As part of the community support Born Free is providing in Rathambalagama village in Sri Lanka, we recently set up a special Women’s Society. This provides a forum for discussing issues that affect the families in the village, promoting environmentally sustainable economic opportunities, and introducing concepts of wildlife conservation. One of the first initiatives proposed by the members of the group was to hold regular market days in the village. The second of these was held on 30th June 2012 and was attended by Born Free Country Assistant, Dileepa Wattegama, who sent us this report …
The fair begins at 7.30 am every Saturday on an easily accessed area of communal land – the Society requested permission for this use from the Divisional Secretary. The women of the Society invited all the members and some people from other villagers to participate in the fair. They charge LKR10 [10 rupees, about £0.05] for each member and LKR20 – LKR50 for other stall holders. There were about 15 stalls in total with vegetables, fruits, seeds, cloths, sweets, spices and local fresh drinks for sale.
Having such a range and quantity of goods on sale attracts wholesalers from outside the area, who will buy large quantities of produce and transport them away. Without this, the transporting and selling of crops in large quantities can be challenging and expensive. The fair has other community benefits as well. One woman explained, 'The village market is not only a place for trading. We meet our friends and relatives there. Market time is a happy time.'
In this village the main income is from agriculture, but usually there are limited opportunities for selling the harvest, and often farmers have to accept a very low price. So, they have to maximize the amount of land they grow crops on in order to get a reasonable annual income. Often this means that they convert forest land in order to increase their cultivation. Now this fair provides a perfect place to sell their harvest for a good price, giving them enough cash to buy their daily needs without expanding their fields.
At the same time the community knows that Born Free is helping them because of the elephants that live alongside them. This means that as they appreciate our works they also learn to love the elephants. Every time when they meet us we give the message of elephant and environmental conservation to them. Slowly they are coming to accept our ideas and to share in our conservation vision.