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Small farmers in Sri Lanka

Country: Sri Lanka |   Partner: MONLAR


  • To improve the livelihoods of poor, small-scale farmers in Sri Lanka
  • To revive traditional knowledge in sustainable approaches and improve them to meet present needs and challenges
  • Inform farmers about government policies and programmes, global trade processes and emerging alternatives
  • To work towards a humane alternative to the neoliberal model of economic globalisation


  • Workshops completed on farmers' right to food, how to protect natural resources, and sustainable agriculture techniques
  • The impact on small farmers of the agricultural policies of the existing ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ governmental strategy documented
  • Development of an alternative proposal for agriculture discussed with farmers at local, regional and national seminars

The facts

  • 72% of the population is engaged in small-scale farming; rural poverty increased from 13% in 1966 to 48% in 1988
  • Small farmers produce 85% of the country’s rice and a substantial share of other food crops such as maize, pulses, and root crops, and most vegetables and fruits
  • Due to increased costs of production and artificially depressed commodity prices, a small farmer can now lose up to three rupees for every kilo of rice produced
  • Rural populations are excluded from influencing policies that are vitally important to their survival, often because they do not have knowledge of the policy processes that are being developed

In Sri Lanka, 90% of the poor are small-scale farmers and landless people. The Sri Lankan government wants to create an export-oriented agricultural economy based on high value crops, which threatens to exclude the millions of small-scale farmers who are trying to make a living from domestic food production. Despite being in the majority, small farmers have little influence over policymaking and lack sufficient knowledge of their right to food, land, water and seeds to demand them from their government.

Sri Lanka has made gains in literacy and infant mortality rates over the last 40 years; however, over this period rural poverty in Sri Lanka increased sharply. The Food and Agriculture Organisation classifies Sri Lanka as a food-deficient low-income country, with per capita calorie intake far below the world average requirement. This is particularly important in a country where 75% of the population live in rural areas and represent 90% of the poor; the majority of these people are small-scale farmers and the landless poor.

The Sri Lankan government has focused on creating an export-oriented agricultural economy and importing more, which has had a negative impact on domestic food production. For example, the domestic rice market has collapsed to the point that rice farmers receive less than the cost of production for each kilo of rice, with losses amounting to over 5,000 rupees per acre.

The rural poverty and indebtedness has been the most serious aspect of the economic and social crisis in Sri Lanka, which has resulted in severe malnutrition, anaemia, social disparities, political unrest and youth rebellion. The ongoing tragedy of farmer suicides in Sri Lanka illustrates the desperation felt by rural communities.

MONLAR (The Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform) has been working with small farmers for a number of years and is linked with 44 organizations throughout Sri Lanka who are actively engaged in the Monlar network.

War on Want works together with Monlar with the aim of mobilising small farmers, improving their self-reliance through agro-ecology, encouraging them to adopt sustainable farming practices, and campaigning for agricultural and land policies that protect small farmers.

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Big Lottery Fund logo War on Want gratefully acknowledges funding for this partner from the Big Lottery Fund.

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