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Aloe vera export project set to grab 6% of land in Anuradhapura



… will spell doom for farmers, forests……

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Cabinet on 30 August 30 approved a proposal for handing over 6% of the total land area in the Anuradhapura District to a private company to grow aloe vera, and this will have a disastrous impact on the environment, climate and human elephant conflict in the North Central and North Western Provinces, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) says.

The Cabinet had approved a paper jointly presented by Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa and Minister of Lands S. M. Chandrasena for the handover of 104,066 acres (42,115 hectares) of Anuradhapura land to a private company on a long-term lease of 30 years, Chamikara said.

“Although the project was officially approved only a few weeks ago, the company had been illegally using large swathes of land, used by farmers of Rajanganaya Track 18 village as well as lands that had been under the control of the Forest Department for over three years. These lands have been illegally acquired without the approval of any state institution,” Chamikara said.

The 104,066 acres earmarked for the project include 2,000 acres in Rajanganaya and Nochchiyagama Divisional Secretariat areas, earmarked as a plant nursery, 102,000 acres from several areas of the Anuradhapura District for planting aloe vera and another 66 acres for a factory, a field office and storage units, Chamikara said.

“These lands are to be handed over on a 30-year lease as well as per the provisions of the State Lands Ordinance. The 102,000 acres, to be used as the aloe vera plantation, consists of cultivated lands belonging to families who had been living in these lands for a long time. These are farmers who have been given state land under various schemes. They hold various land titles. The total investment in this project is US $ 783 million. The Cabinet Paper states that US $ 300 million will come into the country as the initial investment,” he said.

Chamikara added that the total land area of Anuradhapura was 717,900 hectares. Out of this, 42, 115 hectares had been allocated to the aloe vera project. The project would make aloe vera the second largest cultivated crop in the district,after paddy, he said.

“However, is it correct to allocate such a vast land area for the cultivation of aloe vera for export? What is the land use pattern of Anuradhapura? It appears that the Cabinet has not considered this. According to the Land Use Policy Planning Department there are 88, 859 hectares of home gardens in the Anuradhapura District, which is 12% of the total land area. There are 6,494 hectares of permanent crops, banana and coconut cultivations in the district too. This is 1% of the total land area. There are 161,752 hectares of paddy land, 23% of the total land area. There are also 87,510 hectares of yearly crops and chena cultivations as well (12% of the land in the district),” he said.

Chamikara said that the total land used for agriculture in Anuradhapura encompassed 344,615 hectares, and out of this, 12% would now be allocated for the aloe vera plantation. Given the significant land use, the impact of the project on the food production of the country should be estimated, he said, adding that at least the revenue generated by exporting aloe vera must be compared to the loss incurred by the reduction in food production. Given that food prices were increasing across the world, the impact the project would have on the food security of the country must not be underestimated, Chamikara said.

“The water sources spread across the district is the foundation of agriculture in Anuradhapura. These water sources, i.e., tanks, rivers, streams, canals, marshes, etc., amounts to 67,630 hectares, which is 10% of the land area in the district. These water sources depend on surrounding areas that act as catchments. There are 175,627 hectares of thick forests in the district, which is 25% the total land area. There are also 116,889 hectares of shrub and open forests, 16% of the total land area. The remaining 13,139 hectares of the district consist of built areas, rocks and sand mounds. When compared to overall forest lands in the district, it is around 14% of such lands. Most forests are linked to the eastern, southeastern, and southern borders of Wilpattu National Park,” he said.

Chamikara said that if forest lands were not used for the project, the government would have to acquire land already used by farmers for the project. It in turn would force a section of farmers to clear forest land as land available for agriculture was reduced because of the project. The clearing of forests will in turn lead to a water scarcity in the district and many farmers will not be able to cultivate during both Yala and Maha seasons. That would start a vicious cycle, he said.

“As per the Cabinet paper, most of the land earmarked for the project belong to farmers settled under various land grant schemes. Most of the chena lands are cultivated only during the Maha season. These lands are left vacant between June and September. This is usually the dry season and these abandoned chena lands become feeding grounds for wild animals including elephants. When such chena lands are used for aloe vera cultivation, the human – elephant conflict of the region will worsen. This would also endanger more farms.

The human – elephant conflict prevails in Puttalam, Kurunegala, Mannar and Polonnaruwa districts, which borders Anuradhapura. Thus, any change for the worse in Anuradhapura would also spill over to these adjoining districts,” he said.

“While aloe vera is a plant with high medicinal value, planting aloe vera as a monocrop on a large scale would lead to many issues”, Chamikara warned, saying that if the company cleared land to plant aloe vera, there will be soil erosion. The eroded soil would find its way into the tanks, rivers, canals, and other water sources in the area. It would lead to diminished carrying capacity in those water sources, which would in turn have a devastating impact on farmers in the area. Moreover, given the severe soil erosion, the farmland would have to be continuously fertilised, and this would lead to other issues in the future.

“On the other hand, during the dry season there is heavy evaporation of water in the soil in an aloe vera plantation. This, in turn, will have an impact on groundwater leading to a serious lack of water for farming and drinking purposes. Aloe vera will be an excellent plant for mixed cropping in home gardens. However, the results will be less than optimal when one tries to plant them en masse as a monocrop,” he said.

Chamikara said, “During recent years, there has been a significant spike in the human – elephant conflict in the dry zone due to the massive expansion of maize and sugar cane plantations in swathes of cleared forest lands.

