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The success story behind developing Rathna Ella as an eco-tourism venture



By Ifham Nizam

Rathna Ella, the 14th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, has been developed as an eco-tourism venture by the National Ethnic Unity Foundation (NEUF) with GEF-SGP/UNDP funding.

Situated within the 345-hectare Rathna Ella Conservation forest at Hasalaka in the Kandy district, the waterfall is formed by the Hasalaka Oya, the only water source available for drinking and agricultural purposes to around 2,000 families.

On average, around 5,000 people visit the waterfall annually, of which 80% are local tourists.

“As the first step, we mobilized villagers to conserve the Rathna Ella forest by forming Soba Mithuro of Rathna Ella (Nature Friends of Rathna Ella) to regularize eco-tourism activities in the area by ensuring the safe disposal of waste, improvement of facilities available to visitors, and in general, formalize eco-tourism, while offering the villagers an opportunity to enhance their livelihoods”, says NEUF Chairman, B. W. Gunasekara.

Soba Mithuro, headed by its president and an executive committee, has a membership of 37 persons representing families of the village. It collaborates local residents, especially the youth, who are one of the main beneficiaries of the project.

Initially, the CBO (Community-based Organization) identified key issues in the Rathna Ella village due to unplanned tourism. As the project proponent, the NEUF was able to effectively mobilize villagers to conserve the environment, while giving them the opportunity to benefit from eco-tourism related activities.

The Sri Jayewardenepura University carried out water and soil analysis of the entire landscape. They collected water and soil samples for analysis to determine the health of the ecosystem of the project area.

The Mahaweli Authority supported the initiative by providing training to villagers on livelihood development activities and self-employment. It also contributed towards providing sewing machines to them.

The Department of Agriculture provided training on organic agriculture to the farmers through agricultural instructors.

As the project was an eco-tourism development venture, it was very attractive to youth and many were keen to get involved. At present, about 20 youth are actively involved in its activities. The project facilitated capacity building of youth in enhancing their ability to undertake small-scale business ventures, Gunasekara noted.

The key objectives of the project are to conserve the Rathna Ella, Kaluwawatuna Ella falls and Rathna Ella Conservation forest through the empowerment and involvement of the community and to improve the livelihoods of 20 families in the village by developing eco-tourism related income generating activities.

The initiatives of the project is to offer benefits to villagers, offer a memorable experience to tourists and contribute effectively towards the sustainability of the pristine environment and its biodiversity.

Among the work undertaken under the project include the establishment of an information outlet on the Rathna Ella village and the surrounding ecosystem. Visitors will be advised on how to behave in a manner that would preserve the environment and also on taking necessary precautions to avoid accidents.

A sales outlet was established to display locally made handicraft and food items by villagers, which helps to strengthen their livelihoods considerably.

The project has also supported the development of traditional reed handicrafts and train women to continue the traditional artisan work. Boots, torches and ropes needed for hiking are also provided to visitors.

A waste management plan is also in place with many trash bins in various places. The waste collected is recycled or safely disposed to prevent pollution and prevent injury to visitors. The project also promoted organic farming in the village, which was a relatively new concept for the farmers.

Organic farming activities promoted by the project have emphasized the production of organic fertilizer with the dual objective of safeguarding the environment and promoting eco-friendly farming practices. Promotion and familiarization of organic farming and home gardening have helped minimize chemical pollution of soil and water in the downstream area. The project has trained 15 families to make their own organic fertilizer.

Rathna Ella Conservation forest was the primary source of income for some villagers. In the past, illegal activities such as logging, gem mining and cutting trees for firewood were widespread within the forest. The eco-tourism project promoted sustainable income generating opportunities to ensure that the pressure on the forest for livelihoods was minimized.

Other products sold to visitors include dairy products, paper bags, garments, disposable masks, reed-based products, traditional foods and value added agricultural products.

Moreover, the beneficiaries also operate home-stays and camping sites, undertake grain milling, sell potted plants, paper bags and clothing items. At present, 44 individuals are engaged in home gardening, which has been introduced as an optional livelihood activity. The average monthly household income of the villagers was around Rs. 23,500 at the beginning of the project. This has now increased to Rs. 40,000 as a result of related activities.

Seed paddy varieties were also distributed among 15 families to start their own cultivation. These varieties enjoy a high demand among consumers and can fetch a good price compared to more common varieties of rice in the local market.

