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Green solutions give women in central Sri Lanka new lease of life

Efficient home gardening, rainwater tanks and clean cookstoves are helping Central Province communities develop climate change resilience
<p>A beaming Latha Dissanayake stands next to her improved kitchen stove [image by: Dilrukshi Handunnetti]</p>

A beaming Latha Dissanayake stands next to her improved kitchen stove [image by: Dilrukshi Handunnetti]

Dalupothagama is a quaint village located in Matale, in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. In a sleepy village where things hardly ever change, affordable home-grown solutions are now helping village women to improve their livelihoods.

Thanks to their new rainwater harvesting tanks, the women can beat the recurring and prolonged dry spells without giving up on home gardening. Now, they cultivate year-round, for consumption and commercial purposes, something unimaginable to them just two years ago.

A beaming Latha Dissanayake claims that her rainwater harvesting tank and improved kitchen has completely altered her life. Her nursery has an array of vegetables and in less than two years, she has managed to reduce her vegetable purchases by half, as her home garden meets half of her family’s requirement.

“In one year, I hope to stop buying vegetables altogether. I will be cultivating everything here,” says Latha, who is now equipped with knowledge on ways to tend to a nursery and conserve soil.

She makes her own compost from the household’s biodegradable waste and much of the time uses rainwater for farming. At present, she cultivates betel and flowering plants for commercial purposes, a fledgling venture she hopes to expand in 2018.

“During the dry spells, we used to fetch water from far away and transport it in barrels to meet our daily requirements. My plants would die annually, but my 2,000-litre rainwater tank has altered all that,” says Latha.

She is among the many beneficiaries of an initiative by the Integrated Development Association, an NGO which promotes sustainable development by making practical interventions to improve the lives of rural households in three villages in the Matale District, including Dalupothagama.

Like Latha, many villagers in Dalupothagama are embracing eco-village development and a hugely popular solution is rainwater harvesting. It was Latha’s home garden that inspired DM Chandra Dissanayake, Latha’s neighbour, to invest in a rainwater tank and turn her plot of land into a vegetable garden. In just two months, she converted all her land into a cultivation area and is hoping to sell several vegetables in the months to come.

Vegetable nurseries in Dalupothagama are expanding [image by: Dilrukshi Handunnetti]
“For me, the rainwater tank is not a small intervention but a huge one – I switched jobs and became a farmer for good, now that I know I can cultivate my land anytime of the year,” says DM Chandra.

These simple interventions have increased the personal income of rural households and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. “The technology is simple, affordable and extremely useful in our households,” DM Chandra notes happily.

In promoting green solutions in a village setting, one of the biggest successes has been improved kitchen stoves. Built using local resources, the new stoves and rearranged kitchens are becoming immensely popular.   

A year ago, Latha’s kitchen walls were covered with soot. Now, smoke doesn’t fill her kitchen or her living room as a chimney captures the smoke, reducing indoor air pollution, while her improved kitchen stove conserves energy.

“After I started using this improved kitchen stove, I only use my gas cylinder, electric kettle and the rice cooker on special occasions. I cook more with my clean cook stove. It requires minimum firewood. It’s not only easy but cost effective too,” says Latha.

Resilient communities

While individual households continue to replace their traditional kitchen stoves with improved ‘green’ versions, undertake home gardening and install rainwater tanks, this efficiency model has an ultimate goal: preparing communities to adapt to climate change.

Dumindu Herath, project manager at the Integrated Development Association (IDEA), believes that success comes from making effective interventions that make communities resilient.

“When introducing eco-village development concepts – which involve low-carbon, low cost and locally adaptable solutions – we don’t talk about climate change impact or climate solutions. Instead, we demonstrate to communities how their lives can improve with ‘green’ solutions,” says Herath. “This is community-led development. IDEA offers them the technical know-how to make that shift and connect them with local authorities to make the interventions sustainable.”

At present, IDEA is working closely with the government to mainstream eco-village development concepts by integrating them into district and national level planning.

In 2016, Sri Lanka introduced a policy of creating 10,000 green villages, promoting low carbon led development as a national development strategy.

As the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) lays great emphasis on adaptation and mitigation needs in the region, as well as access to affordable energy, these eco-villages are examples of the value of home-spun solutions.

In villages like Dalupothagama where low-carbon and low-cost solutions are becoming “integrated solutions”, households are not only improving their daily income but also eating organically-grown food.

“A hobby has turned into an income generating practice,” says Latha. “These green interventions have given us a new lease of life.”