Sri Lanka

Restarting agriculture in Sri Lanka's conflict zones


Until the war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam erupted in the 1980s, the North-East Province had enjoyed a higher level of agricultural development than most other parts of the country: it was a surplus rice-producing area and had an advantage in the production of vegetables, fruits and other cash crops. Nearly two-thirds of the pre-war population depended on agricultural farming, livestock raising and deep sea fishing for their livelihood. With the war came damage to irrigation schemes, collapse of village-level institutions such as farmers organizations, loss of rural market access roads, mass displacement of the people, all resulting in a substantial decline in agricultural production.


Restoring irrigation schemes and rural roads was key to resettling displaced communities and ensuring their food security. The project addressed this primary need. The project was designed as a simple community-based operation and implementation was tailored to address to the degree possible the operational constraints of a volatile security situation.


Food security was ensured for about 33,250 conflict-affected people-including those returning who had been displaced-in 396 villages in the project region. This was achieved through the rehabilitation and restoration of productive capacity of about 369 small irrigation schemes, which brought about 21,944 hectares of pre-war farm lands back into cultivation.


- Production of rice, which is the staple food of the people, increased by 90,113 metric tons in the life of the project (1999-2005).

- Access of 83,250 households (341,000 persons) in 375 villages to farms and markets improved through the rehabilitation of nearly 1,294 kilometers of rural roads.

- 19,400 families have been provided with drinking water facilities through the construction of wells in the project villages.

- In order to take care of the rehabilitated irrigation schemes and coordinate better cultivation inputs, 371 traditional farmers organizations were revived.

- The project supported the communities, through 317 women rural development societies, to begin about 18,957 household-based livelihood support activities.

- Livelihood support to women's groups made the project more inclusive and created potential for improved livelihoods at household level.

- The project provided about 379 community centers in the villages.


- Total project cost was US$131.6 million - of which US$25.5 million came from IDA, US$5.10 million from the government and US$1.0 million from local communities.

- This was the first large-scale donor-funded rehabilitation program successfully launched in the North-East region after the conflict intensified in the 1980s.

- IDA took on substantial risk by pioneering development assistance to the region through the design and implementation of this project at a time when the region was still classified as in "in-conflict," and even though parts of the project area were not under government control.

- Pragmatic and innovative approaches were built into the design and implementation mechanisms which greatly helped the project to reach and deliver assistance successfully to the target beneficiaries, while ensuring transparency and strengthening accountability.

- This project provided an unprecedented opportunity to the North-East provincial Council (NEPC) to build skills and capacity of their staff for large scale rehabilitation and reconstruction interventions with major donors. Implementation of the project has helped other donors to consider NEPC as an able institution and to anchor subsequent large-scale donor programs with it. The implementation success in the first two years improved donor confidence in engaging in the conflict areas and catalyzed further rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance to the region.


A US$65 million repeater project was approved in mid-2004 to extend the development assistance initiated under the project to about another 85,000 conflict affected people during a six-year period. The design of the project is based on the lessons, implementation experience and the development outcomes generated from the first project. It is shifting focus from restarting subsistence-level agricultural production to improved agricultural production and commercial agriculture. However, the recent escalation of hostilities in the project area may make this shift difficult.