 During the height of Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry collapsed, and the villagers had few opportunities to make a living. The CBO stepped in by providing fertilizer, vegetables and grains to 43 needy families.

The possibility of marketing products at hotels, restaurants, eating houses, grocery stores and in supermarkets in the Hasalaka and Mahiyangana areas is also being explored.

The project facilitated several self-employment opportunities and small businesses for the women in the village. At present, 37 women who had been previously confined to doing household chores are self-employed, adding to the household income. They are now able to earn an average monthly income of Rs. 40,000 through their business ventures.

As there are no foreign tourists visiting the site now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the women have started to make disposable masks to support their families, Project Coordinator, Thilina Madushanka, said.

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SL gets Rs 452 mn for saving ill-fated tanker: Rs. 3.4 bn asked for



By Ifham Nizam and Rathindra Kuruwita

The Marine Enviro-nment Protection Authority (MEPA) yesterday received Rs. 452 million from London for having saved MT New Diamond, a super oil tanker that caught fire in the Sri Lanka’s territorial waters last year.

MEPA General Manager, Dr. P. B. Terney Pradeep Kumara told The Island that Rs. 442 million had come for the services rendered by the Sri Lanka Navy, MEPA and Rs. 10 million by way of a fine imposed on the Ship’s Captain.

However, Sri Lanka has to receive a much larger amount for the damage caused to the marine environment, Dr. Kumara said. Following the incident, Sri Lankan authorities filed charges against the Captain of the ill-fated vessel and made a claim for $2.4 million from the ship’s owners for the firefighting and pollution prevention efforts.

Twenty experts from the Universities of Moratuwa, Ruhuna and Sri Jayewardenepura submitted their recommendations as regards the damage to the environment, to the Attorney General. Based on the report, the Attorney General’s Department had asked for Rs. 3.4 billion (around USD 19 million) as compensation for environmental damage, the Coordinating Officer for the Attorney General, state counsel Nishara Jayaratne said.

Soon they would have discussions with the lawyers of the shipping agent concerned on compensation for environmental damage caused, she said.

Dr. Kumara, who is the former Head of the Department of Oceanography/Marine Geology of the Ruhuna University, said that the incident had caused deaths among marine species due to spillage of some toxic fuel from the vessel.

The MT New Diamond crude oil tanker was transporting 270,000 MT oil from the port of Meena Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Port of Paradip in India when a fire broke out in its engine room as the vessel was passing the eastern seas of Sri Lanka on September 3, 2020.

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PSC on gender equality meets for the first time



State Minister, Fernandopulle flanked by two other PSC members

Special attention on microfinance

The Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to further gender equality, to investigate instances of discrimination against women and to present recommendations to Parliament, focused on microfinance loans that are currently affecting a large number of women in Sri Lanka, when they met for the first time in Parliament recently.

The meeting was chaired by the State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle.

It was also revealed that the Cabinet had approved the re-establishment of an institution to regulate Microfinance loans in Sri Lanka.

The MPs also discussed the role of the Select Committee. They decided that the primary role of the Committee should be to investigate women’s grievances and all forms of discrimination based on gender, including workplace violence.

Another task before this committee is to examine and review laws that can be used to enhance gender equality, encourage relevant ministries and authorities to formulate plans to further gender equality and to allocate financial resources.

The Committee will also try to encourage greater women’s representation in decision-making bodies at the national and provincial levels as well as in government, civil society and the private sector.

MPs Rohini Kaviratne, (Dr.) Harini Amarasuriya, M. Udayakumar, S. Sritharan, Rohana Bandara and the Secretary to the Committee, Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of the Parliament Kushani Rohanadheera were also present at the meeting.



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A/L Examination from October 04 to 30



The 2021 GCE Advanced Level examination would be held from October 4 to 30, Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said yesterday addressing the media at his Ministry.

Minister Peiris said the examination was earlier scheduled to be held in August.

The Grade 5 scholarship examination would be held on October 03 and the 2021 GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) examination in the last week of January 2022, the Minister said.

“Usually, schools are open for academic activities for around 200 days a year. But in 2020, schools were open for about 150 days. It was around 130 days in the Western Province. We were not able to fill this gap with online classes due to lack of internet facilities in many parts of the country,” he said.

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