Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.
The UN World Food Day is celebrated on the 16th of October every year. Since 2013 Caritas Sri Lanka – SEDEC and its network of 13 Diocesan Centres (DCs) have been working to ensure food security to poor subsistence farmers in Sri Lanka. This was done in Caritas DCs of Anuradhapura, Batticaloa and Kurunegala covering five districts with main focus on “Substantiation of Community Institutions for Sustainable Agriculture to Ensure Food Security” forming poor farmer family members into small Self Help Groups, giving them training, encouraging savings and joining them together as Community Based Organizations (CBOs) was the approach taken by Caritas Sri Lanka (CSL). Later the CBOs were strengthened and coalesced into diocesan or district level Federations. They were registered under the local government agencies to be able to obtain government services and facilities. This empowered them with a strong voice to claim for the rights of the respective communities, being independent and sustainable.
Upon successful implementation of this 5-year programme and based on its findings, CSL aimed at expanding the work to all 25 districts of Sri Lanka. It became evident that poverty is the root cause for the farming communities to remain poor. Therefore, the 2nd expanded phase of this programme was titled “Addressing Causes for Poverty and Ensure Food Security for Farming Communities” which started implementing in the Year 2018 will continue until the end of 2021. Both phases of the Food Security programme were strongly supported by Caritas Norway and NORAD. The programme enables the participants to develop their home gardens to produce organic vegetables, fruits, herbal plants, yams, spices, live fencing, firewood trees, trees for timber, grass, inland fisheries and rearing small scale livestock (poultry, cattle, goat, ducks, pigs, rabbits, turkey and beekeeping) enabling the participating farmer families to consume a nutritionally balanced and healthy diet. This work of CSL was a blessing to these communities as they had sufficient food from their home gardens during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Some CBO members shared the excess produce with others who did not have food to eat.
The National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka, Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke is of the view that CSL being the social arm of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka is contributing towards many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Contribute to seven directly related SDGs):
Goal 1: End poverty in all its form everywhere,
Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages,
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities,
Goal 13: Climate Action, and indirectly related to
Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.) through this programme.
Besides, Caritas is adhering to Pope Francis’ call to end hunger by 2025
(“One Human Family, Food for All”).
“I invite all of the institutions of the world, the Church each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.” Pope Francis
The overall goal of the programme and its activities are also falling in line with Pope Francis’ Encyclical ‘Laudato Si” – “Caring for our common home”, the request from His Holiness to every single person who lives on this planet to save our mother Earth, especially the unchecked damage to the environment such as clearing forests, cutting down trees that give us oxygen to breath, contaminating the water sources, producing and marketing of vegetables, fruits, grains, tubers and yams saturated with agrochemicals.
There are clear signs that the country is already a victim of something unusual happening to the climate. The regular and familiar weather patterns of the past do not seem to occur any more. Droughts devastate crops more regularly with reservoirs drying up visibly while heavy and unseasonal rainfall has also become a major threat, causing floods, landslides and deaths.
Rev. Fr. Mahendra Gunatilleke has initiated a campaign to plant One Million Trees launched this year for action by the Caritas Sri Lanka network as a response to the challenges of global warming as well as to a wider array of sustainability challenges from water supply to Biodiversity loss. CSL in coordination with Caritas Kurunegala launched the Tree planting Campaign at the hallowed ground of the Shrine of St. Joseph Vaz, Patron Saint of Sri Lanka on Saturday, 11th of July 2020
CSL has so far mobilized 20,285 subsistence farmer families in 525 villages up to July 2020 and motivated them to cultivate their own home gardens by using sustainable agricultural techniques. 32,265 School children were exposed to organic home gardening and at the end, they were given small quantities of vegetable seeds and seedlings to plant in their gardens. 16,527 Mothers of pre-school children have participated in the Family Nutrition programmes and more than 30% of the preschool children have access to chemical-free food and consume nutritionally balanced diets, avoiding fast foods. The total expected direct programme outreach is 130,000 persons in 4 years (by end of 2021) with the number of final beneficiaries reaching over 200,000. 296 Differently able people were included under this Food Security programme whose normal bodily or mental functions or both are partially impaired, but have talents, skills of some sort or other capabilities. Their involvement in this programme, help them to earn extra income, reduce stress, depression and help them behave as normal persons in the community.
The spreading of COVID19 has somewhat affected the proper functioning of the programme due to the prevailing situation in the country. However, the government allowed farmers to work even during the restrictions. Since this crisis period is very crucial to make people aware of the importance of engaging themselves in sustainable home gardening, with the support of Caritas Norway, CSL made necessary arrangements to supply nutrition packs, plants & seeds, agro bags, water tanks, provision of livestock and farm equipment to programme participants. In addition, seeds and agro bags were distributed to mothers of pre-school children in the respective villages.
Thus, Caritas Sri Lanka takes pride in its endeavour to ensure food security and participate in the World Food Day celebration.