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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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123rd Birth anniversary of Dr S A Wickramasinghe commemorated




The 123rd Birth anniversary of Dr S A Wickramasinghe, the founder of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka was commemorated in Matara today (13).

Dr Sugiswara Abeywardena Wickramasinghe co-founded the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and was elected to the Ceylon State Council in 1931 and 1946. He founded the Communist Party of Sri Lanka in 1943 and represented the Akuressa Electorate in parliament from 1956 to 1977.

Members of Parliament Dullas Alahapperuma, Weerasumana Weerasinghe and members of  the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and family placed floral tributes at his monument in Matara.

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Social relations and solidarity emerge as fundamental pillars essential for steering our nation forward along the path of progress and prosperity – President




President Rani Wickremesinghe in his New Year Message stressed that social relations and solidarity emerge as fundamental pillars essential for steering our nation forward along the path of progress and prosperity

The full text of the President’s message follows:

“The progression of nations, countries and the global community is propelled by the perpetual cycle of renewal, where innovative ideas are nurtured and novel creations come to fruition.

Embracing renewal in accordance with the traditional New Year, the calendar year, or the changing seasons, individuals across the globe find themselves revitalized, endowed with fresh opportunities for growth and advancement. Beneath the surface of these myriad renewals lies a fundamental truth; the paramount importance of social relationships and collective unity.

During the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, we engage in a profound renewal of self, centering our focus on nurturing bonds and fostering a sense of gregariousness. This emphasis on interpersonal bonds is the cornerstone of traditional New Year rituals observed across diverse cultures worldwide.

It is important to emphasize the significance of this pivotal point, particularly during the New Year festivities, as it serves as a poignant reminder of the essence of human connection and communal solidarity.

In the dawn of the New Year, social relations and solidarity emerge as fundamental pillars essential for steering our nation forward along the path of progress and prosperity. With this understanding in mind, I extend my heartfelt wishes for a joyous and fulfilling Sinhala and Tamil New Year.”


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Sinhala and Tamil New Year auspicious times




The Auspicious times for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year 2024 are as follows

13th April
02:41pm –  Punya Kalaya
09:05pm  – Dawn of the New Year
11:06pm –  Lighting of the Hearth

14th April 
00:06am – Starting work, Partaking of meals and transactions

15th April
10:17am – Anointing

17th April
06:52am – Leaving for work

18th April 
10:16am – Planting trees


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