Sri Lanka can achieve a greener and more prosperous future

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Traditionally, Sri Lanka is built on a concept of harmony between the nature and people, connecting importance of lakes, fields, villages, and spiritual temples and pagodas. ගමයි ,පංසලයි ,වැවයි, දාගැබයි  Credit: Andrew Zakharenka
Traditionally, Sri Lanka is built on a concept of harmony between the nature and people, connecting importance of lakes, fields, villages, and spiritual temples and pagodas. ගමයි ,පංසලයි ,වැවයි, දාගැබයි Credit: Andrew Zakharenka

This blog is part of a series of discussions and activities organized by the World Bank South Asia Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy team to inform a Green recovery in the region.

Farmers, hoteliers and homestay owners, fishers, producers of the famous Kanthale milk curd, Ayurveda healers, fruit growers, developers, safari jeep drivers, local dwellers—all derive their livelihoods from shared natural resources offered by the Hurulu-Kaudualla-Kanthale (HKK) Landscape.

Located in the North East of Sri Lanka and home to 650,000 people, the bountiful area stretches over the lower catchment of the Mahaweli River in Anuradapura, Pollonnaruwa, and Trincomallee Districts, and embodies over 2,500 years of cultural and natural heritage.

As one of Sri Lanka’s highest paddy, vegetable, and fruit-producing regions, the area contributes to the national economy and food security.  The landscape is rich and diverse biologically, with 270 thousand hectares of famous protected areas and national parks.

But the region has been under threat in the past few decades.

Human population growth and fragmented habitats have pushed animals into conflict with local dwellers; rain patterns are more erratic because of climate change; waste pollute the land, rivers, and the ocean. 

Human population growth and degraded and fragmented habitats have pushed elephants and other animals into conflict with local dwellers; rain patterns are more erratic because of climate change; agrochemicals, plastic, and waste pollute the land, rivers, and the ocean.

At the same time, traditional knowledge and land-use practices are lost and replaced with more commercial applications. 

In that context, Sri Lanka’s Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation, with support from the World Bank’s Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) is seeking new approaches to manage its land and natural resources better.

Over the last two years, a group of scientists and practitioners led by ESCAMP has collaborated with local communities and businesses to restore forests and habitats, increase the productivity of rangelands, alleviate human-elephant conflict, mitigate pollution, and generate new livelihood opportunities  for residents.   

This is no trivial task considering the multiple and often conflicting economic and political interests over land and its resources. But work is underway.

A landscape management plan prepared by the group has identified key natural resources and ecosystem services provided by the landscape to the economy, outlined main threats to longer-term prospects, and identified main economic sectors and stakeholders that can work together. It advocates to imbed a more integrated decision making into Sri Lanka’s government and institutions managing HKK landscape. A coordinating body, robust sectoral information, resolution of conflicting interests, and Government incentives to collaborate are being proposed for that.

Integrating economic activities - grazing and farming, hydropower generation, or nature-based tourism – within the ecological bounds of a watershed will help restore natural resources and generate additional socio-economic benefits.

International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the Forest Department initiated a practical training on forest landscape restoration. Sri Lanka pledged to restore about 200,000 hectares of forest landscapes under the framework of the Bonn Convention and aims to increase the forest area to 31% of the island.  IUFRO contributed to the restoration goals by funding this training that equipped over 40 practitioners with knowledge and practices of restoration techniques last month.

Just like pieces of a puzzle become a full picture, integrating economic activities - grazing and farming, hydropower generation, or nature-based tourism – within the ecological bounds of a watershed will help restore natural resources and generate additional socio-economic benefits.  Countries like China, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Sweden, Peru, Thailand, Zambia, and others have demonstrated that such an integrated approach to land use works better for the environment and people.

Rebuilding resilient and green economies in the wake of Covid-19 is challenging, especially at the initial stages. But Sri Lanka is well-positioned to put the pieces of the puzzle together and secure a more prosperous and safer future.

Authors

Andrew Zakharenka

Natural Resources Management Specialist

Join the Conversation

Shaun Mann
January 25, 2021

Awesome blog Andrew. I'll send you something we are building for landscapes in Africa, totally along these lines.

Madhavi Pillai
January 25, 2021

Well written blog. Brings the landscape to life! Congratulations Andrew.

Hart
January 26, 2021

Thanks for bringing landscapes management and the Bank's support into the fore. Great blog and makes me want to visit the project site.

Darshani De Silva
January 26, 2021

Great blog! Thank you for taking the work forward.

Chandra Rajakaruna
February 10, 2021

Good article, ... of course.., need to strike the balance between conservation and exploitation of natural resources. Looking in to traditional system of farming and water management in Sri Lanka, would be very interesting in this regard.