved that the seaweed Eucheuma sp. can be successfully cultured in the northern costal shores, and that seaweed farming offers an alternative livelihood and a supplementary income. Expanding the project should reduce the fishing pressure among fishing communities but further assessment is needed to measure the impacts of small-scale intensive aquaculture (cage culture) of the selected seaweed species as, in positive terms, a method for alleviating poverty and, in negative terms, and an activity which may potentially damage the offshore environment. Research is also needed to develop low-cost methods for seaweed farming, and to identify areas with no or small puffer and rabbit fish populations, as these fish browse seaweed crops, reducing their yield. Seaweed is not widely consumed locally. As such, it is necessary to target the export market further, which means large-scale production and the promotor should be strengthen to extract carrageenan in Sri Lanka itself rather than sending the raw materials at low cost which hinders the possible export revenue.