Rogues in high places are presently trying hard to land grab from areas of biodiversity and forest, to join with foreign investors in projects where they see financial gains for themselves. This has caused all sorts of problems, such as in the the sensitive Knuckles Reserves, where there are allegations and denials by people in high places.
The answer is simple, a complete prohibition if any government land being alienated for this UNLESS the land is already cleared and previously distributed. One may ask, how can that be, as it is already utilized?
MY CONTENTION is to the contrary – It is NOT utilized. We have over a million hectares in Sri Lanka that is scrubland that had at some time being given on a lease to people to do agricultural projects, but due to many reasons of inability to farm or put to productive use, is not currently used.
I personally, have seen so many Mahaweli blocks of 50 acres each that were leased at almost peppercorn rents per annum, in which the lessees cut the trees, took the timber and disappeared and nothing has happened to them since. Neither is the lease being paid, nor is the land vested in the relevant department due to a PUBLIC OFFICIAL found wanting.
The President is not only the Minister of the Environment, but he is ALSO the minister of the Mahaweli. It is high time he gets a report on all single tracts of land in excess of 5acres that have not been worked on in the past 6months, that is in 2018. He will TRULY BE SHOCKED at the extent of this land that his own Authority has not properly recorded and investigated and offered to these deep pocketed investors to begin projects in. His own staff are sleeping on the job, as it is more work when the land is worked on, than if it is kept fallow. I know local people always like to agitate when land is given for projects, but that is because they don’t cultivate, nor do they want anyone else to do so, fearing their power would diminish. We as a country cannot afford to leave land fallow, if places like Israel can make deserts bloom. New agricultural ventures use minimal water in their production.
Days of providing land for landless to farm are now over, we now agree that economies of scale where a fair investment is required is the only means of food security that we can rely on to meet out demands, and for export, where there is a large market, for high value added and niche products, none of which small farmers are able to grow, nor have the means to take a risk on. Hitherto the easiest way is to cut a large tract of land clear the forests and begin planting. This is NO LONGER TENABLE as we must increase our forest cover, not reduce it further if we are to mitigate climate change, so it is better to rethink the whole formula on what is and what is not possible when a foreign investor comes knocking on doors with money to invest in agriculture.
Don’t forget our water usage per acre of paddy is the highest in the world and we have not priced this water economically, and are giving a MASSIVE water subsidy to our farmers who then don’t appreciate the value of this FREE water. As a farmer I know my neighboring farmers would waste the water, rather than allow me to use it out of envy. They take 10 times their entitlement and when shown their actions, don’t wish to alter that behavior. We want increased output from limited land, and so the answer is not to clear more forest, but use what we already have, much of it already under Government control.
We don't have to go far. CIC just announced their intention to dispose of their agribusiness where they found it hard to make a return on their investment. If there is a foreign interest in purchasing and building that business, then let them take that over and try and make a go of it.
We have to have an open mind on looking at all options, but we cannot compromise destroying our forest cover, when all other alternatives have not been pursued.