Achieving food security for under-privileged rural communities has been one of the highest priorities for Sri Lanka during last several decades. Majority of the farm lands in Sri Lanka are located in dry zone and hence depend on rain water. Also occurrences of severe droughts have increased in frequency in recent past. During such periods there is acute water shortage for agriculture, drinking and other household purposes. Restoration of the old tank network that existed in Sri Lanka has been identified as one key enabler towards addressing these issues. This will increase the rainwater storage capacity for both agriculture and household use. Karuna Trust is planning to initiate a community based pilot project to restore a tank in a small farming village called Kasamaduwa, in Anuradhapura district.
About the Issue
Ancient Sri Lanka was known as a kingdom of tanks where an agriculture based society thrived.
There are thousands of ancient irrigation tanks scattered across the county. The village tank was an integral element of the community with many uses. According to the agro-based ancient culture, the tanks fell into three categories – the smallest was the Gaamika wewa, which served a single village. The medium was the Daana wewa which catered to several villages while the largest was the Maha wewa which covered a large area known as a Koralaya - a division of a province. Organic farming techniques were standard practice in this society with little environmental impact.
However, presently, only a small fraction of the entire tank network can be utilized due to various forms of degradation that has occurred over the centuries. Over a long period, successive governments have restored many large tanks and distribution canals. As a result the bigger tanks are in a reasonably good condition. However, the small village level tanks have not received the same level of attention as the bigger tanks. The issue is partly due the vast number of scattered village level tanks. Some tanks are totally abandoned while some are still functional but with a significantly lower storage capacity. The most common issue seems to be the silting of the tanks over long periods.
Karuna Trust is planning to initiate a pilot project to restore a small village level tank with community participation. With help from the Mihinthale divisional secretariat in Anuradhapura district, we have identified a farming community in Kasamaduwa to launch this project. The village tank there has been silted and the capacity has therefore, been reduced. Restoration will be carried out according to local authority guidelines.
- Location: Kasamaduwa, Mihinthale, in Anuradhapura district.
- Grama sevaka division: 568
- Name of the tank: Marasinghe Vewa.
- Farming area currently fed by the tank: 364 Acres
- Estimated increase in farming area after restoration: 42 Acres
- Typically rice farming is done in two seasons (“Yala” and “Maha”). However, lower rainfall in one season coupled with reduced capacity of the tank has significantly limited farmer’s ability to carry out farming in both seasons. However with increased capacity it is expected that more farmers can cultivate both seasons using the water from this tank. Estimated increase in total yearly farming output: 122%
- Currently there are 84 families using this tank for their farming and household use. With the restoration work, it is estimated that another 20 farming families can be settled in this area.
- In some years, due to severe drought, the farmers are unable to produce any farming output at all. They face severe hardships during such years. With the restoration it is expected that they will be able to cultivate at least a single season during such severe drought periods.
- Major portion of the labor needed to restore the tank will be provided by the community for which they will be paid. The materials and machinery will be obtained under the supervision of the divisional secretariat and village committee.
- Project monitoring by project officers attached to Mihinthale divisional secretariat and by Karuna Trust.
- Increased yearly farming output from the village.
- Mitigates the impact of severe droughts.
- Increased income for farming families by enabling a second season for cultivation.
- Increased storage capacity of rain water as a source for safe drinking water. Most ground water sources (like tube wells and dug wells) in dry zone are suspected to be contaminated and causing a mysterious kidney decease in a significant percentage of the farming population. There is evidence that people around the bigger towns like Anuradhapura which get water from bigger tanks with some basic treatment, are not affected by this kidney decease. If there is enough rainwater storage capacity at village level, low cost mini treatment facilities can be enabled in future to provide safe drinking water to the villages.
- Community participation results in a sense of ownership and responsibility to protect the common resources available to the village.
- Allows more families to settle down in this village and perform farming activities for a living.