Most of the residents in Kambiadiya village in Matale district, Sri Lanka are engaged in agriculture. In addition to this, the women engage in home gardening in order to satisfy their family needs. In these gardens, named “Kandian Home Gardens’, they grow mixed crops including vegetables, leafy vegetables, local popular fruits in the villages, yarns, coffee and also spices like pepper, cloves, etc. (Matale district is famous in the country for cultivating spices.) Their harvests from the gardens are for their families’ consumption, and the surplus are sold. As the country was in full swing with the green revolutionary methods and as the farmers get the chemical fertilizer with a huge amount of subsidy, the villagers used to employ these, as well as pesticides and herbicides, in their home gardens. This was not the case three decades ago, but now using chemical fertilizers became a common practice everywhere.
The use of toxic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was a huge problem that the women, who normally engage in the home gardens, had been accustomed to. It was also conceptually wrong as it has threatened the health of the people as well as the environment. With regard to the health of the people in the country, it was proved beyond any doubt that the deadly pesticides, herbicides, and excessive usage of chemical fertilizers are responsible for the fast spreading chronic kidney disease (CKD) in Sri Lanka. They also responsible for the increasing number of cases of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. The change from these deadliest practices in agriculture has to be started from the home gardens, mostly led by women.
The women in Kambiadiya village stepped forwards and partnered with Women’s Development Foundation (WDF), an organization that aims to give a helping hand for the women to improve their living standards. The women in Kambiadiya mostly come from the agriculture background and their main source of income is farming. Almost all the farmers in Kambiadiya are trapped in the vicious cycle of high-input farming system.
In the last four years, the WDF collaborated with MTCP 2 program and Lanka Farmer Forum (LFF) (initiated by MTCP2 program), and carried out several programs. Realizing the danger of the chemical oriented farming methods after several rounds of discussions, LFF and WDF conducted programs on environmental farming such as how to collect, preserve, multiply, and share local/traditional seeds, how to prepare organic fertilizer, natural pest control methods, preparing live fences for multiple uses, soil conservation methods and ‘Zero Budget Farming” techniques, etc. Initially there were about 35 women participants.
As of the moment, about 40 women were able to start and maintain eco-friendly home gardens. They have completely stopped using chemical fertilizers, deadly pesticides, and herbicides.
In addition to this, some of the women farmers were able to influence their husbands to grow at least a portion of their farm land without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. As a result, a fair number of people living in this village were able to buy chemical-free vegetables and fruits from the farmers.
Renuka, the leader of the women’s group, plans to extend these practices among another group of women and start a value added production using the surplus organic harvests. They have already explored the possibility of collecting spices that grow organically and selling in retail. Earlier, they have given the trees on lease for the merchants in town at a very low rate. Some of the leaders have participated in the training programs on Value Adding organized by the LFF, and learned and realized the extent that they were exploited. They soon disseminated the knowledge and the information they got from the training among their members and decided to initiate a process in this regard.
At first, most of the women were reluctant to enter the process as they had no experience on this. As a strategy, the women leaders proposed to give only a portion of whatever their harvest for this and let them sell the other as usual in bulks.
Now, they see a bright future in popularizing and marketing organic food, starting from vegetables, fruits, and even spices. They will soon come up with a farming plan in order to decide on the verities and the volumes that each member should grow in order to cater to the diverse needs and also to guarantee a fair price by not over growing.