12/19/2016, 14.30
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Sri Lanka government taking land from small farmers to give to local and foreign investors

by Melani Manel Perera

The 2017 government budget involves taking 20,000 acres (8,093 hectares). Some land has already been given to private companies, which fenced it off. Thousands of people have been displaced and forced to seek work elsewhere. This could destabilise the country and cause unrest.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Peoples' Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) has decided to challenge plans in the 2017 government budget to give held by small farmers and fishermen to large local and foreign business interests.

The government’s development plan is “a red flag on the future of land governance and land use in Sri Lanka,” PARL said. “We call for initiatives in favour of the poor rather than neo-liberal economic agendas that benefit big investors."

The Alliance backs “the food sovereignty of rural and urban communities, and supports the right of small producers to land and natural resources.”

Under the government proposal, all land would be placed under a single authority. For PARL, this means giving "large areas of land to corporations and large-scale unsustainable projects."

An area of some 20,000 acres (8,093 hectares), especially in the districts of Monaragala, Batticoloa, Kilinochchi and Ampara, would be made available to local and foreign capital to invest in large-scale sugar cane production.

In some cases, land has already been assigned. In Siyambalanduwa, Monaragala district, the Wattegama Rajamaha Viharaya has given 2,000 acres of temple land to a private company, the Athimale Plantation Company.

Previously, 450 families had farmed this land. Now their breadwinners have to travel to nearby villages to find work as day labourers. The land itself is now off limits and is surrounded by an electric fence.

About 1,850 acres of the Kaludiya Ella nature reserve were given to a Korean company for intensive fruit cultivation. Some 370 families were removed from the area, which is now protected by police.

Farmland and coastal land covering more than 3,000 acres in Mullikulam, Malayakadu and Marichchikatti (Musali Division) were also taken. Some 265 families lived off that land through rice cultivation and fishing.

The Uma Oya River development project, which involves the construction of two reservoirs with tunnels to generate electrical power, has led to the displacement of 2,700 people and caused serious damages to local houses and buildings.

PARL has slammed the government for giving land to private companies to manage. This is not a new strategy though. “In 1978, the government of Sri Lanka tried to carry it out”. Such a “plan failed in 2008 during the world food crisis.”

What is more, "the loss of land can lead to agricultural and political conflicts." In fact, ignoring the land rights of rural communities, farmers and fishermen "could undermine the country’s food sovereignty, increase unemployment and cause political unrest."

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