Chena Cultivation Against All Odds
► Hard work pays off for galgamuwa farmers.
In the village of Iddamal in the Galgamuwa Divisional Secretariat, the paddy fields are lush and green and despite the drought and fertilizer shortage in the area, the villagers together have successfully cultivated 100 acres of chena to the surprise of many others whose own fields have perished in the last two years.
The village is situated three kilometers away from the Anuradhapura – Padeniya main road and these farmers spoke of the hard work they put in every day to ensure a profitable harvest in the midst of a drought.
“There are about 70 families living in this village. Everyone here is a farmer. But for about four seasons we could not cultivate any paddy. But that does not mean we have to resign ourselves to our fate and starve”, said Ananda Wiejsinghe one of the farmers in Iddamal.
Wijesinghe explained that the continuous struggle they individually underwent to ensure a harvest had prompted them to think of an alternative.
“The villagers together decided to engage in Chena cultivation. In three to four months, we cut down, at regular intervals, the trees of a small jungle land and set fire to the woody growths as far as possible to begin cultivation. Normally, one person owns three to four acres of land but here we decided to combine all our lands and help each other”, he said.
He added that the bringing together of all their lands into one big plot had made a huge difference in their output and harvest.
“We had to face many challenges when we started the cultivation. It was not that easy. But we accepted all those challenges with the objective of making it a success.
Chena cultivation is done in many surrounding areas but we have not seen any place where cultivation is done in an organised manner”, he said.
K. P. Wijeratne, his fellow farmer observed that these crops were in such a lush state due to their collective hard work.
“We planted it with great difficulty when we did not have enough water. There is scarcity of water in these areas. But, we never considered that an impossible challenge to overcome. We started digging cultivation wells, but that too only yielded a bit of water. We also took water from the village lake by constructing small canals.
The only difficulty we have now is finding the water we need. We can somehow manage to find the other things”, he said.
Wijeratne remarked that the officials at the Agrarian Services Department too had helped them greatly through the provision of support and technical know-how.
We were given seeds by the United Nations Development Fund and the Agrarian Service Department. Similar to water, we also face many problems in finding fertilizer. There is no fertilizer in shops, he said.
The villagers’ cultivation at present includes maize, cashew nuts, chili, peas and eggplants. In addition they have also taken to planting chickpeas and green beans separately.
“It has been three to four months since we planted these. Now, the harvesting period is getting closer. We have to work very hard during the harvest period.
We do not have enough money. We borrow money from people to bring in the harvest.
The Agrarian Services bank is supporting us a lot, they granted us loans at a lower interest rate. That’s helping us a lot”, said K. M. Kusumavathi, who was helping her husband in the fields.
She added that they also devoted a lot of time to save their crop from wild animal attacks.
“We feel relaxed after having started the Chena cultivation. We all go to the fields early in the morning and we would return home late at night. I feel relaxed spending time in the fields than at home. We have built a small hut closer to the fields; we cook and eat there as well. This is how we spend our lives”, she said. A kilogram of their peas and egg plants fetch Rs 200 according to Kusumavathi.
Agriculture Research and Development Officer I. G. S. Kumara Jayathilake said he was amazed to see the chena cultivation done by these villagers.
“Even though it rained a little bit, it did not serve any good to these lands. The farmers along with their wives face immense difficulties to get this done. We provided them with the necessary advice to make it a success and they all worked together to achieve it. We continuously had contact with the farmers to make sure that they do it in a proper way”, he said.
He noted that the women worked equally as hard as the men in the fields.
Jayathilake noted that having seen the villages work very hard on their crop, he was positive that they would turn things around. The official said they would continue to provide them with all possible assistance in future too.
Regional officer of the Agrarian Services Department, D.W. S. Pradeep said that it was a great challenge to engage in chena cultivation in a rural area like Galgamuwa where many facilities are hard to come by.
“But the villagers accepted this challenge and they have made it a success”, he said.
He added that the fields of Iddamal was a great example to farmers everywhere who complain of lack of facilities but do not do the hard work needed to reap a harvest.
(M. M. Krishan Galgamuwa Group)