It has been the Uva Province which is being widely subjected to plundering of lands during the post independent era, of Sri Lanka. All this is done by the authority in the name of development projects. The largest blocks of lands given over to multinationalcompanies, are from the Monaragala District of Uva Province. This land plundering is being continued right up to now and as a result the livelihood of peasants is almost pushing to extinction. The looting of farm lands have caused disruption of social stability, economical failure, loss to farming, environmental degradation and pollution, education and health inadequacy, in peasant families of Uva Province. The majority of the peasant population is affected being unable to cultivate their paddy farms as usual, due to the external problems generated by the multinational companies whom have started large farming projects in the district. Down the history, peasants of Uva province have managed their livelihood by farming in fertile lands of Uva Province. But now their livelihood is seriously affected for the loss of their irrigated water supply and the natural water resources due to over draining by the multinational farming companies.
This fertile block of land in Uva province was called “Wellassa” in the past. The meaning in Sinhala language, is ‘million farms land’. Because the fertile land of this province could produce a paddy harvest to feed entire nation. Traditionally the man madeirrigation systems which include reservoirs (weva in Sinhala language) canals, farm wells and natural water sources such as river and lakesprovided all water requirements of peasant families even in dry spells which is natural in this tropical dry zone. The present situation is that the peasants’ farm lands are being acquired by the authorities, and land rights are transferred, to multinational companies and to local billionaires. This large-scale farm projects which require large volume of water, are tapping all available water sources to supply sprinkle water to their farms. The farming companies also continuously use large quantities of chemicals such as insecticide, pesticide and weed-killers, heavily polluting the soil, water recourses, environment and life of humans and animals. This insensible use of chemicals in farming, have generated a tragic situation in Uva. A large number of peasants have subjected to kidney failure, skin irritation, weak eye sight and many other health problems. The contamination of drinking water has become a serious problem here.
The land allocation for multinational companies has been a big business for the local politicians. Therefore illegal land acquires are a common practice. Some lands acquired are called ‘crown lands’ but actually those are forest reservations which is the source of ground water and these forest reservations are also water source of Kirindi Oya, Kumbukkan Oya and Menik Ganga rivers. Now as a result of forest clearance by multinational company owned farms, water sources are gradually drying. And as a result traditional farming practices carried out by the peasants have totally disrupted. Peasants’ farm lands at river basins which were irrigated from the river water are now unable to cultivate due to shortage of water. These hindrances due to multinational farms have caused food shortage in villages. Even the animals of protected wild life parks live in hunger and thirst.
Peasants of Uva Province have been subjected to annihilation over land acquisitions from 1980s. ‘Pelwatta Sugar Project’ acquired 80,000 Acres of peasants’ farm land in 1983.The loss of farm land became a crisis which compelled farmers to protest on roads but the iron foot of government crushed it. Yet the crisis in peasant life has not been over and takeover of land, clearance of forest reservations continue at large up to now. The problems of peasants have been aggravated when more and more lands are converted to multinational farms. Shortage of water has forced them to give up food production in farming. Loss of perennial water supply has caused shortage of drinking and household water. Large wild animals such as elephants that have run short of food and water, very often invade villages. Villagers are regularly subjected to elephant attacks. Peasant houses, home garden cultivations are destroyed and it is a regular thing, peasants are been crushed to death by elephants if they are confronted. This incapacitation forced on peasants of Uva, have forced them to give-up their self managed farming practices and now they try to survive by working as laborers in multinational farms for a meagresalary. Presently, loss of self sufficiency in food supply has caused ill health, mal nutrition, poverty, and lack of education among Uva farmers.
Sugar Cane Cultivation in Moneragala District of Uva Province
The new generation of Uva famers is gradually giving up farming and leaving the province searching for other jobs in services sector with the intention of settling outside Uva. Misbelieves, miscalculations, misjudgments and misguides of the politicians and administrators have pushed the Uva peasants into this situation resulting a fertile land to be deserted , and a massive food production mechanism to stop permanently. Food production of Uva had been supplying rice, vegetable, fruits, yams, cereals and dairy products to the other parts of the country. The country as well as the consumers was benefitted by Uva farmers low cost food supplies. In present situation other than the devastative banana farming, rest of the essential food items will have to import. If ignoring of Uva peasants contribution to national economy is continued in near future food production of Uva will stop. The country will have to import food requirements. As usual consumers will be paying ever increasing cost for imported foods. This is the usual vicious circle of cash economy. Banana will be exported, foreign exchange will be earned by the multinational companies, local politicians and few of their backups will also earn little petty cash for their contribution, yet the country’s economic growth, the peoples self sufficiency of food, control of cost of living all that will be hindered. It is a give and give economy and not a give and take economy we are heading for. By the unconditional opening of the country for the multinational companies to invest in the agricultural sector the rulers have committed a blunder. The present situation in Uva is a really good model to study how the mechanism of vicious circle is workingtowards, the country’s economy to depend on multinational companies.
