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Ceylon Tobacco invests Rs. 500m over 10 years empowering rural poor

Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC, one of the country’s richest and most efficient business conglomerates has invested Rs. 500 million over 10 years in a Sustainable Agricultural Development Program (SADP) to empower the rural poor by maximizing the potential of their home gardens.

The program which notches its tenth anniversary this year involves no cash handouts whatever. It offers beneficiaries inputs of planting material and livestock (chickens and goats) and extensive advice to enable beneficiaries to help themselves.

“We concentrate on families below the poverty line, generally living in areas with 10 months of rainfall and owning 20 to 40 perches of cultivable land,” a senior company official said. “It’s all about self-help – helping them to grow the vegetables they need for a balanced diet for their families and produce milk and eggs.”

Stringent independent auditing is done to measure results. A value is placed on even a lime plucked from the garden, everything produced, and it has been found that the beneficiary households generate produce worth Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,000 monthly increasing their nutritional levels vastly.

An independent study done by Ernst and Young in July last year indicated that the average monthly income from home gardening of a beneficiary family in the first year topped Rs. 3,000 going up to Rs. 8,875 in between one to two years and Rs. 13,453 when ‘graduating’ after 30 months.

With the livestock component added on, those on SADP for between one to two years earn an average 12,781 monthly while the 30-month group average Rs. 18,251.

“Most of the efforts that go into the home gardens come from the womenfolk,” officials who took a press group to several homesteads in the Galle and Matara districts to demonstrate what had been achieved said. “Often the men help when they can. But you can see that most of the work is done by the women in the family.”

Surplus produce is marketed and neighbors visit beneficiary homes to buy eggs and goat’s milk in addition to vegetables so that there is an element of cash income in the program. Produce is also sometimes marketed at the local pola.

The extension services offered by CTC who use a corps of field officers who frequently visit homes in the program, giving advice and guidance and also providing quality seed stock and planting material and in some cases livestock.

A pilot project with 100 families was started in 2005 and the program proper was launched a year later. It has now grown to cover 16 districts with over 18,000 families accounting for 71,000 beneficiaries.

The selected families are part of the program for two and a half years after which they “graduate” and are on their own. However, field staff do occasionally visit ‘graduates’ and offer advice though there are no material inputs, they said.

Visiting the home gardens was an experience by itself where the potential of the land available and space above it had been maximized with plastic junk like used cans, decapitated bottles etc. have been ingeniously used as hanging pots where crops are grown and ingenious drip watering systems.

The process begins with the compost pit providing organic fertilizer. Natural pesticides from margosa (kohomba) and crushed marigolds among others are used in a process involving no artificial fertilizer or pesticides.

In many homes virtually every inch of available land plus more (hanging pots) have been utilized.

Cultivating mushrooms and bee keeping is part of SADP although it’s not all beneficiaries who are into these areas; so also livestock. CTC sometimes buys goats bred under the program and gives them to other beneficiaries branching into that activity. One of the families visited had sold a pair a few days ago for Rs. 21,000.

Ceylon Tobacco has drawn on its expertise and experience with tobacco out-growers who at one time provided the company with lucrative tobacco leaf export business in addition to meeting its own requirements for the domestic cigarette industry.

Last year SADP was recognized in the Social Empowerment Category at the Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Awards (AREA) held in Macau.

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