Govt. encouraging businessmen to destroy forests – Environmentalists

Environmentalists accuse the government of encouraging big time businessmen to destroy forests. A group of environmental activists, including Piyal Parakrama of the Environmental Foundation (EF), disclosed, at a press briefing held at the Library Services and Documentation Board in Colombo on Thursday (18), that over 60,000 acres of virgin forest land in various parts of the country would be given to to Dole Food Company, a US based multi-national company.

Armed with photographs including aerial pictures and documentary evidence, EF Convener Ravindra Kariyawasam pointed out the areas that had come under Dole’s banana cultivation project included 15,000 acres from Chunnakkadu Reserve in Kantale, 11,600 acres in Kandakaduwa in Somawathiya National Park, 3,000 acres in Uva-Kudaoya in Lunugamwehera and 500 acres in Wekandawewa in Buttala. "In most of these areas forests have been cleared and cultivation has commenced. In Wekandawewa, an ancient tank has been encroached on thus cutting off its access to the villagers," Kariyawasam said claiming that Galle, Puttalam, Dambulla and Hingurakgoda were likely to lose forest land to Dole banana project in future. Citing an FAO report, Kariyawasam claimed that Sri Lanka had been ranked the 4th worst country in the world in terms of deforestation for the period 2000-05.

Sajeewa Chamikara of the Sri Lanka Nature Forum said that the sections 5 and 6 of the Amended Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No. 22 of 2009 had been blatantly violated through the project and his organisation was seeking legal advice. Clearing the Somawathiya National Park in the Kandakaduwa area would further aggravate the human-elephant conflict, warned Chamikara. He said that in some areas land under the purview of the Wildlife Department was now being managed by the Ministry of Defence.

Kaudulle Jayatissa of the Progressive Peasants’ Association spoke of hardships faced by the rural farmers owing to the ‘mono-culture’ agricultural projects. Soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, depletion of the water table, loss of biodiversity and excessive use of agro-chemicals were identified as some of the adverse side effects associated with large scale commercial agricultural enterprises. Referring to the Rajarata Kidney Disease prevalent in the North Central Province, Jayatissa warned that the proposed banana cultivation projects was fraught with the danger of creating similar problems.

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