Through out the post independent era, the politicians who make decisions by their own and the policy planners who are ‘yes’ men, of this country have been working on miscalculations when they handle agrarian projects. In 1980s a foreign company called “Buchartate” conducted a feasibility study in Monaragala District on the cultivation of sugar cane. The company submitted a wrong feasibility report, recommending Monaragala District as a suitable place to cultivate sugar cane. It was accepted. But any agriculture graduate in this country would know, a prime requirement for a good sugar cane harvest, is twelve hour sunlight for 365 days with ample water. The Government went ahead based on “Buchartate” report and firstly took over farm lands and converted them to sugar cane plantations. Politicians gave lots of promises to the peasants who lost their farm lands but nothing came to reality. Instead of promised economic prosperity it is the poverty they have got. They lost their farm land and lost their domestic food supply. The converted farm lands to sugar cane didn’t give a good harvest. As a matter of fact it was due to unsuitable climatic conditions. On the other hand Sugar Company offered a buy up price which was always below the cost of production. Instead of prosperity farmers are left with unending troubles. Elephants of national Wild Animal Parks have got accustomed to invade sugar plantations. The elephant attacks on people and their homes have become irresistible. Food shortage has paved the way for malnutrition and for regular sickness. While peasants go on suffering multinational companies have join the loot with the blessings of the government and backup by local politicians. Pradeshiya Sabha members and Provincial Council members, who are in close touch with peasants, keep convincing them to sell off their farm lands to multinational companies. Company buys the land dirt cheap and pays a lump sum brokerage fee to those local politicians. We are in a position to show number of such deals.
Dole company in the process of ‘plundering of peasants’ farm lands’.
This USA based multinational company “Dole Company” has taken land from Moneragala, Uva province for their cultivations as follows;
Owner of the Land
Amount of Land [Acre]
Place of the land
Purpose of Land
In side and border areas of Lunugamvehera Wild Life Park
Nikeweva of Thanamalwila AGA Division
Kudaoya of Wellavaya AGA Division
Demodara of Buttala AGA Division
Weekada of Buttala AGA Division
Total Land Cover
All those lands are taken for the purpose of banana cultivation, without following the legal procedure and by arbitrary documentation.
It is a matter to serious concern that almost all those blocks of land allocated for banana cultivation are forest reservations and water source of ‘Kirindi Oya’ and Menik Ganga” rivers. Kirindi Oya and Menik Ganga are the continuous water suppliers to Veheragala and Lunugamvehera reservoirs which stock and distribute water to local paddy farms and to other farms which grow cash crops, vegetable, fruits, yams and cereals. Peasants’ farming colonies which solely depend on water supply from Veheragala and Lunugamvehera wouldn’t survive if the water supply had been disrupted. But the banana plantations owned by Dole Company, has been pumping large volume of water from the Kirindi Oya, Menik Ganga,reservoirs,Vevas and they also pump out ground water from the water belt. Banana plantations in Kuda Oya draw water from Kirindi Oya and banana plantations at Wandama and Wekeda draw water from Menik Ganga. These banana plantations also use sprinkle watering which need large volume of water and it is water wastage in this tropical conditions. Most of the water sprayed on top soil evaporates before the plants absorb it. Dole Company’s heavy water consumption has cut off the water supply to peasants’ farm lands. River beds even dry up generating long spells of drought resulting peasants’ farms at river valley to abandon. It is a known fact even animals in wild life parks suffer without water. Government is now trying to cover up the mistake by transporting water to wild life parks and to the peasant colonies at the expense of public money.
