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World Agroforestry signs Host Country Agreement with Sri Lanka

From left: Tony Simons, Director General ICRAF; Javed Rizvi, ICRAF Regional Director, Asia; Mr Ajith Abeysekera, Director General of the Sri Lanka External Resources Department; and Anil Jasinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Environment

On 14 September 2022 World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka signed a Host Country Agreement formalizing their shared commitment to developing strategies for a more resilient, food-secure Sri Lanka.

“We feel honoured and privileged to be afforded this esteemed status as a high-level international partner,” said Tony Simons, Director General of ICRAF. “This year alone we have seen how climate change, unsustainable farming systems, and conflicts can unbalance entire economies and cause suffering worldwide. For centuries, Sri Lanka has skilfully harnessed the power of nature through traditional agroforestry practices, and it can set an example by continuing to place a high priority on addressing environmental, food security and social development issues. The Host Country Agreement offers ICRAF even more scope – and responsibility – to contribute to Sri Lanka’s development agenda by supporting local expertise with the latest in agricultural science. We stand ready to assist the government, institutions and people of Sri Lanka in creating a greener and more vibrant future for all.”

Anura Dissanayake, Secretary to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, said: “Sri Lanka sees in the green economy vast opportunities for sustainable development. Our biodiversity is a treasure waiting to be unlocked and we expect ICRAF’s presence in Sri Lanka to catalyse our progress towards a resilient economy and improved income opportunities for smallholder farmers.”

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots and has a rich tradition of agroecology. But according to the World Food Programme, 80 percent of the land is prone to water shortages and nearly 30 percent of its population are currently food-insecure. Urgent solutions are needed to climate-proof the country’s agroecosystems and increase food security for its most vulnerable populations.

One immediate priority of the Agreement is to set in motion a USD 49 million joint project between the Ministry of Irrigation, ICRAF and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Financed by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the project aims to strengthen climate resilience among the subsistence farmers and agricultural plantation communities living in vulnerable downstream areas of the Knuckles Mountain Range Catchment in central Sri Lanka.

Over 1.3 million people – 51.4 percent of whom are women – live in this area and can benefit greatly from the adoption of diversified, climate-resilient livelihood options. The five-year project aims to enhance their ability to weather shortages of irrigation and drinking water by climate-proofing both farm- and land-management practices and the underlying upland and lowland ecosystems, which span an area of 346,000 hectares.

This on-the-ground work complements another GCF project in Sri Lanka, namely ICRAF’s role as a delivery partner in the development of the country’s ‘GCF readiness’. In 2018, as a first step towards the Host Country Agreement, both parties signed a Letter of Intent at the 24th UN Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland, with the aim of working together towards mitigating tropical deforestation, land depletion and rural poverty through improved agroforestry systems. The Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment (MMDE), which is Sri Lanka’s National Designated Authority (NDA) to the GCF, requested ICRAF to be its delivery partner and help build its capacity to perform its GCF-readiness duties.

“Having collaborated with ICRAF in strengthening our readiness to harness opportunities to combat climate change and the erosion of key ecosystem services, we welcome the potential benefits of the permanent presence of an ICRAF team in the country working alongside our world-class Sri Lankan scientists and practitioners,” said Dr Anil Jasinghe, Secretary of Environment. “We firmly believe in such partnerships.”

“This collaboration will effectively build a strategic framework for engaging the GCF on climate interventions by advancing the implementation of the National Adaptation Plan and Sri Lanka’s Nationally Determined Contribution,” said Simons.

Other priority activities under the Host Country Agreement include supporting the emergence of a climate-resilient green economy by mainstreaming the tools of collaborative research into national policies that address mitigation and adaptation, green development, ecosystem services, and social forestry and tenure. ICRAF will continue efforts to strengthen Sri Lanka’s capacity to carry out ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change, including support to upgrade value chains and improve ecosystem resilience through agroforestry. It will also develop new and productive partnerships across public and private sectors, while conducting research that positively impacts development at scale.

