Thursday, March 26, 2009
A day trip to Kotiyagala near eastern forest at the edge of the Moneragala District
The Village Tank
I had the occasion yesterday of leaving at 4.30am from Godagama, Meegoda and returning around 11.30pm covering a round trip distance of approximately 550km to go to a village in the jungle, at the end of a dirt road, called Kotiyagala.
Recently a pocket of LTTE renegades hiding in the forests, killed villagers, who had gone to the jungle for Chena cultivation, and now no one from the village is permitted to go outside the boundaries. There is a presence of an army camp, home guard and police units in the area for protection from possible sudden attack.
Due to a severe drought in the area the village tank has almost run dry and the villagers do not have anywhere to bathe. Most wells are also dry. As I stepped off the vehicle to our project site where we are assisting farmers in growing papaya, the first rains in 7 months came down in a quick, but severe down pour lasting half hour, which was quite sufficient to drench me through, but more importantly, re-commence, after a hiatus caused by the drought of the more serious business of planting up to 100,000 papaya plants on land that has hitherto not seen any cultivation. I am accordingly hoping that the soil is of high quality, yielding a good harvest of Organic local variety Papaya, which is the raw material for an agribusiness to be set up there.
The route was through Ratnapura, Embilipitiya and Udawalawe to Wellawaya and on through Buttala to Moneragala. The return was through Beragala and Balangoda as the Uda Walawe Tank bund road closes at 6 pm for security reasons. We pass the elephants at the electric fence on the way out and the spectacular Diyaluma Falls on the return.
It was tough business dealing with the villagers, who seemed to have all manner of reasons for why they have hitherto not been able to plant, when there are others who have diligently planted their allotted 1000 papaya holes with 3 plants. They to cull the weaker two including flowering ones, leaving a stock of good plants yielding an average of 2kg per tree per month for which the enterprise will pay an average of Rs45/- giving a villager a gross income of Rs90K a month, ions more than I can ever earn in my current enterprise. All this on just two acres and even if we assume a 50% margin of error, they can earn a monthly gross of Rs50K. with little other expense of the Organic plantation.
Despite this projection it has been a nightmare to get the 160 families to grow this crop on their lands, which cannot be transferred to other villagers not part of the scheme. The land had already been allocated many years ago, and not cultivated due to the lack of infrastructure, which the enterprise has provided by way of access roads, tanks and fencing and now daily transported water to fill a 2000+ liter water reservoir per farmer.
As the saying goes ‘you can bring a horse to water, but cannot force it to drink.’ Getting settlers, more used to growing ganja in the forest, cutting trees, and hunting, to discipline themselves into a traditional role appears to be very tough, despite the general level of poverty prevailing. It is a reflection of what a paradise this country is, when a destitute villager would rather stay home waiting for a hand out and not work to earn ‘real big.’