Employment opportunities in the North & East have been very low for decades. Though farming has been the main stay of the economy in the two districts, almost all farmers used traditional practice, whether it was in crop cultivation, livestock or fishing. Consequently, their income was low. This is a necessity to introduced improved practices and appropriate technologies to increase appreciably profits from farming.
Opportunities in white-collar jobs are rare. In addition to that, only a small minority of the youth enter for university education each year, and that too to get degrees that would have very low employment opportunities. The rest of them have no jobs or had to depend on menial jobs. It is therefore necessary to encourage them to become computer literate through courses that suit individual capabilities. Opportunities would open up at various levels: at the low end, from carrying out simple data entry, to data analyses, to complicated IT design and management and to complicated coding. Thus, supporting appropriate education for students should be a priority.
The list of organisations that SCOT have partnered in this sector are very small, as very few organisations are addressing the need for improving employment opportunities, particularly for the youth. We have given below brief descriptions of two sample projects, one covers crop cultivation and the other relates to promoting micro industries.
Demonstration Farm (including Drip Irrigation)
Professor Navaratnarajah (former Dean of Faculty of Agriculture, University of Jaffna) and Dr Kandiah (retired UN FAO specialist)
Smallholder farmers in the north have been growing various crops using irrigation, fertilisers, pest control, etc. in ways that have been handed down through generations with varying degrees of success. Yields have often been mediocre but acceptable. However, with reduced land and inputs available for cultivation, improving yields is now imperative.
Techniques, tools and products for irrigation, fertilisation and pest control used in southern India, which has similar climate, soil and crops to northern Sri Lanka, have achieved significantly greater yields. Teaching or providing such techniques, tools and products to farmers in norther Sri Lanka should achieve similarly higher yields.
In 2014, a few SCOT General Council members studied the techniques, tools and products used in southern India, visiting there at their own expense to meet with experts from local universities and government agencies. Based on their findings, they put together a 21-step agricultural yield improvement plan for farmers in northern Sri Lanka. They then used SCOT funds and worked with Professor Navaratnarajah and Dr Kandiah as volunteers to set up a pilot farm in North Vavuniya to demonstrate the plan, following those steps that were feasible on such a standalone farm that was not benefiting from a local farmers’ co-operative. The initial pilot, including writing up what was learned, was completed in 2017.
Impressed by the benefits demonstrated in the pilot, Dr Kandiah used its learnings to refine the plan, which he then followed to set up a similar farm at the Faculty of Agriculture in Kilinochchi in 2017. To encourage future funding facilitated by a supportive former governor of the Northern Province, he also set up a similar farm in southern Sri Lanka. The Provincial Agriculture Department for the North (PAD-N) were also sufficiently impressed to select 10 farmers from other areas in the north to follow the plan. Since 2018 other voluntary organisations involved in improving farming livelihoods have also been promoting the plan. As a result, over 250 farmers have benefited. Options are now being considered for expanding into the east. SCOT spent £14,000 on this project.
Coconut Oil Production
Growing coconuts for sale is a major activity in the north and east that happens at scales ranging from small domestic plots of a few coconut trees to large commercial plantations of many hundreds of trees, with the coconuts being sold onto middlemen for eventual processing into oil and other products for sale to consumers and industry. The coconut growers only receive a small percentage of the revenue from the end sales.
The Palai MPCS had applied to NCDB for a loan of Rs 2.0 million to mainly fund its initial operating costs (Rs 1.5 million). NCDB have evaluated the MPCS application, including the operation of its initial small mill. The MPCS, whose members include the local coconut growers, have set up and plan to run a coconut processing mill to produce oil and valuable by-products. Eventually, operating costs will be covered by MPCS profits from previous years, but need the loan to cover the first 1-2 years of costs. It is expected to be paid back from the profits as soon as is sensible.
Based on their evaluation, NCDB have, in turn, sought a grant of Rs 1.0 million from SCOT (approximately £4,600). SCOT have also evaluated the MPCS’s business model for investment, operation and profit potentials as well as NCDB’s business plan. We have already added value by using our expertise, experience and contacts to identify ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the operation, which will in turn reduce its costs. The 1st year operation is being considered as a test run of a pilot model. SCOT have informed NCDB that they will provide the requested grant if a mutually agreed MoU is signed by both parties.
As results become available, including loan repayment by MPCS to NCDB, they will be evaluated by SCOT General Council and reported to members. If the pilot model is successful, SCOT will prepare a cooperative project model based on the pilot, and promote other funding agencies to implement it for other areas in the North and East having similar resources.
Coconut Processing (Oil Extraction) Mill
Northern Cooperative Development Bank (NCDB)
Palai Multipurpose Cooperative Society (MPCS)
List of Organisations that SCOT Funded