Disability is not Inability

Originally published on November 4, 2014.

Sooriyawewa is a village situated very close to the dividing line between Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa districts. It was affected by Sri Lanka’s more than quarter-century-old ethnic war. Before the conflict, the village had 365 families, but the fighting reduced the population to only 26 families. With the end of fighting, the families that were displaced returned to the village little by little. Although they were war-affected, they did not receive any livelihoods support from government agencies or NGOs. The USAID Dairy Enhancement in Eastern Province (DEEP) project, implemented by Land O'Lakes International Development, learned of this village due to a chance meeting with Wimal Bandara, 42, a farmer from the village who is missing one leg.

Wimal no longer needs to spend five hours a day traveling back and forth from the milk collection center. He can now devote more time and energy in the paddy field and expand his dairy activities.

One day, a Land O'Lakes consultant, Mr. Asoka, saw Wimal riding a bicycle with a milk can. He was curious to know why the man was going through such hardship to transport the milk. He went and spoke to Wimal, and learned he had to travel around 6km to Sinhapura, the nearest milk collection center. Although Wimal’s village had plenty of cows, they had no milk collection center. Consequently, people were not regularly milking, since they found it so difficult to travel to Sinhapura. But Wimal said, “I cannot throw away 10 liters of milk every day; I am the only person to carry the milk, since I need the money to look after my family.”  

Married with two children, Wimal lost one of his legs due to an infection but was able to get access to an artificial leg so that he could continue farming. The leg also enables him to make the four-hour journey to Sinhapura. During paddy cultivation, Wimal wouldn’t make the journey to deliver his milk, as he and his family depend on the rice produced in the field for their survival, and that takes priority.
Wimal was immediately interested when he learned about the DEEP project, and asked if he could attend one of Land O'Lakes meetings in Sinhapura. Afterwards, he requested Mr. Asoka to visit his village and talk to the farmers. The villagers’ enthusiasm was overwhelming, and they readily agreed to form a Milk Producer Group (MPG). Land O’Lakes also helped them to establish contact with the DEEP Leverage Partner CIC Agribusiness. With the incentive of knowing that CIC was going to collect milk from their village, the farmers had the necessary incentive to start milking their cows again, and their incomes began to increase.  

The MPG legally registered itself with the government and began receiving technical training assistance from Land O’Lakes. Following the MPG’s request for a better milk collection facility, Land O’Lakes installed a Mini Milk Collection Point in their community. In addition, DEEP supported 32 dairy farmers from the village with LKR 20,000/- ($182 USD) each to purchase cows. By working together through an MPG, this community has enabled the people of Sooriyawewa to become committed dairy farmers. Before DEEP’s intervention, the village only produced 10 liters a day. Today, they collect 60 liters a day, but are determined to increase this to 150 liters or more. 
And how have all of these activities changed life for Wimal Bandara? With the Mini Milk Collection Point now situated in his neighborhood, he no longer needs to spend four or five hours each day traveling back and forth. Saving time and energy, Wimal can now devote more time in the paddy field and expand his dairy activities. Previously, he received only LKR 30/- per liter, but that’s now risen to LKR 50/- per liter through DEEP’s partnership with CIC. By supplying milk throughout the entire month, Wimal earns around LKR 15,000/-. Previously, he was only cultivating one hectare of paddy land; now he has increased it to two hectares. With the increased income, he also dug a well in his garden and plans to construct a better house for the family. The villagers praise him for bringing Land O’Lakes to the village.

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