UWERP’s field technician, Janaka, delivering a month’s supply of dry rations to a rural Sri Lankan family
The story so far…
Over the last few months, Sri Lanka’s economy crashed and the island nation is now facing its worst economic crisis in history. For Sri Lankans, the crisis has turned their daily lives into an endless cycle of waiting in lines for basic goods – many of which are being rationed. Why is this happening?
The main reasons are loss of foreign currency due to COVID’s impact on tourism, and mismanagement of the country’s predominantly agricultural economy. Foreign reserves have been reduced by roughly 85%, grinding daily life to a halt. There are huge lines for fuel (for transport) and gas (for cooking). The lack of fuel also affects the country’s power supply, with people facing up to 16 hrs of power cuts daily. The lack of fuel has created a shortage of vegetables in the market and thus the prices have shot up by 30-80%. Additionally, as the country cannot afford imports, products like butter and milk powder are now unavailable. The Sri Lankan Medical Association has also stated that medical supplies are running low and by the end of April, Sri Lanka ran out of key medicines and medical supplies.
Why are we helping farming communities?
Trunks & Leaves has been involved in the Udalawawe area for more than a decade. We have worked with communities around the national park helped them for many years, because we know that people are key to conservation success. Although farmers are sometimes painted as villains owing to their part in so-called “human-elephant conflict,” nothing could be further from the truth. Farmers recognize and appreciate the value of elephants and other wildlife, they simply need to earn a livelihood as well. Last year in 2021, farmers in Southerns Sri Lanka actually went on a hunger strike, demanding the creation of a promised reserve, which they hoped would help the elephants and reduce the pressure on their croplands.
This year, we were to launch our trials of (elephant-resistant) alternative crops on a larger scale, but have had to put everything on pause given the current crisis. And yet we realized, NOW is when help is needed the most. Although we are a wildlife conservation organization and not dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, we couldn’t stand by and do nothing.
85% of the human population surrounding the elephant corridors near the Udawalawe National Park (UWNP), are farmers and the remaining are laborers and daily-wage earners. Farmers around the country have been hit hard by one catastrophe after another. Without the importation of fertilizers, farmers had to forgo cultivation this year, thereby losing their annual incomes. With rising inflation and impossibly high cost of living, the situation in for them is the most dire it has ever been. Many families have been surviving from the few vegetables they have grown in their backyard.
What we’re doing
The families here are struggling to obtain basic food supplies. With the rising cost of products, essentials like rice, flour, and other dry rations are impossible for these families to purchase. Their little (or non-existent) income has made these dry rations a luxury. Our team in Trunks & Leaves has been preparing dry ration packs and each pack will serve one family (of five) for approximately a month. These packs include essentials for any Sri Lankan family: rice, flour, lentils, spices, household groceries, etc.
“This year has been terrible, we had no fertilizer or pesticides, and hence we didn’t cultivate anything. There is not much help from anyone towards our areas. We appreciate your (Trunks & Leaves’) initiative and hopefully go further in helping others in our area as well.” – Farmer
Buying, boxing & distributing!
With our initial collection of funds, the field team in Trunks & Leaves decided to give out rations to 60 households surrounding the UWNP area.
For ease and convenience, the rations were packed from the wholesale shop itself. Ration packs were customized for families where members work on or own a paddy field – in these cases, rice was substituted with flour.
The team initially decided to identify 20 households in the area that were in direst need of aid and deliver the packs to these homes first. Our team focused on two small villages surrounding the UWNP first, Galpaya and Panahaduwa. Distributions were carried out in these areas first as the population here is spread out and therefore deliveries take the most time for the team. Due to the diesel shortage and the space limitations in the field teams’ own 4wd vehicle, they decided to rent a small lorry. This reduced the cost of fuel and allowed 20 households to be visited within a day.
The first trip was successful: it took over 13 hours for the team to complete distribution to 20 households. The hard work and exhaustion were nothing compared to the praises and fulfilling feeling the team experienced. Many of the households were struggling financially. Moreover, while we intended the rations to feed the families for at least a month, most families were thankful and told us the rations would last them at least two months.
A further 40 families were then chosen in nearby areas of Kapugalle, Sadagiriya Entrance, Thaligamayaaya, Ambewila, and Weligepola, also surrounding UWNP. The team were more organized in this second phase and set off even earlier in the morning, allowing them to deliver to twice as many households. According to our field manager Sameera, given the scale of their plight, it was clear they would need much more than just rations to pull themselves out of this situation.
Emergency Relief – Phases One & Two Complete!
The distributions were a success! We were able to provide these rations to those in the most in need of them. Most of the foreign aid from NGOs, development funds, banks, and state institutions get channeled to other areas in Sri Lanka, and not much attention is given to these small farming communities. Hence, these dry ration donations were much needed and well received by the community.
Some of the family members in the homes of the first 60 households who received aid suffered from mental or physical illnesses including kidney problems, heart diseases, diabetes, and blood pressure. The team also identified families who were affected by elephant raids, or homes which had been damaged by wildlife within the past two years. This assured Trunks & Leaves that these rations were given to the villagers most in need in the community.
There are still more households that are in need of this support given by us and our donors.
Update: STOP THE PRESSES!
While editing this blog, we’ve exceeded our original goal thanks to some very generous sponsors! This will allow us to support another 140 households! We’ve also increased our goal to $9000 so we can continue helping even more families – thank you so much!!
We will be monitoring this economic situation in Sri Lanka and specifically Udawalawe, and we hope the situation improves in the coming weeks (fingers crossed)! Until then, we will continue to share more stories and notes from Udawalawe. Stay tuned and thank you for supporting us!
Help Us Help Them.
Rural households are at
the heart of our mission.
“It is very difficult to find crops that you can cultivate without fertilizers; we were scraping by thanks to the vegetables that are growing in our back yard. This box of rations is truly a blessing, even when our kids send us money, in our old age it is very difficult to travel and buy these items.” – Elderly couple, living away from children, farming small scale.