Following the success of Lifelong Learning for Farmers in two rural areas in South India, COL launched the programme in Sri Lanka. The official launch, held in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka in April 2007, was attended by the Honourable Chamal Rajapakse, Sri Lanka's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, several senior representatives from government, universities and financial institutions, and 35 rural farmers.
The pilot phase of Lifelong Learner for Farmers in Sri Lanka is taking place in four villages. In Sri Lanka, as in India, the programme involves four key partners:
- Farmers. Rural farmers form an association and create their own vision of development for their village.
- A consortium of learning institutions. Several organisations and Ministries are taking a keen interest in introducing Lifelong Learning for Farmers in Sri Lanka. They include the Open University of Sri Lanka, the University of Colombo, Eastern University, the Export Development Board and the Irrigation Department. They are bringing together their expertise in disciplines related to agriculture, to serve as an information resource for farmers.
- Commercial information and communications technologies kiosks. These commercial ICT kiosks link the farmers to this consortium and also provide other useful information. In Sri Lanka, Vidhatha centres, equipped with computers, Internet and other facilities, are proposed for 300 villages. These centres would facilitate the transfer of information from scientific and research institutions to rural farmers.
- Banks. Commercial banks are encouraged to provide loans to farmers who have increased their knowledge, capacity and productivity thanks to information from the consortium and ICT kiosks. In Sri Lanka, Rural Cooperative Bank is participating in the Lifelong Learning for Farmers programme.
Agricultural Challenges in Sri Lanka
While Sri Lanka has been a model for other countries with its emphasis on human development, a high adult literacy rate, high primary and secondary education enrolments, high life expectancy rate and low population growth rate, the country faces developmental issues related to agriculture:
- About 40 percent of Sri Lanka's population are poor or vulnerable to poverty; nearly 75 percent of the nation's poor live in rural areas.
- Farmers cultivating small plots of land with few off-farm sources of family income account for a large share of the poor.
- Lack of knowledge in cultivation and in developing strong market linkages for farm products are major concerns.
- Livelihood security is also a major concern.
- Global competition is having an impact on agriculture and the rural sector.
- Micronutrient deficiency is substantial in rural areas.
- Mishandling of chemical pesticides and fertilisers is an occupational hazard in the agricultural sector.
While Sri Lanka has introduced various extension initiatives, there is presently one extension worker per 400 farmers. By using ICTs to reach more farmers with customised information, Lifelong Learning for Farmers will address many of the country's agricultural challenges.
Addressing Gender Issues
While agriculture is still the predominant form of employment for rural women in Sri Lanka, these women are seen as housewives, not as farmers. As a result, they receive little training or extension support. Without access to information, these women face limited economic opportunities. Lifelong Learning for Farmers has the potential to provide rural women with information and access to credit. With small, low-interest loans, women can engage in self-employment projects that generate income and improve livelihoods for families and entire communities.
Lifelong Learning for Farmers enables communities to move away from donor dependency towards a development process that is both sustainable and self-replicating. The programme is already demonstrating success in Sri Lanka. Farmers are learning to cultivate more profitable crops: one farmer in the Hambantota region saw his income rise by a factor of six when he switched from growing mixed vegetables to bananas. Local women are finding employment in a laboratory where banana plants are being produced using tissue culture technology.