Organic gardening helps families flourish in Sri Lanka

This project funded by the Australian Government through

Families using permaculture training to improve nutrition and household incomes

World Vision’s Australian-funded Permaculture Project is supporting families in four provinces of Sri Lanka to establish organic gardens, securing access to food, increasing livelihoods and protecting the environment. For women like Krishanthi and Mallika, the gardens are a vital source of income and nutrition for their children.

Two-year-old Chamodhya puts her tiny hands into a can to scoop out some water. She’s a busy little girl as helping her mother water the garden is quite a task. After all, the home-based patch is packed with fruit and vegetables. Her mother, Krishanthi, laughs, saying: “My garden has chillies, okra, beans, aubergines, bitter gourds, oranges, papayas, mangoes, bananas… Shall I go on?” The 30-year-old started growing her lush garden thanks to World Vision’s Permaculture Project, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The project establishes sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture using local resources and technology to improve farmers’ quality of life.

“After my oldest daughter joined the sponsorship program, World Vision gave me some coconut, jackfruit and mango saplings as a start,” explains Krishanthi. “I’d studied agriculture before, so I was happy to start my own home garden.”

Living in the next village is Mallika, another proud owner of a thriving domestic garden. “I knew a little bit about gardening, but I didn’t know how to do it systematically,” says the 38-year-old. “I’ve learned how to look after a plant nursery, make organic weed-killers and fertilisers and organise the garden properly.”

Left: Mallika waters the potato patch while her children Desani and Vimuth watch. Right: Animal husbandry is also an important part of the project, helping to provide additional nutrition and income to families. Below: Sudantha, an Officer of the Farmer Services Department, has stopped by Krishanthi's home garden to check on progress and offer technical advice. Photos by Niroshini Fernando, World Vision

To date, World Vision has introduced the Permaculture Project in eight of its Sri Lankan Area Development Programs (ADPs). For most of the island nation’s rural communities, farming is the primary source of income, but the widespread use of chemicals has degraded soil fertility, slashing yields. After offering community members the knowledge and tools for organic farming, World Vision links the producers to farmer networks and agricultural specialists in the government, who provide further technical advice.

Krishanthi says: “The training I’ve attended has helped me think about how I can improve my garden even more. I don’t really need to visit the market that much except to buy onions and fish. I have almost every type of fruit and vegetable here.”

The project also includes livestock to enhance households’ nutrition as well as their income. This year, World Vision provided dairy cows to 80 families, with the farmers able to access organic and fair-trade markets.

Like Krishanthi and Mallika, many Sri Lankan women have benefited from the project, with 2,200 being trained to run small businesses this year alone. Deepthi Silva, manager of the ADP, observes: “Since this project has taken root, there has been a cultural and attitude shift in terms of health and nutrition. Women are the key to the project. “Many of them were unemployed before they engaged in home gardening, but now they’re very involved in every aspect of their families’ well-being by skilfully managing the practical as well as the financial aspects of the project.”

For Mallika, being able to save is a huge relief. “Since our home garden supplies almost all the vegetables and fruit my family needs,” she says, “what I’d usually spend on buying food at the market now goes towards my children’s education.” Krishanthi adds: “Not only can I save, but I can also provide something healthy for my children to eat from my own garden all year round. And my kids are healthy. We rarely have to visit the doctor now and I believe that’s because of the good, clean food they eat.”

Mallika picks chilli peppers from her garden while Vimuth helps her. “Chillies are expensive these days, so I am able to use what I need for the home and sell the rest. I get a good income from that,” explains Mallika. Photo by Niroshini Fernando, World Vision

Backed by a DFAT grant of 2.7 million US dollars, the five-year Permaculture Project currently serves 2,000 families and will continue until 2017. Children are important participants, with World Vision training 2,500 youngsters across 350 villages in organic farming this year.

Coordinator of the project in Sri Lanka, Jayamini Pushpakumara says: “Families often work in the gardens together. Husbands are supportive and women are encouraged to take a prominent role, joining local committees and sharing their training with others. Most of the women are producing more than they need for their household consumption and are selling the surplus produce at the local market. The project has encouraged around 5,000 farming families in the country to engage in organic farming and is paving the way for sustainable and environmentally friendly livelihoods for these communities.”

Young villagers like Chamodhya not only benefit through better nutrition, but by helping in their home gardens, they enjoy a sense of family security and a greater awareness of the environment.