Under the ICRAN EU South Asia Project, completed in 2008, the Sustainable Livelihood Enhancement and Development (SLED) process was developed in collaboration with IUCN, IMM and partner organisations in South Asia. Small grant projects were initiated in selected communities to implement the Discovery, Direction and Doing phases of the SLED framework, resulting in several pilot projects.
Due to the success of this community level approach, the Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation Foundation (MCRCF), a local partner, was able to strengthen the SLED program and extend it to other fishing villages also highly dependent on the resources of the Bar Reef. Collaboration between the Centre for Rural Empowerment and the Environment (CREE) and ICRAN has facilitated this continued implementation of the validated SLED process.
The Kalpitiya peninsula, in the north-west of Sri Lanka, is about 100 kilometres long and sustains a broad range of ecosystems, among them Sri Lanka’s most extensive coral reef complex, the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary. Once rich in biodiversity, the reef is now under great threat by a number of natural and human factors. Despite its status as a marine sanctuary, the Bar Reef remains extremely vulnerable to resource exploitation and degradation due to the lack of sustainable management practices. The reef plays a pivotal role in the lives of local coastal communities, where fishing is the primary occupation. Sri Lanka has recently lifted a 30-year, conflict-driven fishing ban in the region, which has led to a dramatic increase in the use of the reef’s ecosystem services, resulting in greater reef degradation, a reduction in per capita catch size and an increase in poverty.
In 2010, the deteriorating situation in the area led ICRAN to sponsor a local Sri-Lankan partner, the Marine & Coastal Resources Conservation Foundation (MCRCF), through the Centre for Rural Empowerment & the Environment (CREE), to implement the Sustainable Livelihoods Enhancement and Diversification (SLED) programme. The objectives of the project were designed to increase the socio-economic status of local coastal communities, ensure sustainable livelihoods and use of marine resources through awareness-raising and education, and to empower local fisher women.
With the support of locally established fisher societies, the project was able to achieve a number of successes by introducing livelihood alternatives to the project beneficiaries. Eleven villagers were taught improved home-gardening methods and were given seeds to grow their own food, which proved highly popular and allowed families to allocate some of their money away from buying vegetables to other needs, such as child education. Another aspect of the program involved training five project beneficiaries in commercial seaweed cultivation, whereas villagers had previously depended on collecting seaweed in the wild. A further five individuals were introduced to ornamental fish culture, and were taught profit-maximising husbandry techniques to allow faster fish maturation rates and low production costs. Similarly, two project beneficiaries were shown how to cultivate Tilapia and were provided with Tilapia fingerlings to kick-start their businesses.
In addition to these activities, three awareness raising workshops were conducted in order to inform resource users about the reef ecosystem, the benefits of resource-protection, the negative impacts of destructive fishing techniques and the results of over-fishing. Suggestions were also made on how to reduce the threat of fishing to the reef ecosystem. The workshops were accompanied by the strategic installation of three “awareness boards”, which aimed to inform communities about the key messages of the SLED approach. The text was written in Tamil or Sinhala, in addition to English, depending on the location. The response to the workshops as well as the boards was resoundingly positive, and led to a great deal of awareness and discussion of alternative livelihoods.
Overall, the project generated a number of successes, and valuable lessons were learned that will inform future projects in the area.