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A holistic approach to ensure food security through cascade system development in the dry zone of Sri Lanka: a practice from Plan Sri Lanka


  • Harischandra, K. H. J. K.


The lack of food security is caused by the disruption of agrarian systems, land fragmentation, lack of irrigable land, indebtedness and poor post harvest technology. The additional factors that are shown in secondary data are variable and erratic precipitation of farmer communities, poor development of hydraulic infrastructure and lack of access to water for domestic and productive uses, all of which further exacerbate poverty levels. The economy of dry zone Sri Lanka is principally dependent on agriculture, on which over 85% of its population depend. As the rainfall distribution is largely unpredictable and uneven, communities have to rely, in addition to rainfall, on a system of complex cascade systems consisting of interdependent reservoirs (called ‘tanks’). This ancient system strikes a delicate balance between water management and the physical and social environment. The condition of the cascades is vital for improving the availability of water in the community throughout the year. Tanks support the irrigation needs of farming households, and a variety of other uses – drinking, bathing and other domestic uses. It is a deep rooted idea that irrigation infrastructure development is vital to address water related development issues. But, it is only a part of a broader range of necessary actions that need to be taken. In addition to physical improvement or physical capital improvements, the provision, retention and management of water in a water scarce environment depends on social, financial, natural and human capital that requires equal priority in development and protection. Having realized the integrated nature of the systems of survival, ‘Plan Sri Lanka’ has designed and is implementing a holistic community development approach to cascade rehabilitation in the Anuradhapura District. The program involves restoration activities in five cascades covering 29 irrigation tanks that were selected based on hydrological viability .Farmer organizations that carry out tank restoration activities were provided technical support to ensure continuing follow-up operation and maintenance. They were also given training on appropriate farm technology and watershed management. Cascade management committees composed of stakeholder representatives were also organized to coordinate development activities and resolve conflicts. Integrated agriculture schemes that incorporate suitable farming systems and improved cropping practices were introduced. The approach identified the challenges that needed to be addressed and learning that was required by conventional approaches to water and food scarcity. These aspects could be addressed through comprehensive strategies that address a more holistic spectrum of issues. The paper discusses Plan Sri Lanka’s experiences and lessons learned in implementing social, financial, physical and natural capital interventions that put the cascade as the operational unit for development. It will examine practical constraints and limitations that are faced in the implementation stage and the institutional and operational requirements which are to be discussed for further improvement in this kind of approach.Length: pp.101-108

Suggested Citation

  • Harischandra, K. H. J. K., 2010. "A holistic approach to ensure food security through cascade system development in the dry zone of Sri Lanka: a practice from Plan Sri Lanka," Conference Papers h042899, International Water Management Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:iwt:conppr:h042899

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