Farming Sponsored by Holidaymakers
At a recent gathering in
London's Notting Hill, I put my hand into a bag of cool, red rice
and let it slip through my fingers. A strange thing to do at a
party perhaps, but this was Heritage Rice, and cause for much
celebration as it was part of the first organic rice harvest from
Ulpotha, a village in the heart of rural Sri Lanka. These bags
of rice were the realisation of a vision, which over the last
few years has become a wonderful reality that is Ulpotha today.
Ulpotha, located in the
dry zone of central Sri Lanka, is the site of an holistic environmental
and cultural undertaking by a non-profit organization, The East
Pole Foundation. It has at its heart an exciting project, aiming
to help a small village to transform itself from an abandoned
coconut plantation into a vital bio-diverse organic agricultural
village. Their approach has been to draw significantly from tradition,
while not abandoning the modern, to recreate an environment where
nature and man live in productive harmony. It is also a unique
Sanctuary, which is open to visitors. Guests can enjoy a relaxing
holiday or retreat. They can be part of village life and learn
about the traditional practices, or can take part in a workshop
such as Yoga or Tai Ji. The revenue from visitors is crucial to
the project. It will enable the environmental work to continue
and for Ulpotha's future to be safeguarded.
The recent organic rice
harvest has been very successful. The yield has been 70% of the
usual harvest that the farmers would receive. It has proved to
the local community and the farmers in particular, that going
organic can be done and that there will financial benefits too.
The hope is that farmers throughout the area will be convinced
and, in time, also revert to organic farming.
In three years time the
Heritage Rice will receive its official organic certification.
The name Heritage Rice is given because it is not just organic
principles that are employed, but traditional methods too. Buffalo
are used to plough the fields and thresh the harvested paddy.
Buffalo are perfectly suited to paddy cultivation and produce
their own fertiliser and milk as well. The crops are protected
from pests using traditional methods that include various applications
of cactus milk, crushed neem seeds, dried makra leaves, branches
of the kadura tree, jak fruit sap and crushed coconut refuse.
Spiritual links are maintained by holding rituals around crop
planting and harvesting. The natural cycles of the moon are also
taken into account in a way long forgotten by most farming communities.
The traditional farming methods work with nature to provide yields
that are acceptable, without suppressing and distorting nature.
Heritage Rice is the product of all these principles.
Visitors to Ulpotha can
learn more about this unique eco-project and see the healing of
nature in action. At the party, the slide show was rich in colourful
images of the countryside at its most abundant and beautiful.
Over 4,000 trees have been planted, including coconut, mango,
jak and breadfruit trees as well as banana, papaya, avocado, woodapple,
green orange, lime and rambutan. Ancient irrigation systems have
been rehabilitated alongside the re-employment of traditional
organic farming. A wide variety of vegetables, melons and yams
are also cultivated. As a guest, one of the most special things
is to be able to pick fresh, tropical fruit straight from the
tree. All the food produce is grown in the village and much of
it is vegan. It's easy to get very healthy at Ulpotha. At the
same time one can experience healing for oneself through herbal
steam baths, ayurvedic oil treatments and massage.
It is wonderful to discover
that tourism can actually help the environment by its support
of organic farming. In turning organic, the financial realities
faced by the farmers have been addressed. This is crucial if the
farmers are to remain independent and free from dependency on
aid. The Foundation will ensure that the farmers will make no
less than they would usually make in terms of profit by guaranteeing
a higher-than-market price for their reduced harvest of rice
In effect securing that the farmers don't loose out financially
during the transition to organic farming. Once certification is
possible, the Foundation will purchase all the organic rice harvested
at prices expected to be significantly higher than local
market rates. Then it would be sold to wholesalers in western
organic markets which would otherwise be inaccessible to the local
farmers. The Heritage Rice, approximately 2500 kilos of it, is
an important achievement of the East Pole Foundation and the village
of Ulpotha. The project now needs further support, and any visitor
to Ulpotha can be assured that this is eco-tourism in probably
its purest form.