There is growing awareness in Sri Lanka of the connection between global warming and climate change. Presently facing many challenges such as frequent flash floods, severe droughts and an unprecedented number of devastating landslides, Sri Lanka is bracing itself to face more ‘natural disasters’ in the future.
At the same time, as a developing nation emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of a near three-decade-long internal conflict, Sri Lanka is currently on a development trajectory that seems unstoppable. The private sector is the engine of growth in Sri Lanka, as it is in many parts of the developing world. Apart from making profit, many private sector organizations in Sri Lanka now understand the need to preserve the environment while improving the lives of poor or marginalized communities in order to sustain business activities on the long run.
While recognizing that forests are a vital part of the environment – which requires to be preserved – the private sector in Sri Lanka has had limited opportunities to engage in reforestation and afforestation activities at a national scale. This is because the government owns most of the land in the country, and therefore the private sector has not been able to make a significant contribution to the national target of increasing the island’s forest cover from 29.7% to 32% (approximately 150,000 ha) by 2020.
One of the main objectives of the Communication Task Force (CTF) of the Sri Lanka UN-REDD Programme was to identify entry points for REDD+ to be recognized as a national priority. Taking a strategic approach to meet this objective by providing the private sector with a tangible opportunity to participate in the national drive to reduce forest degradation and increase forest cover, the CTF developed a campaign named ‘Grow-A-Fighter’ (GAF).
While creating awareness of the significant role that trees – and therefore forests— play in ‘fighting’ climate change, the main aim of the campaign is to provide an opportunity for the private sector to participate in the national drive to increase the island’s forest cover and achieve Sri Lanka’s ambitious forest-cover target for 2020. Since REDD+ in Sri Lanka supports restoration of degraded forests, GAF has the potential to become an integral part of REDD+ implementation in the island nation.
Embracing the concept developed by the CTF, the Forest Department of Sri Lanka identified all degraded forest lands and named the campaign ‘Vana-Viru-Vaduma,’ which literally means ‘Grow-A-Fighter’ in Sinhala. Thereafter, this campaign was launched by the Forest Department in February this year with the formation of the REDD+ Private Sector Forum. The response received by the private sector has been very encouraging since the launch of the campaign. The involvement of the private sector in this initiative is also creating a sense of urgency within the government to implement REDD+ in Sri Lanka.
Commenting on the response of the private sector to the Grow-A-Fighter campaign, Senior Assistant Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chandraratne Vithanage states that, “Many organizations in Sri Lanka are now interested in playing a significant role in increasing the island’s forest cover as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, and the Vana-Viru-Vaduma initiative of the Government of Sri Lanka provides an ideal platform for these organizations to support such a national campaign by presenting three clear opportunities for active private sector involvement.”
The first opportunity aims to create a short-term source of income generation through seedling production with the participation of the local populace. The second activity is to create a source of long-term income generation for interested individuals and private entities by means of converting their idle plots of lands into forests. The third and final opportunity for the private sector is to partner with the government in enhancing the quality of existing forest lands through reforestation.
Acknowledging the dynamic role that the private sector is beginning to play in the forestry sector in Sri Lanka, Conservator General of Forests and National Programme Director of the Sri Lanka UN-REDD Programme Anura Sathurusinghe feels that “while the private sector has the potential to become an important stakeholder of forests in the country, an increasing number of companies now consider Vana-Viru-Vaduma a credible initiative through which they too can actively contribute to the implementation of REDD+ in Sri Lanka.”
With the National REDD+ Investment Framework and Action Plan (NRIFAP) finalized and accepted by the government for implementation, this seems like a step in the right direction. Such an active local private sector involvement in REDD+ would augment the support that is expected to be received from the international donor community to enable the government to focus on ‘forests and beyond, and sustain life and livelihoods in a greener Sri Lanka,’ which is the vision of REDD+ in Sri Lanka.
For more information please contact: Thilal Nanayakkara, Communications Officer, Sri Lanka UN-REDD Programme
Photos: Sri Lanka UN-REDD Programme