Story of Kallora: A model for sustainable land management | Sunday Observer

Story of Kallora: A model for sustainable land management

1 November, 2020

Gurukele, a village in the Doluwa Divisional Secretariat Division in the Kandy district is one of the most severely degraded land areas in the Central highlands. The village consists of tea smallholdings, cultivation of spices and home gardens and boards large tea plantations and barren lands. Dairy farming is the main source of income to the inhabitants. 

The vast barren lands of abandoned tea estates launched during the British colonial era is visible across the mountain ranges. The area is historically significant since the first tea estate, Loolkele, set up James Taylor in 1867 is located here. 

The lands where the first tea cultivation commenced centuries ago by clearing virgin forests of the central highlands are now abandoned barren lands that are subjected to severe erosion and land degradations. Today people have settled in these lands and Gurukele is one of them.

The population of Gurukele comprises round 800 residents and a majority of them are farmers. They cultivate different verity of crops in these unfertile small plots of lands without a proper plan. Due to various reasons, farming is not a lucrative venture for them and soil degradation is a major factor but the farmers are not aware of this. 

The area around Doluwa is a highly environmentally sensitive location as it is a part of the catchment of the Mahaweli River. The land has been degrading continuously due to farming and off-farm activities and the government is now considering arresting the trend and rehabilitating lands.

K. M. Shantha Kallora (43) is a farmer of Gurukele. He and his wife Anula Kumari (37) have withstood many storms and have gone on to be successful farmers. They have cultivated around two acres of lands they own. Anula Kumari earns a satisfactory income from his  mushroom cultivation.   Kallora grows tea, vegetables and does dairy farming in addition to mushroom cultivation. He is a successful trader and believes  farming provides him a stable and sustainable income compared to the  daily wage construction industry. His story is a reverse of the labour flow in the country where most of the agricultural labourers migrate from agriculture to construction industry. 

Both of  Kallora’s land plots are in sloppy terrain that faces frequent soil erosion.

The main crop in his land is tea intercropped with pepper and a measure of shade management in the tea plantation. He is also a cultivator of  fruits. As all other farmers in the area, Kallora also faces similar issues such as long droughts in most parts of the year, fluctuation of rainfall and changes in monsoon rain pattern due to adverse impacts of the climate change. These factors affect the crop, yield and income of them.  

The productivity of their degraded lands has declined and as a remedy they excessively use inorganic fertiliser without soil testing or knowing the real composition of the soil. It does not increase their yield or productivity but increases the cost of production. It also leads to soil and water pollution. 

Kallora did not know that the degraded land is the cause for his low yield and low income.

In 2018, Rehabilitation of Degraded Agricultural Land Project (RDALP) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations initiated a program to address this land degradation issue with relevant government agencies of the Doluwa area and Kallora too joined the project as a beneficiary. RDALP conducted training and awareness programs for the beneficiaries on soil degradation and applying Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices to reverse the situation. Kallora became an active partner of the project.  

“Officials came to our village to educate farmers on the degraded condition of the soil in our lands and trained us on how to improve soil quality implementing SLM and good agricultural practices.

Framers were provided funds through the project to implement soil conservation technologies in our lands. Most of the farmers used this opportunity to develop their lands using conservation methods based on scientific farm plans prepared by technical officers,” he said.

Grukele is in the catchment area of the Nilambe reservoir, a main source that supplies drinking water to the Kandy town.

Therefore, soil degradation in this area directly affects the water quality of the reservoir.  

Kallora did not follow the best practices in his dairy farming and therefore, it did not yield the maximum benefits he expected. He did not have a cattle-shed resulting in unsafe waste disposal to streams and finally to the Nilambe reservoir. RDALP supported Kallora to modernise his dairy farm and introduced an integrated approach to develop his farming activities, tea and vegetable cultivation and dairy farming.  

“As a result of this development of the dairy farm, my income from land and dairy increased significantly. I combined tea and vegetable cultivations with the dairy farm and use cow dung as organic fertiliser in both tea and vegetable cultivation.

Earlier I used compost for vegetable cultivation but never used it for tea. With the use of organic fertilizer, income from vegetables and tea increased.

“The most significant achievement is the increase in milk production. Now my dairy farm has been properly organized with best practices introduced by the Department of Animal Production and Health. The cows have proper shelter and supply of food and water and as a result, they are healthy.

As a result daily milk production increased around 10 litres,” Kallora said. Kallora’s land is now a model to train dairy farmers on SLM and integration of dairy farming and crop cultivation.