ICRAF’s ability to contribute to Sri Lanka’s sustainable development has only increased since its functional merger with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). While maintaining separate legal entities and headquarters, CIFOR-ICRAF now operates under a single governing Board and leadership team, with a joint regional structure and 10-year strategy. Harnessing a combined 70 years of expertise and extensive partnership networks across Africa, Asia and Latin America, CIFOR-ICRAF has over 700 dedicated staff working in 60 countries, and has completed over 2,200 projects worth more than USD 2 billion in 92 countries.

Since January 2005, ICRAF researchers in Sri Lanka have focused on identifying and overcoming barriers to agroforestry development, as well as capacity building with a variety of partners, including the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources, the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka and the University of Peradeniya.

“ICRAF has been a trusted partner in Sri Lanka’s agricultural and forestry landscape for over two decades,” said Javed Rizvi, CIFOR-ICRAF Director for Asia and head of ICRAF’s former South Asia Regional Programme, which included Sri Lanka. “Most notably, proactive efforts by ICRAF researchers contributed to the swift eradication of a devastating outbreak of Weligama Coconut Leaf Wilt Disease (WCLWD) in 2007.”

Coconut is a source of income for hundreds of thousands of resource-poor Sri Lankan farmers, who rely on the trees for food, cosmetics, wood, choir and medicine. But in 2007, coconut trees were dying from WCLWD, with over 320,000 coconut trees affected across three districts. Drawing on its experience with WCLWD in Kerala, India, ICRAF worked in partnership with Sri Lanka’s Coconut Research Institute to contain the outbreak. CRI launched a programme to breed disease-resistant coconut trees, and ICRAF provided technical support to maintain the health of coconut-based agroforestry systems.

On World Coconut Day, 12 October 2012, the then Ministry of Coconut Development and Janatha Estate Development presented ICRAF with the Presidential Science Award – the first time it was awarded to an international organization – and a certificate of appreciation for its role in supporting the transition to a more resilient agroforestry model.

Other examples of ICRAF’s ongoing work in Sri Lanka include improving home gardens through diversification and strengthening the existing germplasm; training of key staff in the policy and practice of agroforestry for sustainable development, as well as through fellowships and training courses; and joint efforts on the domestication and improvement of quality planting material – mainly of gooseberry, jackfruit and dragon fruit – which led to the introduction of high-yielding varieties.

Mr Laksiri Abeysekera, Interim CIFOR-ICRAF Country Head for Sri Lanka, said: “As we establish a more stable institutional presence in the country, we look forward to working with partners to support Sri Lanka in meeting its national commitments on climate, biodiversity and sustainable development, and to build greater climate resilience in Sri Lanka’s agroecosystems.”

Dr Sunimal Jayathunga, Additional Secretary for Environment Development echoed the sentiment: “We recognize that climate change will play an enormous role in shaping ecosystems and livelihoods in Sri Lanka in the decades to come. In ICRAF, the Government of Sri Lanka recognizes a key partner that will help build resilience and adaptive capacity across our unique and precious ecosystems and the people who depend upon them.”

The agreement was signed at the Treasury Secretariat Building in Colombo by Mr Ajith Abeysekera, Director General of the Sri Lanka External Resources Department and by Prof Tony Simons, Director General of ICRAF. Among those present were Dr Anil Jasinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Environment; Mr Sampath Manthreenayake, Additional Director General, External Resources Department; Dr Ravi Prabhu, Deputy Director General of ICRAF, Dr Javed Rizvi, Director of Asia for ICRAF and Mr Laksiri Abeysekera, Interim CIFOR-ICRAF Country Head for Sri Lanka.

Contact:

  • CIFOR-ICRAF Country Office
    Laksiri Abeysekera
    CIFOR-ICRAF Country Coordinator for Sri Lanka
    Email: l.abeysekera@cgiar.org
  • ICRAF headquarters
    Susan Onyango
    Global Communications Coordinator
    United Nations Avenue, Gigiri
    PO Box 30677, Nairobi, 00100, Kenya
    Tel: +254 20 7224000
    Via USA: +1 650 833 6645/+1 650 833 6646
    Email: s.onyango@cgiar.org
    Web: www.worldagroforestry.org

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