Illegal water grabbing for Banana cultivations of Chemical Pollution of Banana Cultivation
Monaragala District of Uva Province is in the dry zone of Sri Lanka hence annual dry season is a natural occurrence. Yet even in the annual dry season, there remained enough of water, in river beds, canals and reservoirs for peasants to work out their dry season farming and for household consumption. Animals in wild life parks and the vegetation too had sufficient water. But ever since the Dole Companyhas started their irresponsible style of water utilization, Monaragala District has been experiencing total dry up of river beds, water holes, Veva and reservoirs including farm wells. The damages caused by the total dry up cannot be replaced by delivering drinking water because if these scale severe droughts happen to repeat annually the district will turn into a semi dessert. Therefore it is advisable to rethink and conduct a thorough feasible study on banana farming practices and the social and economic pros and cons before it is too late. Dollar gains will not be equal to the damages done to environment, social life, to the economic stability and food safety of people.
Those multinational companies are not bothered of anything other than the profit. Hence their conduct is focused only on profit. We have observed that the severity of drought has hit the banana plantations of Dole Company too. And what plans do they have? It is another plan for devastation. They are planning to draw water from the Veheragala reservoir. Presently this reservoir is the supplier of water for farming, household usage, and drinking water for thousands of peasant families. Hence if the Dole Company is allowed to draw water from Veheragala reservoir thousands of peasant families will suffer. The water pipe line is planned to be laid across the Lunugamvehera Wild Life Park. The wild life and vegetation protection act of Sri Lanka prohibits any such trespassing to wild life parks. It is a serious issue in the law because this company’s arbitrary decision to violate the law set a very bad example on future development projects. Therefore we demand that the local authority must take necessary legal action to ban such illegal activities.
We learned that the company owned banana plantations spray very large quantities of high strength chemicals, such as “Daconil”. Chemical is sprayed early in the morning using very powerful spray guns which spray chemical up to a distance of 75 meters. This spraying generates a chemical cloud and float into human settlements. Ongoing massive chemical spray program is contaminating water and vegetation of Lunugamvehera wild life park. Waters of Kirindi Oya, Menik Ganga, Veheragala reservoir and Lunugamvehera reservoir are poisoned too. All those water sources are being used by peasant community for their drinking, washing, bathing, and cooking. Now the peasant community is compelled to use this poisoned water and sickness related to chemical contamination has been rising among the people. For an example number of kidney patients are increasing, and those who are employed in banana farms subjected to unfamiliar deceases such as delivery of dead babies and infertility.
The irresponsible manner of the mishandling environment, disobeying environmental law is witnessed when visited the Veheragala reservoir site. The site is littered with empty pesticide cans discarded by Dole Company. Even workers are not provided with protective cloths when they spray or handle chemicals. This attitude itself is a proof that the banana company behave in an irresponsible way towards the environment and country’s people. Some of the large banana plantations owned by Dole Company are encroached land which owned by Lunugamvehera Wild Life Park Reservation. Encroaching is an illegal act under the law of the country. The company has constructed an electric fence to protect their plantation from wild animals such as elephants. The electric fence is blocking the elephant passage and elephants have found their new passage across villages. The farm villages which were not subjected to elephant attacks before, now being destroyed every now and then. MahaAaragama, Pubudugama, Ulkanda, Thalakolaweva, Handapaanagala, Neluugala, Veherayaya, Rundeneyaya, Telulla, Siripuragama, Andawelayaya, Aanapallama, Weliaara, Dambeaara, Balaharuwa, Hambegamuwa, Tanamalvila farm villages are often destroyed by elephants. As a result, the peasants of those villages are unable to exist here with farming income, now they are compelledwork as laborers at Dole banana farms. Dole Company pays them Rs. 525 per day (US$4.00) and they have to work from 3.00 A.M. to 4.00 P.M.
Dole Company is known all over the world for their notorious ways of handling people and environment. Here in Monaragala banana plantations too they apply same anti social tack ticks. They use physical force to block people moving even in the vicinity of banana farms. They can stop unauthorized people entering their private property but if they restrict peoples’ movements in the vicinity of farms, it is a violation of freedom to move. Throughout the world, the business attitude of Dole Company is full of black marks. They produce about 300 fruits and vegetable products and distribute in 90 countries. As a result of their irresponsible manner of handling food items, in year 2005, e-coli bacteria were spread into 26 states in USA. It is reported the bacteria was carried with Lettuce they marketed. Arizona, California, Minnesota, and New York effected heavily. It is reported that, in 1980s Dole Company owned banana plantations in Nicaragua had excessively used a chemical called “Di-bromo Chloropane” which was banned in USA since 1985. Nicaraguan people, who worked, in Dole Company banana plantations, were subjected to many health problems including infertility. The affected workers jointly filed a case asking for damages. Instead of helping their own worker, company took to crude actions. They manipulated the workers to sign affidavits in which workers themselves, unknowingly, admitted that they were not Dole Company workers. The company not only evaded paying any damages to their own workers, they took legal action against the lawyer Mr. Juan Domingo who appeared for company workers. In year 2009, Mr. Juan Domingo was subjected to Legal Board inquiry on charges of production of false witnesses, intervention on independent Jurisdiction, misleading of courts, staging a conspiracy against the Dole Company and many other charges. This is a good example of this multinational company’s attitudes to workers.
