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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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U.S. Ambassador to UN Agencies in Rome Cindy McCain to visit Lanka



Colombo, September 23, 2022: United States Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome Ambassador Cindy McCain will visit Sri Lanka from September 25-28 to highlight U.S. food assistance programs in Sri Lanka and reinforce the U.S. commitment and lasting partnership with the island nation.

In addition to meeting with senior government officials and aid organizations in Colombo, Ambassador McCain will join U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung to travel to Central Province to visit schools, agricultural research facilities, and community organizations and meet with recipients and implementers of relief provided through U.S. government-funded humanitarian assistance programs.

The United States is the single largest country donor to the three United Nations food and agriculture agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Program (WFP).  U.S.-funded UN projects showcase how the U.S. government, the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies, and the government of Sri Lanka collaborate to reduce food insecurity and advance humanitarian relief, livelihood protection, and agriculture-led economic growth, especially at this critical time of increased global hunger.

The United States has provided partnership and assistance to the people and government of Sri Lanka for more than 70 years.  Since June, Ambassador Chung has overseen the announcement of nearly $240 million in new U.S. government assistance to Sri Lanka, including U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power’s September 2022 announcements of an additional $40 million to provide Sri Lankan farmers with fertilizer and $20 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the country.

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President urges SL diaspora in the UK to invest in their motherland



By Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

President Ranil Wickremesinghe last week urged the Sri Lanka diaspora in the United Kingdom to invest in Sri Lanka projects to revive the economy. Addressing a gathering at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, he said that he is proud that the British Sri Lankan community for making a mark in every field of the UK economy such as trading, services, business, and requested them to come together as Sri Lankans and people of Sri Lankan origin to help build the motherland.

The President added that Sri Lanka is looking at transforming its economy to a competitive export-oriented one to meet the current challenges and build social systems and modernize the education system.

He remarked on the special affection Queen Elizabeth II had towards Sri Lanka as the Head of the Commonwealth and the longest serving Head of State of Ceylon for 20 years prior to the nation becoming a Republic and stated that her passing is the end of an era.

The president, first lady and party arrived in London on Sept. 17 via Dubai by an Emirates flight to attend the State Funeral Service of Queen Elizabeth II.They were received at the Heathrow airport by High Commissioner Saroja Sirisena and were driven to the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane, London where they stayed.

On Sunday (Sept. 18), the President accompanied by the First Lady and High Commissioner attended the Lying-in-State of the late Queen at the Palace of Westminster which was followed by a Reception hosted by His Majesty King Charles III at Buckingham Palace.The President and the First Lady attended the State Funeral Service held at the Westminster Abbey on Monday (Sept. 19).  On the same day, he signed the Book of Condolence. The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly MP hosted a reception for the visiting world leaders at Church House.

On 20th September, the President met the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC. They discussed Sri Lanka’s engagement with the Commonwealth Secretariat and matters of mutual interest. He also visited the London Buddhist Vihara during which Ven Dr Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Incumbent of the Vihara and the Chief Sanga Nayaka of Great Britain invoked blessings on the President and the people of Sri Lanka.

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Families countrywide facing malnutrition, says Cardinal



By Norman Palihawadane

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has warned that the prevailing economic crisis and increasing unemployment and food prices are accelerating malnutrition among hundred thousands of families countrywide.

Addressing a ceremony at the annual get-together of the Archdiocesan Family Apostolate Service held at St Peter’s College Auditorium in Colombo, the Archbishop said that it was a shame that responsible local officials keep denying the prevailing status quo when world humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF continue to warn of the increasing malnutrition levels among children.

Many international organizations have pointed out that malnutrition in Sri Lanka was increasing at an alarming rate but the authorities responsible are hiding the truth and go to the extent of rejecting such reports.

“If they reject the reports of international organizations, then it is their paramount duty of conduct proper surveys to understand the situation. It is no secret that large numbers of Lankan families are starving due to the high prices of food. According to the UNICEF more than six million people consume only a single meal a day. It is so unfortunate that Health Ministry officials who spend their times in the air conditioned rooms in Colombo do not know the plight of the poor in rural areas,” the Cardinal said.He said that 225 MPs were concerned only of their well-being while continuing to ignore the actual and pressing issues of people.

“This country is in dire situation today mainly due to inefficient and corrupt political leaders. It is sad that these so-called people’s representatives are not concerned of the situation of people who are experiencing the worst ever economic and political crisis this country has ever faced,” the Cardinal said.

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