“The expansion of these large commercial agro enterprises have displaced elephants from their natural grazing areas and have obstructed their ability to move from one forest area to another. Thus, the elephants are compelled to invade human settlements. Small-scale farmers unable to cope with the increasing threat from elephants were selling their lands to big companies.

“Between 1990 and 2000, on average, 150 elephants and 40 humans died per year due to the human – elephant conflict. However, between 2010 and 2018, elephant deaths have increased to 275 and human deaths to 80 per year. The situation became worse in 2019, when 406 elephants and 122 humans died in conflict. In 2020, 307 elephants and 112 humans died. With this project the human – elephant conflict in Anuradhapura District and adjoining areas will further increase,” he said.

All out attempts to contact the company concerned on the telephone number given on its website failed.

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Canadian declaration of ‘Tamil genocide’ may influence European parliaments, EU – Maj. Gen. (retd.) Gallage



‘Counter lies, or face consequences’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage says controversial Canadian House of Commons declaration that Tamil genocide took place in Sri Lanka may influence many Western parliaments as well as the EU.

The Gajaba Regiment war veteran said that the recognition of 18th May, the day Sri Lanka defeated terrorism as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day was an affront to Sri Lanka.

The ex-combat officer said that the government owed an explanation without delay. Perhaps, Sri Lanka parliament should remind Canada of deaths of hundreds of native residential school students, who had been literally snatched from their families, the retired officer said, adding that it would be interesting to see whether any political parties, civil society groups or those who issue statements against Sri Lanka at the drop of a hat would question the Canada’s gruesome past. So far unmarked graves of more than 1000 native children have been found on the grounds of such schools run till the mid-1990s, the retired Major General said.

Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree, son of veteran Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leader V. Anandasangaree presented the motion on Wednesday (18). “Canada becomes the first national parliament in the world to recognize May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day,” tweeted, Anandasangree, the MP for Scarborough-Rouge Park.

The motion states that “this House acknowledges the Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and recognizes May 18th of each year as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day”.

The House of Commons unanimously accepted the motion.

Gallage alleged that Sri Lanka lacked political will to counter the campaign against the country. Acknowledging the current political-fiscal -social crisis caused by decades of economic mismanagement, he warned that the Canadian declaration would have disastrous consequences. Would the government care to examine how interested parties could exploit the Canadian condemnation of Sri Lanka? Gallage asked.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in the third week of May 2009.

Gallage questioned the responsibility on the part of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministries for Sri Lanka’s failure to meet the challenge.

Anandasangaree brought forward the motion on the 13th anniversary of the annihilation of the LTTE fighting cadre at Mullivaikkal.

Retired Maj. Gen. said that those who had failed to throw a lifeline to the LTTE as the military brought the war to a rapid conclusion worked overtime for the realization of the Canadian project.

Responding to another query, Gallage said that declaration of May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring an accountability resolution against itself at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in early Oct. 2015 under the yahapalana regime.

Gallage recalled how Australia denied him a visa during yahapalana administration though there hadn’t been specific war crimes allegations against him. Australia also found fault with Gallage for being in command of the 59 Division from May 7, 2009 to July 20, 2009.

Established in Jan, 2008, the 59 Division, deployed on the eastern flank aka the Weli Oya front, fought under the then Brig. Nandana Udawatte’s command for one year to cross the Anandakulam and Nagacholai forest reserves, which served as natural defences for the LTTE Mullaitivu stronghold.

Maj. Gen. Gallage said that the Parliament should respond to the Canadian House of Commons declaration on Tamil genocide. The former senior officer who was always in the thick of combat reiterated that unless tangible action was taken immediately the Canadian motion would cause irreparable damage. The Tamil Diaspora would exploit their success with Canadian political parties to pressure other countries, Gallage said, the coming Geneva sessions would be quite a challenge.

He urged the current military top brass to make representations to the government as regards the damning unfair Canadian indictment of Sri Lanka. “We should ask Canada to share with us information on the basis its Parliament reached conclusion that genocide took place here. The very basis of their declaration is questionable,” Gallage said, adding that Sri Lanka should officially inform Canada of the Indian intervention that led to the deaths of thousands, both before and after the deployment of the Indian Army (1987-1990), killing of one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE female suicide cadre and the sea borne attempt to assassinate the Maldivian President in 1989. “We should set the record straight. We should use wartime British High Commission cables now in the public domain to counter lies,” the Gajaba Regiment veteran said.

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Some MPs seek hotel accommodation to attend parliament



Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told Parliament yesterday that a group of MPs had requested that they be provided hotel accommodations for them to attend Parliament sittings.

Speaker Abeywardena said that the request had been made due to the prevailing fuel crisis.

The Speaker said that some MPs who travelled from outstations were unable to return home due to the fuel shortage.

“Therefore, they have requested me to book a hotel for them to stay in Colombo to attend Parliament proceedings,” he said.

The Speaker’s clarification came as reports of MPs being provided fuel at a subsidised rate were raised in Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that fuel had not been given at subsidised rates to any MP.

Many government MPs also lost life possessions as their houses were looted and torched by marauding mobs early last week.

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Elder brother says MR should have known when to quit politics



SLPP MP and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that his younger brother former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should have retired from politics after concluding his second term as President.

“Nearly 50 years of his outstanding political achievements and journey have been lost at present,” he said.

“If we become greedy for power and positions then we face such consequences as we see today,” he said.

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