Fallowing years, a Swedish film producer Mr. Fredticht Gertin produced a documentary film on the cause of Dole farm workers in Nicaragua and it was released at the Los Anjelese FilmFestival of 2010. Same year The Dole Company filed a case against the film producer, in Los Anjalese courts, and pleaded to ban the film. LosAngalese courts rejected Company’s pleading, and ordered to release the film as scheduled and further to pay US$ 200,000 as compensation to film producer Mr. Fredricht Gartin. This issue is a clear evidence of how Dole Company tries to use their money power to cover up indecent actions in business. We in Sri Lanka knowing wicked attitudes of Dole Company would like to warn the authorities concern who deals with the matters related to this company’s activities of the companies wicked intentions. Further we also have a question to ask from the rulers of this country: How were you convinced to authorizesuch a notorious company to open business in Sri Lanka? And how could such a large block of land allocated for “irrigated” banana cultivation in dry zone? It is people of the land now hit by water shortage. In future the innocent peasant of our country will be further subjected to exploitation by Dole Company.
Even in Sri Lanka, the company’s business operation is not legal. The wild animals and vegetation protection act no.2 of 1937, revised by parliament act no.22 of 2009, clearly has mentioned in chapter nine, that any development project within the range of 1500 meters of wild life parks, must obtain written approval from the authority concern, after a study on the impact of environment. But those officials, who are vested with power to follow up rules and regulations, have evaded their duty. The present situation,Lunugamvehera Wild Life Park is continuously suffering from environmental pollution due to banana plantation. We like to point out that the Gazette Notification no. 772/22, dated 24 June 1993, which comes under the National Environmental Act has clearly stated; If any forest reservation larger than one hectare or any barren land larger than 50 hectare, needed to be cleaned for a development project must receive authorization to do so, after a study on the impact on the environment. Up to now the Dole Company hasn’t obtained clearance to place their banana plantations in Monaragala District to abide by the low. Not only they have evaded the law they have been the cause of large scale destruction to forest reservations, peasants’ farm lands, water resources, wild life parks and wild animals by spraying banned chemicals which destroy all kind of life, pollute water and soil, cause decease among local people and also over utilize the water supply which is the cause of dehydration in the environment.
If crown land is required for a multinational project, there is a procedure in obtaining legal rights. The application must be approved by the parliament and at the next stage the District Land Utilization Committee have to approve it, subjected to the authorization of all the government departments and statutory bodies concern, whose duty is to fallow up set process. But any of Dole Company farms in Monaragala District haven’t got clearance legally. The company has been working high handed as a result of the, unauthorized back up given to it by the local politicians. In the farming activities they violate rights of local farmers, violate the labor rules, and have resorted to take destructive actions, such as draining all water from reservoirs, river and ground. They have erected an electric fence blocking elephant passage as a result now elephants have been crossing villages while damaging farm cultivations, farm houses and attack people. The law is silent and the local authority is silent about the hindrance because everybody aware, Minister Jagath Pushpakumara, Chief minister Sashendra Rajapaksa, his close associates few provincial council members, few pradeshiya sabha members and some local businesspeople are backing the company for some reason. The people of area comment, this group of politicians and their supporters are backing the company because they are being well paid and well looked after by the Dole Company. They say even in the Uva provincial council election of 2014, the Dole Company openly support the Chief Ministerialcandidate Mr. Sashendra Rajapaksa. Even company’s Monaragala office is functioning as one of his election campaign points. As long as the company keeps on paying those people they will stand for the company and not for people’s grievances. Therefore it is for the people to work out a strategy to find a remedy for their sufferings.
Prepared by in collaboration of:
Environmental Conservation Trust [ECT]
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement [NAFSO]
Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform [MONLAR]
Savisthri Women’s Organization
Sri Lanka Environment Unit
Peoples’ Movement for Land Rights [PARL]