Sri Lanka: Agriculture as catalyst for post-conflict growth

This summer, the island nation of Sri Lanka will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the end of its civil war. The war cost the country an estimated 100,000 lives and had significant impact on economic and social development. The tsunami of December 2004 added to the devastation by claiming over 35,000 lives and the livelihoods and vessels of over 75% of coastal fishermen in the country.

The government and policymakers in Sri Lanka are now focused on recovery and growth. The GDP of the country has grown between 6-8% over the last four years – remarkable for a country that has only recently emerged from prolonged state of crisis. However, a lot remains to be done: poverty and a high rate of youth unemployment continue to plague the country.

Agriculture is one of the key sectors through which the government can generate employment, for groups with highest rates of unemployment – displaced communities, young people, and war widows. The government’s current approach has largely been to encourage increased productivity in high-value export crops. This has led to increases in incomes and benefits for plantation owners, who grow the majority of the export crops.

There is now a pressing need to support smallholder farmers and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the agriculture value chain to reduce poverty and increase agricultural employment in the country. International development agencies, such as Oxfam and IFAD, have focused on economic growth and food security through agriculture value chain development. Further activities, such as technical assistance and improved financial access in conflict-affected areas, could help encourage a larger number of people to participate in the agricultural economy. With such initiatives, agriculture is beginning to play a critical role in post-conflict growth. It remains to be seen how effectively the private sector will participate in this and play a role in sustainable development.

Rashi Agrawal,
Manager, Shujog