Sri Lanka : Farmers protest against land grab by corporations

Farmers and youth activists along with the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) are to hold a protest in Nochchiyagama today (12) against the aloe vera export project set to allegedly illegally acquire 6% of land in Anuradhapura. Sajeewa Chamikara of the MONLAR said that farmers representing Rajanganaya and Anuradhapura would participate in the protest which starts at 11 a.m. at the Nochchiyagama Town.

The Cabinet of Ministers had approved a paper jointly presented by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Minister of Lands S.M. Chandrasena for the handing over of 104,066 acres (42,115 hectares) of Anuradhapura land to a private company on a long term lease of 30 years. The Cabinet on 30 August approved a proposal for handing over 6% of the total land area in the Anuradhapura District to a private company to grow aloe vera, but this will however have a disastrous impact on the environment, climate, and the human-elephant conflict (HEC) in the North Central and North Western Provinces, Chamikara noted.

“This US-based company that is involved has been illegally using large swathes of land, used by farmers of the Rajanganaya Track 18 Village as well as lands that have been under the control of the Forest Department for over three years. These lands have been illegally acquired without the approval of any State institution.” The 104,066 acres earmarked for the project include 2,000 acres in the Rajanganaya and Nochchiyagama Divisional Secretariat areas, set aside as a plant nursery, 102,000 acres from several areas of the Anuradhapura District for planting aloe vera, and another 66 acres for a factory, a field office, and storage units, Chamikara further claimed. He also claimed that the total land area of Anuradhapura was 717,900 hectares. “Out of this, 42,115 hectares had been allocated to the aloe vera project.

The project would make aloe vera the second-largest cultivated crop in the District, after paddy. Is it correct to allocate such a vast land area for the cultivation of aloe vera for export? What is the land use pattern of Anuradhapura? It appears that the Cabinet has not considered this. According to the Land Use Policy Planning Department, there are 88,859 hectares of home gardens in the Anuradhapura District, which is 12% of the total land area. There are 6,494 hectares of permanent crops, banana, and coconut cultivations in the District too. This is 1% of the total land area. There are 161,752 hectares of paddy land – 23% of the total land area. There are also 87,510 hectares of yearly crops and chena (slash and burn) cultivations as well (12% of the land in the District),” he further claimed.

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