Leasing Mahaweli lands: Top-level multi-stakeholder discussions to commence

  • Why weren’t we given the lands: Farmers
  • Environmentalists cry foul

By Sarah Hannan

Following opposition from local farmers and protests from environmentalists over the move to allot Mahaweli Authority lands in the Rambakenoya area to commercial agriculture companies, subsequent to the Cabinet granting approval for their release, a series of high-level multi-stakeholder discussions between the relevant governmental authorities are to commence this week, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Rambaken Oya Ruins of Ancient Granite Canal, Photo Courtesy

“Releasing these lands to private companies was not well received by the area residents, as they are questioning as to why the lands were not released to them previously to cultivate. Meanwhile, there are several protests taking place where the possible impact to the environment too is being questioned by activists,” State Minister of Mahaweli Zone Canals and Settlement Infrastructure Development Siripala Gamlath told The Sunday Morning.

Therefore, the State Ministry has called in officers representing the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, the Ministry of Irrigation, the Mahaweli Authority, the Irrigation Department, and other relevant stakeholders for a series of meetings that would kick off from this week, with a view to arrive at a consensus.

“We have to be sensitive towards the impact these commercial agriculture projects would have on the environment and also look at whether the residents of these areas have in any way been marginalised due to a policy decision the Government has taken. We are to provide them sufficient time to present their observations and concerns before any land is released for investors,” Gamlath explained.

Based on the outcome of the discussions, the extent of land that would be released will be subjected to change, it is learnt. In addition, if an environmental impact assessment (EIA) needs to be carried out, the State Ministry will look into it and inform the investors too about its requirement.

In the cabinet decision announcement, it was revealed that a proposal submitted by the Minister of Irrigation to allocate suitable land plots for a lease period of one year to recognised local investors was approved, and that 2,750 acres of underutilised lands that have been identified around the Rambakenoya zone, controlled under the Mahaweli Authority, had been approved for release.

The decision on utilising abandoned and underutilised land plots for cultivation purposes comes after the Government took measures to limit the importation of food crops that can be cultivated in the country in an attempt to control the unnecessary outflow of foreign exchange.

One such food crop that would be banned from importation is maize, which is widely used as an ingredient to produce the nutritional food supplement “Thriposha” as well as animal feed. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize will have to be produced locally to fulfil the requirement.