Get to know our food heroes | Daily News
In commemoration of World Food Day

Get to know our food heroes

A series of stories on rural Sri Lankan farmers
Wells of hope: enhancing smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate change
Romesha with her family
Romesha with her family

Living in a small house with mud-thatched walls which provides the only respite from the intense heat, Romesha and her family are no strangers to the effects of climate change. Although the single electric bulb hanging from the ceiling flickers and dies as the area is hit by yet another power outage, Romesha’s face is alight with excitement as she talks of her farmland – a place filled with trailing passionfruit vines, swaying coconut trees and neat rows of vegetable, fruit and nut plants.

“I love working in my field” says Romesha. “Even when I was laid up in bed with an injured spine after falling off a tractor, all I could think of was how soon I could get back to tending my crops”.


Romesha in her field

Romesha and Prasanna, a married couple, are smallholder farmers in Hambegamuwa, Monaragala. They grow and sell crops ranging from pumpkin, chillies, peanut, millet and coconut to earn an income and provide for their two sons, aged three and ten. Their farm which spans across two acres of land, is carefully and lovingly nurtured by the couple. However, not so very long ago – in the early part of 2020 – Romesha was only able to cultivate half an acre of land. Water, or rather a severe lack of it, hindered the family’s agricultural efforts, with high temperatures and scarce rainfall making it difficult to farm. With a limited number of crops, Romesha was more vulnerable to price fluctuations in the market, which was already hit by theeffects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This prevented her from earning a stable income which was even now barely enough to provide for her family. “In farming, we have two main seasons of cultivation – Yala and Maha”, says Romesha. “Every year, we used to lose out on one harvesting season due to drought and the lack of rain. When there’s no rain, we don’t have adequate water to cultivate our land. In order to settle the loans we had taken, my husband and I had to leave our children with my mother and go out in search of daily labour work”. According to Romesha, they sometimes had just one meal a day, which meant that she was not able to provide proper nutrition for her children. Every day seemed like an uphill battle to her.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) works with smallholder farmers like Romesha across many parts of Sri Lanka to help them break free of the effects of consecutive climate-related disasters. WFP’s “R5n” project helps smallholder farmers overcome climate shocks like drought which cause significant loss of harvest, resulting in indebtedness, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Through its “R5n” project, WFP provides water-harvesting and storage facilities such as agro-wells and farm ponds, conducts training on agricultural practices, and promotes the diversification of livelihoods while strengthening capacities for commercial production. This serves to enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers and helps lift them out of the cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

WFP also adopts a ‘nutrition’ focused approach to encourage dietary diversity and improve the intake of nutritious food, especially among women of reproductive age and children under five.

WFP provided Romesha with funds to construct an agro-well, giving her access to a steady water supply for her crops even during the long spells without rain. She also received farm equipment, including irrigation tubes and gardening tools, and was coached on the maintenance of these assets so that she could sustain her cultivation in the long-term. Additionally, she received training and guidance on diversifying her sources of income by growing a range of high value, nutritious and marketable crops. “The agro-well from WFP fills me with hope”, says Romesha. “Water scarcity has always been such a worry for us. With WFP’s assistance, we can not only cultivate during the two main seasons but also in-between seasons when the ground is even more parched and dry. We finally have sufficient water to sustain and grow our cultivation”.

With support, training and knowledge sharing from WFP, Romesha has expanded her area of cultivation fourfold, from half an acre to over two acres. She has also tripled her household income.

This she says comes as a great relief as the couple can now start to pay off their loans with these improved earnings and can attend to their farm without having to head out in search of work. This is doubly rewarding as it gives them more family-time with their children and the ability to feed them with regular, nutritious meals. Further, with hard work and commitment, Romesha and Prasanna have now transitioned from home gardening to commercial production. Romesha looks out into her garden with hope in her eyes and a smile playing about her lips. “I have always had many dreams for my family”, she says. “Now I am better equipped to fulfil them. When I think of the future, I know that that no matter what challenges I will face, I can overcome them with strength and confidence”.

WFP’s “R5n” project supports over 86,000 people in five climate shock-prone districts across Sri Lanka. WFP’s assistance will help smallholder farmers like Romesha enhance their resilience to withstand climate shocks, build sustainable livelihoods, and improve nutrition and food security on the path to achieve ‘zero hunger’.

 

In commemoration of World Food Day, these stories of rural communities who are playing a role in helping to improve local agri-food systems towards better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life for all, are compiled in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).


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